Interview With Pink Pillow Director Philip Ibrahim

Philip, what was the idea behind Pink Pillow?

Basically, I was sitting in a meeting in 2011 with the colleagues of visitBerlin to discuss future possible target groups for Berlin hotels. Accor had an initiative to target the LGBTI segment and I asked for something similar. I was appointed spokesman of an expert group of 3 hoteliers to analyze the possibilities and potentials.

We started by screening the international destinations to find something that was perhaps usable in Berlin, like a label or an existing tourism initiative. Unfortunately I was not happy with all existing ideas, because most are based on the concept of “pay to enter” – this was not persistent enough for us.

Additionally, we had a university research on the needs of LGBTI guests. The main objective was to find out what LGBTI guest would ask for in Berlin and what kind of actions are important to gain acceptance. We wanted to understand the need of a good and sustainable LGBTI offer.

Therefore we went quickly away from a “Gay / Lesbian” welcome kit including stuff like sex toys, condoms and other irrelevant things.
We wanted to get LGBTI tourism out of the “only sex” corner and show the scene as what they primarily are: visitors in Berlin!

We decided that the best and most sustainable offer is a collection of hotels that share a clear common idea: to really be open towards the LGBTI scene!
As long as visitBerlin had a self audit, asking all partner hotels, who considers themselves “Gay-friendly”, the response of 350 partners were 348 saying “yes” and 2 forgetting to answer… But what did it mean? What does a hotel have to do to be “gay-friendly” – there was no rule or promise on that.
We decided to create 5 common promises that each hotel HAS to fulfill in order to be part of this collection. This should be free of charge for a hotelier, because we wanted to open doors for every hotel and not close it due to costs!

philip-ibrahim-interview

This 5 promises are:

  1. Each Hotel General Manager or owner has to sign a charta putting their promises in a commitment – a clear confession towards LGBTI from the head of the company
  2. This charter has to be place in public in the hotel – it is part of our work environment
  3. Each hotel needs to sent at least one member of staff to a semi-annual information day – share do´s and don´t within the hotel industry and always be up to date with events
  4. Each hotel needs to have LGBTI information material open available in their public areas – not forced outings of our guests necessary
  5. Each hotel contributes in a LGBTI local social project – own initiative to liaise with the scene

After that we discussed the name and I thought that “pink pillow” indicates clearly what we are and what we want. So “pink pillow Berlin collection” was born…

What difficulties did you encounter?

Getting information of gay travel behavior was actually very easy. Berlin as a destination with a gay mayor (Klaus Wowereit at that time) and a long history in gay tourism had valuable information available. Plus we have very good and supportive partners from the start with national and international agencies like OutNow, TomOnTour or communigayte. But getting information from the other “4 letters” L, B, T and I was very difficult. I think not coming from within the scene, I had a lack of credibility especially in the lesbian travel scene.

On the other hand we had to convince the hotels, that a self – audit without a sustainable concept is not enough. The most hotels were happy with the existing situation being – of course- gay friendly but at the same time did not have to do anything about it.

What does your hotel do?

The Mercure Berlin City is placed directly in Berlin Mitte, near to the main train station. In the last years we have supported different project in Berlin. This year we cut a rainbow cake together with the spokesman of the Berlin senate during the week against homophobia. We have a good partnership with MANEO, the Berlin Anti violence project who organized the cake events all over Berlin.
This year we will support the life run of the Berlin HIV Aid with drinks during the race.
We are active members of the Associatin agains Homophobia and participate in the regional meetings.
We have a full acceptance on both sides of our reception! Therefore I am happy that my team stands fully behind the initiative and considers this as just logical, as we cater to every guest.
berlin-city-night

How do you rate the success?

Well we started with 7 hotels in the first project test and where around 40 when we launched the concept during the IBT 2014. Today we have over 65 hotels who follow this concept in Berlin.

We are the only self-initiated hotel cooperation worldwide. We offer the perfect mixture of education, regional social responsibility and networking. “Pink pillow” is the most target group sub-page (on visitBerlin.de) with the highest click impact on the homepage.

What are the future steps?

We want to generate bookings!
Therefore were started to build the brand pink pillow internationally. We have done pink pillow road-shows in Scandinavia, UK, Belgium and the Netherlands. This year we will host an event in Warszawa.
During the ITB we have established a “pink pillow”-breakfast with around 70-80 international contacts that we host, every Saturday of the IBT in one of our “pink pillow” hotels – this will be done next year as well.
We welcome LGBTI media and trade visitors in Berlin twice a year.

After all we are business owners and want to connect business success, a clear marketing strategy with our social responsibility. At the end of the day it is the guests who decide if we are doing a good job! I am convinced that pink pillow is the best LGBTI hotel project worldwide – and so are my colleagues in Berlin.

Thank you, Philip.

Thank you and see you in Berlin!