The IGLTA Foundation has announced that LGBTQ+ tour company OUT in Colombia is the recipient of the 2021 Impact Award to honor responsible tourism development. The award was launched this year in partnership with The TreadRight Foundation, a non-profit organization created by The Travel Corporation’s family of brands, to recognize a smaller business member (fewer than 10 employees) of the International LGBTQ+ Travel Association whose initiatives encourage sustainable tourism in three key areas: environment, community, and diversity and inclusion.
"With every one of our tours, we seek to introduce LGBTQ+ travelers to the new definition of all-inclusive, where you can travel well, travel out and make a difference all at the same time," said Sam Castañeda Holdren, founder and CEO of OUT in Colombia. "It is truly an honor to be recognized by IGLTA, the IGLTA Foundation, and The TreadRight Foundation for our efforts to give back to the community through responsible and sustainable tourism. As we strive for equality through travel, we hope that every new experience and cultural exchange leads to more compassion and understanding, while uplifting the diverse communities of the world."
Castañeda Holdren, who graduated from Arizona State University with a Master of Sustainability Leadership and is currently finishing ASU’s Master of Sustainable Tourism program, founded OUT in Colombia in 2016 in Medellín with the mission to break down barriers and enlighten people about the amazing cultures and communities in Colombia. One of the goals is to break through stereotypes and change the way people view Colombia and the LGBTQ+ traveler. The operator, which offers various cultural experiences in Medellín, Bogotá, Cartagena and Salento, has implemented a set of principles to the core of its development and work towards a diverse, sustainable and inclusive tourism offering in Colombia.
OUT in Colombia is based in one of the most biodiverse countries on the planet, and protecting its natural environment is critical to the long-term sustainability of its tourism industry. Through nature-based tourism, the operator teaches tourists about Colombia’s awesome biodiversity and creates awareness of how local and global challenges like climate change endanger the country’s natural wonders. Examples include a visit to the national aviary in Cartagena, raising awareness about the nearly 2,000 bird species that make Colombia their home; a nature hike through the Cocora Valley, a cloud forest that is home to the tallest species of the endangered wax palm tree, Colombia’s national tree, with information about initiatives to restore the forest before it disappears; and coffee farm excursions to highlight environmentally sensitive farming practices, a key component of sustainable food systems.
The operator’s tour packages are designed around a mix of culture, nature, nightlife and entertainment, and community. The company strives to promote meaningful intercultural exchanges that celebrate Colombia’s diverse cultures.
OUT in Colombia works with local LGBT+ entrepreneurs to help develop tourism products that become part of its packages and create opportunities to participate in the country’s growing tourism industry. Ensuring the economic benefits of tourism are shared among the community, supporting local economies, is one of the operator’s major commitments. Examples include CookingOUT Experiences, which feature gay chefs from struggling and an Afro-Colombian tour package that celebrates the unique contributions of Colombians of African descent. The latter includes a visit to Palenque, the first village in the Americas of free Africans who escaped slavery under Spanish rule, where, to this day, locals speak their native African language and hold on to unique customs and traditions.
Alliance building is key to promoting sustainable community-based tourism in Colombia, particularly with national tourism players such as national tourism board ProColombia; CCLGBTCO, Colombia’s LGBT Chamber of Commerce; the Medellín Convention & Visitors’ Bureau; and Barranquilla’s Tourism Office, among others.
Recently, OUT in Colombia launched a new initiative to help expand its impact by supporting local community causes. It formed a charitable organization called the Cocora Alliance, named after the Cocora Valley, a major draw for tourists to the region. OUT in Colombia has committed to contributing 5% of every dollar paid for a tour package to the Cocora Alliance.
“With all of the recent challenges our industry has faced, it’s important that we celebrate the work tourism businesses are doing to move the world forward in a better way,” said IGLTAF Board Chair Theresa Belpulsi. “There are so many small IGLTA business members doing great work under the radar, and with this new award, which we’ll present annually, they’ll get a much-deserved moment in the spotlight. We’re thrilled to recognize OUT in Colombia this year for their efforts.”
The Impact Award presentation will be held in Atlanta on Sept. 11 at the IGLTA Annual Global Convention, the premier educational and networking event for LGBTQ+ tourism, and includes US$5,000 in convention benefits and marketing support for the winner.