Diogo Silva, executive director of Variações, told Lusa that Portugal has sufficient potential to invest in this area, especially due to advanced legislation in terms of combating discrimination and because it is considered one of the safest countries in Europe.

Created in 2018,the association brings together more than 60 members, including travel agencies, hotels, discos, bars and restaurants.

“Often they aresmall and medium-sized businesses in their own world, and they do not realise that it is possible to create synergies and joint programming,” he said, thus justifying the creation of the association.

In 2018, Variações founded ‘ProudlyPortugal’ - the first campaign to promote the country as a LGBT+ tourist destination - with the support of Turismo de Portugal, and in 2019 organised PortoPride, the first event of its kind in the country, in partnership with the Porto City Council, whose membership exceeded all expectations.

The association, together with ILGA Portugal and the Ex-aequo Network, applied in 2019 to organise the 30th edition of EuroPride, an event to celebrate gay pride. They came in second place, losing to Serbia. A future re-application is one of Variações’ plans to position Portugal in the LGBTI+ attraction market.

During the period when national tourism reopened, the hotels registered occupancy rates well above the average of the other establishments in the sector in the city of Lisbon.

They were “at around 90 percent [of occupation]”, the director of the association noted, noting that “this proved that the LGBTI+ segment represents an added value in the area of tourism”.

Another promisingector “with gigantic potential”, according to the association, is the gay or lesbian marriage market, given that Portugal is one of the few European countries to recognise marriages of non-nationals, and can thus attract homosexual couples from countries that have not yet legalised same-sex marriage.

Variações considersthat tourism in the capital is already a worldwide reference for the gay community, especially due to the support and social projects conducted over more than 20 years by the Lisbon City Hall.

However, Diogo Silvasaid that the “necessary investment to make these businesses emerge” in the remaining regions of the country remains to be attracted as a tourism strategy to combat seasonality. As can be seen in the focus on ecotourism or rural tourism, “there are ways of communicating for a different type of client and this should also be done for people who have a different sexual orientation than heterosexuals,” he explained.

Following 11 years since the legalisation of same-sex marriage in Portugal and after being considered by the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights as the European country with the least attacks motivated by sexual orientation or gender identity, “Portugal is a good place to invest in this specific market, but for this to happen you need political will and investors who recognise this potential”, Diogo Silva challenged.