• Aby Hawker

How to Reframe Gendered Language in Hospitality

Updated: Sep 13

Gendered language is all around us…and nowhere more so than in the hospitality industry, where it has become synonymous with etiquette.


“Welcome ladies and gentlemen.”

“Sir, may I take your bags?”

“We are delighted to have you stay with us madam, let me show you to your room.”

Aby Hawker and Chris King at the Pan Pacific Hotel in London

Last week the inimitable Chris King, CEO of Lightning Travel Recruitment, and I travelled to the Pan Pacific London, a five-star hotel in London to deliver training to a room full of engaged hospitality enthusiasts, keen to gain a better understanding of how to deliver their unrivalled luxury experience to any trans and non-binary guests staying in their hotel.


Chris shared their experiences of navigating the world of travel as a non-binary individual and shed light on some of the challenges gender-diverse people face on a daily basis. I talked about trans awareness and inclusion, did a little myth busting and together we provided some simple, super practical tips that staff of the Pan Pacific could put into immediate effect, to take the fear out of “getting it wrong.”


Our presentation looked at ways of reframing our thinking to ensure that, as our society becomes more comfortable with challenging gender norms and the hospitality industry begins to welcome more and more trans and non-binary individuals through their doors, we can ensure that ALL guests feel seen, valued and equally welcome.

LGBTQ+ is a Growing Market


Prior to the pandemic, the World Travel Market put the annual travel spend of the LGBTQ+ community at more than $218 billion. However, genuinely appealing to this market is about far more than waving a flag during pride month - it is about understanding the community and delivering a genuinely inclusive experience.


According to the 24th annual LGBTQ+ tourism and hospitality survey, LGBTQ travellers see travel as an opportunity for escape. When asked what they were trying to achieve through travel, 79% of trans and non-binary participants stated they wanted to “have fun and bring joy to my life”. Hotel providers who take this insight and use it to shape their LGBTQ policies are the ones that will win hearts and minds.


So what does inclusivity look like in a hospitality setting? Well, the research sheds some light on areas of focus:

  • 69% of participants agreed that they tend to stay at hotel brands that they know are LGBTQ+ welcoming.

  • 78% of LGBTQ+ travellers agree that the existence of a sexual orientation or non-discrimination policy will positively influence their decision to book a hotel or join a loyalty programme.

  • 82% of trans and non-binary survey participants said that seeing an all-gender restroom sign made them feel more positive about the hotel/restaurant

  • An overwhelming 89% of all LGBTQ+ travellers said they felt very or somewhat positive about a travel company (airline, hotel, tour operator) which stands up for trans rights and equality.

The message is clear, service providers looking to appeal to the LGBTQ+ market need to level up. This begins with ensuring that inclusivity is baked into your values, not treated as an afterthought or a marketing ploy

Training and education should be introduced for all staff to broaden their understanding of the best way to use inclusive language - and why it matters. Robust policies which guide staff on how best to support gender-diverse stakeholders––from guests to employees, suppliers and even shareholders are also key. Inclusive signage (avoid falling into the trap of the half man/half woman hybrid icon which only serves to alienate gender-diverse people), the addition of pronouns to name badges and the placement of discreet rainbow/trans flags, all serve as instant signals that this is a welcoming and inclusive space.

Aby Hawker and Chris King at the Pan Pacific Hotel in London
Aby Hawker and Chris King at the Pan Pacific Hotel in London

Our society is beautifully diverse. Hotels seeking the highest accolades, need to be able to deliver the same flawless experience for all. One way of raising awareness of the importance of this is to hold hotels accountable by including trans and non-binary inclusion and awareness as part of the industry gold standard. If you look at the Forbes Travel Guide, for example, this would come under the banner of exceeding expectations. Understanding how to deliver a flawless experience to a gender-diverse guest demonstrates the very best in customer service. This requirement would very quickly ensure that hotels up-skilled in this area and it would be a game changer for gender-diverse travellers, who would finally feel welcome, seen and valued - which is the very definition of a five-star experience.


Key Tips for Using More Gender Inclusive Language:


🌈 When welcoming your guests, introduce yourself and offer your pronouns - this opens up the conversation and allows your guest to do the same, should they choose to do so.

🌈 Use gender-neutral language to avoid falling into an uncomfortable trap with your non-binary and gender non-conforming guests.

🌈 If you make a mistake DON’T PANIC, correct yourself and move on. This shows you are aware and that you care enough to do better.

🌈 Gently step in if a colleague is struggling to navigate an interaction with a gender non-conforming guest, be an ally and lead the way.


Chris and I were overwhelmed with the level of engagement in the room, with Chris even sharing that it was a dream come true to have a subject so close to their heart treated with such dignity and respect.

“The approach taken by the Pan Pacific on the subject of inclusivity of gender minorities was staggering. Not only was there the willingness at all levels to learn, but it was underpinned by genuine care: a killer combination which is what is needed to effect real change in the travel experiences of trans and non-binary people. The Pan Pacific is leading the charge, showing other hotels what can - and must - be done to deliver a five-star experience to all those who step foot on the premises. We are delighted to play a part in supporting this evolution.” –– Chris King

Anne Golden, General Manager at the Pan Pacific, noted that this training is part of an effort to build a pervasive positive culture, "We are at the start of a journey that will hopefully bring us closer to our vision of a fully inclusive, tolerant and supportive culture. We want to be allies to all our colleagues, guests and visitors, irrespective of gender, ability, religion and race."

"Representation and inclusivity are vital if we are to succeed. Our role is to educate ourselves and challenge industry norms that exclude and marginalise those in our community who are brave enough to 'choose happiness' and live their lives as their true selves." –– Anne Golden

“There is much work still to be done and our dream is to give our whole team the skills to welcome everyone with warmth and kindness and to give them the confidence to deliver the highest quality service. A big thank you to Chris King and Aby Hawker for helping us begin our work and own our role as an active ally to all transgender, non-binary and gender non-confirming guests."

Aby Hawker is the CEO of TransMissionPR, a communications consultancy specialising in trans and non-binary inclusion and awareness. To find out more contact aby@transmissionpr.com.