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30 Nov 2017

BY Rob Gill


Hicks launches LGBT-friendly tour operator

A new tour operator offering LGBT-friendly holidays has been set up by former Wendy Wu managing director Laurence Hicks.

Laurence Hicks

"We know there are agents looking for specialised tour operators, especially if the agency is owned by LGBT people"

Inclusive Retreats is selling tailor-made holidays to a range of destinations – but only where homosexuality is legal – and is also handpicking hotels that are LGBT-friendly within countries such as the UK, France, Spain, Australia, Mexico, US, Thailand and Israel.


The London-based operator launched last week with around 50 properties on its website, and plans to start working with agents from early next year once it has added more hotels to its portfolio.


Hicks’ inspiration for setting up the new operator came from his own experiences of booking holidays as a gay couple for him and his partner Sam.


Kerry Sullivan, general manager of Inclusive Retreats’ parent firm Tonic Travel Group, which is majority owned by Hicks, said: “It’s quite personal for Laurence. He and his partner, as a gay couple, could not find one reference point where they were able to go with confidence to make that reservation.”


Inclusive Retreats wants to double the number of properties it features to around 100 by the end of the year before starting to approach agents and consortia.


“We definitely want to have relationships with travel agents,” added Sullivan. “We think it will be a really important part of our business. We know there are agents looking for specialised tour operators, especially if the agency is owned by LGBT people, or has customers who identify as LGBT.


“Laurence has so many connections that he also wants to speak to the larger consortia to see what interest will be there.”


Sullivan said the plan was to begin approaching agents from January once the operator “feels comfortable” with the amount of properties on sale.


“It’s very much a soft launch at the moment,” she added. “The feedback so far has been very positive and we’ve had a few enquiries come in.


“We have very strong policies about diversity and inclusion, and those are the things that inform who we want to work with.”


Inclusive Retreats is working with hotel groups such as Kimpton and Belmond that have “progressive” policies towards LGBT guests.


The operator, which is selling holidays through Tonic Travel Group’s Atol, plans to launch an e-commerce platform by the end of March, which will initially allow online flight and hotel bookings. It also intends to step up promotional efforts in early 2018, including potential partnership marketing and advertising in specialist LGBT publications.

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