Edouard Jean: LGBTQ+ Allyship in Action
Greetings HAR readers! Meet Edouard Jean, owner of Massive Travels. I heard Edouard speaking on a panel discussion about diversity, equity, and inclusion with Steph Lee (Host Agency Reviews' founder) and Courtnie Nichols (owner of Compass Collective). There, Edouard talked about taking steps to better understand and serve his LGBTQ+ travelers. When we connected, Edouard chatted with me about how a chance encounter waiting for a taxi opened his eyes to LGBTQ+ stereotypes and misconceptions he hadn't originally considered as someone who does not identify as gay. From there, Edouard pursued his curiosity (and empathy), making a conscientious effort to connect with his LGBTQ+ friends and clients to better understand how they may experience travel differently from their straight peers.
Here Edouard shares how he extended himself as a genuine ally to the LGBTQ+ travel community. You'll walk away with takeaways and action items that you can recreate to reach out to LGBTQ+ travelers!
Here's what we chat on below! Either read it start to finish or jump around to a specific topic (we like to shake things up at HAR).
⭐️ HAR ARTICLE HIGHLIGHTS: ⭐️
- Meet Edouard Jean, Owner of Massive Travels
- From Stockbroker to Travel Advisor (w/ 250+ Clients)
- Edouard's Commitment to LGBTQ+ Allyship
- Walking the Talk: How Edouard Connected w/ his LGBTQ+ Friends & Clients
- How to Qualify Destinations w/ the LGBTQ+ Travel Experience in Mind
- Questions to Ask Suppliers and Destinations
- The Value of a Travel Advisor for LGBTQ+ Travelers (& Beyond)
- Recommended Resources for Servicing LGBTQ+ Travelers
- What it Means to Edouard to be an Ally
- Additional Resource on LGBTQ+ Travel & Travelers
From Stockbroker to Travel Advisor (w/ 250+ Clients)
Mary: I'm guessing that Edouard, you're one of those people that don't require much introduction. But for those who haven't had the pleasure to meet you, Edouard was a stockbroker, as I understand, back in the day for 10 years before you opened Massive Travels in 2006. Edouard is also the chapter president of ASTA's Small Business Network in New York. Also, Edouard is on the board for the Association of Black Travel Professionals, which I believe . . . did that start during the pandemic, Edouard?
Edouard: ABTP was established last fall. Yep.
Mary: Yeah. You keep yourself pretty busy and, and you also have two grown children . . . I guess you can't really call them children— You have two grown adults, so . . .
Edouard: I don't see them as much as I want to.
Mary: Yeah. And I told Edouard before we started recording that I would give him a chance to brag about himself, but he said it would be pretty short. Are there any other fun facts that we need to know about you, Edouard?
Edouard: I thought it'd be worth saying that it was actually 9/11 when I was a stockbroker that got me into this business that I have a passion for. I was that corporate guy that didn't take any days off. I came in early, left late, and after 9/11, I realized I was living to work and not working to live. So as soon as they let the planes fly again, I took my first international trip as an adult and took a vacation.
. . . Within a couple of years, we were bringing down at least 250 to 300 people a year to Jamaica. And I found my calling.
That was to Jamaica. And again, my first trip, so I caught the travel bug [snaps his fingers] that quick. And when I came back, my friends and colleagues were asking me, "How's my trip?" And I said, "Listen, I really can't explain it, but I'm going back next year. You're free to come."
And 12 of us went the next year. And they came back and they told friends. And within a couple of years, we were bringing down at least 250 to 300 people a year to Jamaica. And I found my calling. Little did I know about it at the time, it was a hobby I loved doing it. I loved seeing people get together from different parts of the country, and they were telling me I should be a travel advisor. I said, “No, I'm a stockbroker. I love what I do. This is just a passion of mine, I’m not leaving Wall Street.”
And then 2005 came along and my firm went into negotiations with another firm and they told us within the year our positions were being terminated. So then I said, "Oh, let me see what's going on with this travel industry!" So I got laid off in March of '06 and opened my business in April of '06 and never looked back.
Mary: So, you opened at a tough time for the industry—
Edouard: And I'm loving every minute of it, regardless of the situation we went through last year and a half. It's a passion I have. And it doesn't feel like work ...well last year it really didn't feel like work, [laughs] so I take — I'm very aware of my clients, their needs, I try to be so that they can have the best experience when they traveled.
I kept myself present on social media just to make sure that people remembered that I'm still here when they're ready.
Mary: Yeah. Just out of curiosity what were some of the things you did during the post-COVID downtime to sort of help maintain the relationships with your clients?
Edouard: Well, first and foremost, as far as my clients are concerned, I reached out to my database of clients . . . Not to sell anything, but to see how they were doing during this time where their mindset was at. And just to say, if they need anything that I was there for them. You know, just call a quick call to see how they're doing. Check-in. So, they didn't forget that I'm still around if they needed me for, you know, travel needs or whatever. And then on the business side, on the back end, I took more of those specialty classes that I didn't have time for before.I reset my marketing, I redesigned my logo, and I kept myself present on social media just to make sure that people remembered that I'm still here when they're ready.
How the IGLTA Ignited Edouard's Commitment to LGBTQ+ Allyship
Mary: Was this the same timeframe when you took that step to reach out to your LGBTQ+ clients? Or was it before all that?
Edouard: I attended the IGLTA conference in ‘19. Was it 19? 2018 . . . I was so taken aback by all the information I was getting on that community, what services were being offered. Some of the things that the community goes through, I was aware of, but a lot of it I was not aware of. So again, I love what I do. I'm passionate about what I do and I want to give my clients the best possible experience. Afterward, I just reached out to my clients who were in that community and just said, Hey, can we get together and have an informal discussion on you know, the cons and pros of traveling? What are you looking for when you’re traveling? Not selling. I just wanted to see what, you know, your priorities are for when you’re traveling and get a better understanding of it. So, I can then better serve you when you're ready. And it was very insightful.
When same-sex couples check into a hotel, the person checking them in automatically think, "Oh, they need two beds," and it happens more often than not.
Mary: When you were at the IGLTA conference, what were some of the takeaways that surprised you the most?
Edouard: One thing that stuck with me is—before I had been at the conference—[my clients] would always remind me to make sure they had a king bed. Over and over again. And in my head, I'm like, I got it. Why are they reminding me? and come to find out. You know, some of the things we don't understand are, when same-sex couples check into a hotel, the person checking them in—because they're same-sex— automatically think, Oh, they need two beds. And it happens more often than not.
I didn't catch it till I was at the conference. And I said, Oh, that's why they kept reminding me. So, I make it a point when they travel that I'm going to make sure to note in the reservation that the request is granted, and I will make sure it's granted before. So that was one takeaway.
The other takeaway was metal detectors. When you go through to the airport, before you go through, the person behind the metal detector clicks on either male or female that's walking through. So, when someone is transgender and they walk through, if the person behind the metal detector is taken back, they have to go through an extra search procedure, which sometimes is not the best experience.
So those things are probably two of my most memorable takeaways because of experiences that they have when they're traveling.
Mary: Yeah. I think that's so helpful for travel advisors to understand firsthand some experiences that folks who are transgender and non-binary might have while they’re traveling and how the airport screening experience can be so uncomfortable.
And like for you, going to the IGLTA conference helped keep you in tune with some of these issues. And I mean, I'm part of the LGBTQ+ plus community, I and I was reading a couple of weeks ago about how one thing that can help is just to make sure that clients have Global Entry or TSA pre-check. It seems so obvious when you hear it, but then you start to synthesize that information in a different way.
The surprise on people's faces around made me realize more how much we don't know about [the LGBTQ+] community and how much we have to learn.
Edouard: Yeah. It's not that I was surprised, but learning about the screening process was from a young woman who explained it from the stage and the surprise on people's faces around me just . . . it made me realize more how much we don't know about that community and how much we have to learn.
Just like any other community. You know, they're not looking for anything special. They're just looking to make sure that they're treated with the same respect. And sometimes we don't know that. So, the more we learn, the better it is for everyone involved.
Walking the Talk: Reaching out to his LGBTQ+ Friends & Prospective Clientele
Mary: Yeah, exactly. And one of the things you were talking about, a lot of times it can be easy to just keep that information theoretical . . . “I was at a conference, I learned this and now I can check that off my list, and during PRIDE maybe I'll post rainbow flags on social media," or something like that.
Before this, I would have said that most countries are progressive and welcome any community with open arms. And sadly, that's not the case.
But one of the things that struck me was you taking that step to synthesize that information and personalize it to better learn about your clientele. I was wondering if you could just talk a little bit about the logistics of what you did, of gathering your [LGBTQ+] clients together, and how that worked for you
Edouard: Well, I called a couple of my clients who happened to know each other and I asked them to have something—one of them have a nice home out in Long Island (I live in New York City)—and I said, "Would you open up your house to your friends and their friends. So, we can have like a, just an informal social gathering, and see if we could talk travel, and what's important to you, so I have a better understanding of what's going on." So that's how it started. And then a couple of weeks later you know, I supplied food, drinks and we had some games and we just made it a social gathering.
I’d take my time to go through the crowd and just introduce myself and ask questions and just make it like a discussion like we're having now. And it was very insightful and it lasted about four hours. So, no one wants to leave and everyone’s having a good time. And I was getting educated at the same time.
Mary: [Laughs] When you're the host, parties go long.
Edouard: They [laughs] Yes. We all like to have a party and drink and talk and, you know, socialize. I don’t want to say what games were being played. But drinking games were being played. It was a good time.
I had to make sure that when I'm talking to a destination or a tourism board, that's one of my questions about how the destination is with the LGBTQ+ community.
Mary: And you got good intel, I'm sure. Do you mind sharing some of the stuff that you learned from that experience?
Edouard: Well, one thing it did, it reinforced what I took away from the conference because they just repeated what was important to them. And what I found out at the conference was one and the same as far as they were concerned. They just want to travel like everyone else, they have concerns like everyone.
Their concerns may be different from one community to another community, but they want to make sure that those concerns are addressed and met. So, you know, everyone talked about checking in and getting the double beds. Every one of them said the same thing. So, and I didn't know how often that happened. So that was something that hit home.
The other thing was the safety part of it, you know, certain destinations aren't as friendly as other destinations. So that's something else.I had to make sure that when I'm talking to a destination or a tourism board, that's one of my questions about how the destination is with the LGBTQ+ community.
So, I wouldn't have done that if I did not take the time to talk to everyone at that gathering, and now it's part of my business practices.
Mary: Was there anything that surprised you when you started asking those questions to suppliers?
Edouard: Yeah. 'Cause there were some countries or destinations that are not friendly that I'm surprised weren't friendly, and some surprised me that they were friendly. So, on both sides. So when someone from the LGBTQ+ community comes to me and wants to travel I know what destinations not to give them as a proposal to where they want to go travel, or where I think they'll be safe.
Again, before this, I would have said that most countries are progressive and welcome any community with open arms. And sadly, that's not the case.
A lot of them did call me afterward to say how thankful they were that someone took the time to ask about their travel experiences
Mary: How did these folks respond to this event? Did they reach out to you afterward?
Edouard: First, they were actually surprised that I was asking these questions to better myself, and they were appreciative of it. And a lot of them did call me afterward to say how thankful they were that someone took the time to ask about their experiences and what's important to them when they travel.
Unfortunately, you know, this past year nobody was traveling, but they said when we feel comfortable traveling again, they would call me because they felt comfortable with me because of the event that I helped put together to get a better understanding of the community.
I felt that I can only get better with all the information I learned. And I was very thankful that they took the time out to talk to me
Mary: It strikes me that it's an opportunity for you to establish trust. Like you were saying, I'm not trying to sell them anything. You're there for them.
Edouard: I’m humble and appreciative that they even took time to talk to me. Sometimes some people are private with their opinions and for the most part, everyone was open and felt comfortable enough to tell me their past experiences. What was what was bad? What was good? And what was a priority to them when they traveled? I felt that I can only get better with all the information I learned. And I was very thankful that they took the time out to talk to me . . . while they were drinking.
Mary: Well, that's how you get people to talk, right? [Laughs]
Qualifying Destinations & Supplier with the LGBTQ+ Travel Experience in Mind
Mary: So, you talked about how it helped inform the way that you approached tourism boards and qualifying suppliers and destinations. Were there other ways that this conversation shaped some of your business practices?
I keep myself updated on what's going on. It's still surprising and shocking how I have to ask these questions.
Edouard: Well, when talking to the BDMs or suppliers or destinations about travel in general, or what's going on with their destination or product . . . Let's say there was a destination that wasn't too friendly. I'm going to ask what I asked him the last year, and this year, I'm going to ask them the same question to see if there's been any change.
So that way I keep myself updated on what's going on. It's just, it's still surprising and shocking how I have to ask these questions. You know, that's my takeaway. Like, I know why I have to ask these questions, but why in 2021, do I still have to ask these questions? But it is what it is. And I'm going to just go take the information I get to make sure that my clients have the best experience possible and don't have to worry about any negative experiences.
Questions to Ask Suppliers and Destinations
Mary: Just out of curiosity, what are some of the questions that you ask?
Edouard: If I'm talking from a destination standpoint that's not known, are same-sex relationships legal in that country? If it is, how accepted is it in that destination?
I had to rely on my relationship and contacts I have with people on the ground and in the tourism board to let me know, "Hey, where can my clients go that they'll feel safe?"
I had clients who went to Jamaica and in Jamaica same-sex marriage is illegal. However, they still wanted to go. And I said, fine, just watch where you're going when you leave the resort.
Because most of the resorts are more understanding and accepting of same-sex relationships. So, at the resort, usually, there are not any problems. It's when you go outside the resort and you intermingle with the locals of that destination where it might become a problem.
So, they still want to go. I told them where they can go based on my conversation with the tourism board and they had a great time. It's just like anywhere else, even here in the United States, you know where to go, where not to go. Where is safe and where’s not safe. So, me not being a citizen of Jamaica, I had to rely on my relationship and contacts I have with people on the ground and in the tourism board to let me know, "Hey where can my clients go that they'll feel safe?"
Mary: Yeah. That underscores the importance of having those conversations with the tourism boards and suppliers because one of the things that I was learning from an IGLTA webinar is that a country's laws don't necessarily reflect its friendliness towards the queer community.
So, same-sex relationships might be legal, but they still might potentially be an uncomfortable place for folks to visit. Or it might be illegal, but still very queer-friendly. And you as a travel advisor, are aware of those issues and ask them those questions, then leveraging those relationships and that's important for travelers.
The Value of a Travel Advisor for LGBTQ+ Travelers (& Beyond)
Edouard: Correct. Correct. And also . . . Okay . . . I don't want to like toot my own horn, but—
Mary: You can toot your own horn [laughs]
It makes travel advisors that much more valuable and important because you can't go onto a travel agency website, like an Orbitz or Travelocity, and get that same information..
Edouard: As a whole, it makes travel advisors that much more valuable and important because you can't go onto a travel agency website, like an Orbitz or Travelocity, and get that same information. You're just, oh, this looks nice, let me pick it. And you get to that destination and it's not what you expected.
Mary: Right. And you have the ability to ask questions that travelers wouldn't even know to ask or think about potentially.
Edouard: So, right, right, right, right. So that's why I tell all my people who know me—I post on social media, if you're going to travel, especially this, you know, especially around these times, your best bet is to use a travel advisor rather than a travel website.
Because we have relationships. We asked the questions. We ask you the questions to make sure that we know where you want to go, "what's your, what's your reason for going? Are you going for RNR (rest and relaxation) or are you going somewhere to celebrate a birthday? An anniversary?" So, we match you with the right resort. The right destination. That goes across the board with any community, 'cause we want to make sure that your experience is the best it can be for whatever reason you're traveling, and only a travel advisor can do that for you.
And, most of the time, it doesn't even cost you anything extra. Right? So, you have someone to advocate for you when something goes wrong and you have someone to help you find the right experience when you're going for a particular reason. Birthday anniversary, graduation.
Advice on Fostering an Agency Culture of Inclusion
Mary: Yeah. Do you have any advice specifically for advisors who might be . . . hesitant to start some of these conversations. I know it can probably feel outside of the comfort zone, but you seemed to just embrace that. What, what advice can you give to advisors?
Don't be afraid to ask the questions that are sometimes needed . . . You'll be a better travel advisor for it, and your clients will have a better experience.
Edouard: I would say, "Listen, your client is number one. Your client should be number one and the more you know your client, the better you'll be able to deliver on their vacation packages and make that experience great. So don't be afraid to ask the questions that are sometimes needed. Surprisingly, in 2021 we still need to ask these questions just to make sure you have your bases covered.
The last thing you want to do is not ask the questions. Something goes wrong, and you find out later it caused something that could have been prevented. So go ahead and ask those hard questions. Believe me. Believe me. Believe me. It'll work out in the end. You'll be better. You'll be a better travel advisor for it, and your clients will have a better experience.
Mary: And it's better for the industry too, you know, just overall asking those hard questions to make sure that it's fin the back people's mind, you're saying earlier, not just with one specific travel segment, but —
Edouard: I mean, no community is better than another community. It's just different. So, across the board, you should be asking these questions. To make sure you've got that vacation package right.
Edouard's Recommended LGBTQ+ Travel Resources
Mary: Are there any resources that you recommend for travel advisors who would like to do something similar? What did you rely on?
Edouard: I would definitely look into the IGLTA for resources. Because that association has suppliers who are experienced with putting a package together for the LGBTQ+ community.
So definitely that would be my number one go-to. For them to be a part of that community get yourself established with the different suppliers that service them, and definitely if you can, attend the conference itself. Because it's eye-opening. It was eye-opening. So that's my less my, unfortunately, my one-and-only go-to as far as associations.
I know there's more out there, but I feel that so far, they've helped me the most.
And then everyone has a friend in the LGBTQ community that they can reach out to, and say, “Hey you know I love you as a friend, but I want to get familiar with the things you go through when you travel.” A friend is probably your best resource.
What it Means to Edouard to be an Ally
Mary: Well, thanks so much for chatting with me today. I just, you know, one of the reasons why I wanted to have this conversation is because I feel like there’s so much coming up around the importance of allyship everywhere and within the travel community.
And I felt like this was just one small example of how you showed up as an ally to learn about a community that you're not a part of and grow your understanding and, you know, let your learning shape your business. What I wanted to end with is what does it mean to you, personally, to be an ally?
Edouard: To be an ally? Wow. Put me on the spot now. [Laughter] I'm a person who—I think I don't have any prejudices against anyone at all. And I believe that we all need to be closer, like more towards that than the other way, because as a whole, it just, it makes us as human beings better. And the more being segregated, like being someone of African American descent, I grew up in a predominately Black neighborhood and I really didn't think outside of that until I went to high school, unbeknownst to me at the time. I went to high school outside of my neighborhood and it was more of an Italian neighborhood and it helped me communicate and know more about my Italian brothers and sisters. I wish more people would consciously do that as far as learn what your neighbors are about. The other communities that surround you.
Going to that conference . . . I thought I was doing good before, but learning more about the community, I think made me a better ally to them. And I'm honored and appreciative of them letting me into their community so I can learn more about them and vice versa. Because it's a two-way street. We all learn from each other the more we talk to each other talk to each other and learn about each other, you know, instead of the stereotypes that we might learn from other sources. So being a true ally means a lot. So, and I try to do my best to represent stuff in the best light and to make sure if someone else has some pre-notions that are false, that I make sure to educate them so, they have a better understanding of the LGBTQ community.
You know, I'm a people person, so it doesn't matter. Sex creed, color, whatever. I'm a people person. And I treat everyone with the same respect that I hope they treat me. So that's it,
Mary: That's a good way to wrap it up. Having the courage to step outside of your comfort zone, take your blinders off, and work that into who you are . . . and makes you a better person, and travel advisor and has a rippling impact on the industry and the world at large. So thanks so much —
Edouard: You have to be comfortable being uncomfortable in order to grow.
Mary: I love that; “You have to be comfortable with being uncomfortable.”
Edouard: That's it.
Mary: Well, thank you so much, Edouard. I appreciate you taking the time to chat with me today. And I hope we cross paths in the future.
Edouard: I hope we do. Thank you, Mary, for the time. I appreciate it. This topic is something that's important, and I thank you for the opportunity for letting me talk about it. We'll cross paths.
Additional Resources on LGBTQ+ Travel
- HAR's article, "5 Tips to Make Your Agency LGBTQ Friendly (or Friendlier)
- IGLTA's annual Global Convention
- IGLTA has an entire portion of their site dedicated to the latest LGBTQAI+ travel research, and it's available for free. Here you can also find a running list of CMI's (Community Marketing and Insights) reports from their annual survey of LGBTQAI+ travel segments. Read their latest report,
- CMI (Community Marketing and Insights) conducts an annual survey of LGBTQAI+ travelers that offers invaluable insights on what this demographic prioritizes when they make travel choices. While this article has summarized some of its insights, you can find the full report here to take the pulse of the latest LGBTQAI+ travel trends and what marketing efforts are most effective in reaching this segment.
- Be sure to also check out CMI's latest survey results from their "Black LGBTQ Community Survey 2020/2021."
- A basic list of LGBTQAI Terminology
- An (older by still relevant) NYT article on planning a safe trip for LGBTQ travelers
- 40 Safety Tips for LGBT Travelers by Dopes on the Road
- Travel and Leisure’s latest podcast featuring LGBTQAI+ travel stories and Tips for Transgender Travelers: Here, guest Aria Sa'id, the executive director of Compton's Transgender Cultural District, says "I tell trans people all the time, get TSA PreCheck, like getting Global Entry. It just saves you so much of the headache . . . that comes with traveling to start."
- IGLA's (International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association) maps of discriminatory laws around the world help advisors take the temperature of whether a destination is culturally affirming of LGBTQAI+ travelers, or potentially more hostile.
[Editor's Note: This interview transcript was edited for length and clarity.]
Edouard Jean, owner of Massive Travels in New York opened his business after a career in the financial industry as a Stock Broker for 10 years. His love of travel came from taking his first International vacation after 9/11 and realizing that he never took a “real” vacation. After returning from his trip to Jamaica, Edouard starting putting together annual group trips to the One Love Island with up to 300 attendees every year. He caught the travel bug, which is his passion. After being laid off as a Stock Broker, he realized his true calling was as a travel advisor. Edouard opened his agency in 2006 and never looked back!