Malta has the potential to become a gay tourism destination if it markets itself better, according to the US special envoy for LGBT rights.

Randy Berry, on a whirlwind visit to Malta yesterday, told Times of Malta the island could benefit from an untapped tourism market.

“I get the feeling Malta isn’t just LGBT-tolerant, but LGBT-friendly. This makes a world of difference when it comes to tourism and could be very beneficial to Malta,” he said, recounting how one of the first things he saw when arriving on the island was a gay couple holding hands.

LGBT tourism is a form of niche tourism marketed to gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people, mainly concerned with cultural and safety issues.

Illustrating his point further, Mr Berry said just 30 per cent of Americans carried a passport. However, 70 per cent of LGBT Americans were passport holders.

Market studies, he said, had consistently shown this group had longer holidays and spent more than their heterosexual counterparts.

“Feeling welcomed rather than tolerated is important. This could be an untapped sector,” he said.

A US travel university report published last year found that 10 per cent of international tourists were gay and lesbian, accounting for more than 70 million arrivals worldwide.

Feeling welcomed rather than tolerated is important

Mr Berry yesterday met Civil Liberties Minister Helena Dalli to discuss the concept of LGBT tourism and ways of exporting recent legislation to countries considering following in Malta’s footsteps.

Mr Berry pointed to the recent Gender Identity Act as having put Malta on the map when it came to LGBT rights.

Currently on a world tour to gather information on international LGBT policies, Mr Berry said several countries had highlighted Maltese legislation as the benchmark to follow.

“These are broad, intelligent pieces of legislation which are applicable in many countries.

“Parliamentary researchers look for best practices across the world. I think the Maltese legislation has been put on that level where others are viewing it as the benchmark now,” he said.

Preacher does not reflect views of American society

The views expressed by US evangelists visiting Malta are not reflective of American society as a whole, Mr Berry said.

He distanced himself from the views of a Texas preacher, who recently visited Malta and controversially described homosexuality as a mental illness.

“These beliefs are disgusting, and hurtful, but definitely don’t reflect the opinion of the vast majority of Americans and faith leaders in the US. Unfortunately, these messages often come across the loudest,” he said.

Reacting to a separate news report that a Maltese psychologist with ties to a local Evangelist movement had been conducting gay conversion therapy, Mr Berry said the US was in the process of criminalising such practices.

The Maltese government is also drafting a Bill to outlaw conversion therapy on homosexuals.

Mr Berry said the practice was particularly harmful as it was often conducted by people in positions of influence.

“What we often find in these cases is that people who are going through a difficult process of coming out are told they are unnatural, sick or even evil. This is coming from those who often hold influence over a group of people, such as faith healers, who should frankly know better,” he said.

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