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COMMENTARY: Gay-friendly Argentina still needs Marketing 101 lessons to serve LGBT tourists

Not surprisingly, when any country or territory takes the bold step to legalize same-sex marriage, the business community subsequently decides it is acceptable to adopt a gay-positive attitude.

Such was the case in countries like Canada following the 2005 Same-Sex Marriage Act and it now appears to be the circumstance in Argentina since the passing of the new law in 2010.

While this is a positive outcome of gay marriage, there are also some precautions for the LGBT community to observe. What really defines “gay-friendly” and how genuine is this moniker versus just an opportunity to garner new business from the LGBT consumer?

In Argentina since 2010, the National Government Tourism offices known as INPROTUR (National Institute of Tourism Promotion) have been traveling the globe attending major travel trade shows promoting “gay-friendly” Argentina as a new destination for consideration by LGBT travelers. On many occasions the Minister of Tourism of the Nation, Sr. Enrique Meyer, has personally been accompanying the exhibit and attending the travel shows to demonstrate the country's serious commitment to the LGBT community.

But how gay-welcoming is Argentina really to the LGBT traveler visiting the country for the first time?

Before embarking on a month-long journey around central Argentina, I decided to pay a visit to an official Tourism Office in downtown Buenos Aires, on Santa Fe Avenue, to garner some LGBT information for my travels.

Arriving at the office I was accompanied by two friends from Toronto, Canada, who were visiting the country for the first time and also wanted some information about gay Buenos Aires.

The friendly Argentine Tourism employee proved to be extremely helpful when we asked for gay information -- no shocked expression or anti-gay vibes -- but this subject matter proved to be sadly lacking in availability.

Firstly, my friends were offered a two-year-old gay Buenos Aires city guide, but with the caution that they could only use this for a reference guide as it was their only copy and must remain in the Tourism Office. They were told they could go to the publisher's website for more up-to-date information. However, I happened to know that this website has been “under construction” for the past year.

When I asked for LGBT information for Rosario, Cordoba, Mendoza and other major Argentine tourist destinations, I was told that none was available. Our endeavours spent heading to this important tourist resource center proved to be fruitless and a total waste of our time.

Although the employee was very gay-welcoming, she clearly had not been armed with the appropriate tools and materials to welcome an LGBT traveler. She did not even mention we were a short 10-minute walk from the Pink Point Buenos Aires Information Center, where we could find a wide range of LGBT information and services for all of Argentina.

Clearly this is a case where a Marketing 101 course is sadly lacking for INPROTUR to explain the importance of preparing the product and services before advertising these offerings to the LGBT consumer.

Argentina is a very gay-friendly travel destination with many diverse and spectacular attractions for the gay traveler, so it was a great disappointment to see the official tourism services sadly lacking in information. The gay guide to Rosario, the gay-friendly map of Bariloche, the Gay Mendoza Wine Festival details, Gay Pride information, brochures of gay-owned and gay-friendly accommodations, and more should have been readily available for LGBT tourists.

If Argentina is going to promote a gay-positive attitude internationally, then much work needs to be done within the country to make this a genuine gay-friendly welcome.

Notwithstanding government initiatives -- or lack thereof -- my personal experiences in Argentina have proven this to be a very gay-friendly and gay-welcoming country.

Roy Heale, a freelance writer who lives in Buenos Aires, Argentina, is SDGLN's South America contributor. He writes about LGBT issues from the Latin American continent. To read more stories by Roy Heale, visit his website.