Gay travel started out as a relatively underground business and typically confined to the likes of sunny beach holidays with a scene that promoted wild nightlife.
These days the LGBT community business is a brand, and remains progressively lucrative. Straight businesses are cashing in on the pink pound and waving the rainbow flag as high and proudly as they can. Why, because like the Beverly Hillbillies T.V. show, if they can dig down into the gay soil successfully they will strike oil.
As a gay man, I have shied away from the quintessential gay holiday. Well not always, but I’m only human and yes there is something comforting about being surrounded by other gay men and women, but adventure travel is my preference.
I was convinced that gay men and women wanted to follow me down the dusty adventure travel road. So much so that I started my own gay tour operator called Yellow Brick Road Tours 9 years ago, if you look online you’ll find a very dated and disused website. I was interviewed by the BBC and took bookings, but the reality of the situation (keep in mind this goes back 9 years) I found was that British gay travellers simply weren’t booking adventure travel, they wanted beach holidays.
For a long time I wondered if this had anything to do with the lack of sunshine in the UK, mainly because most of the bookings I took were Americans. But perhaps as the concept of travel changes, movies such as Slumdog Millionaire (there was a rapid spike in India adventure holidays after its release), and air travel being so accessible people are simply looking further afield.
What does gay travel mean to me?
In all honesty it doesn’t factor in where I decide to travel, how I travel or whom I travel with. Being gay does not define who I am, nor where I travel to. So by which marketing methods does the adventure market hope to attract the LGBT market? Well I’m just as curious as you in all honesty but I have seen some very cliché attempts including my own with Yellow Brick Road Tours.
A common saying I hear a lot, and this is my opinion only so please don’t send me hate mail, is the LGBT community not travelling to destinations where being gay is illegal. This comment has always struck me as ridiculous, mainly because I won’t impose limitations on myself as to where I travel, and if my plan is only to see the country, experience the culture, meet the locals and try new cuisine, how does being gay put me at risk? If it’s more down to a point of ethics, who is really missing out? Is it the local people who have the same laws dictated to them (including gay men and women native to the country)? Is it the business owners who are losing out on ‘cashing in’ on the pink pound? Or could it be the gay traveller who doesn’t experience all this new country has to offer?
It’s all about the research
I get it, some gay travellers have zero interest in leaving the beach and it comes down to personal preference, this is perfectly fine. My advice to any gay traveller thinking of ditching the suitcase on wheels in favour of a backpack is do your research before boarding the plane. Know what is acceptable or offensive to the locals. For example, when I lived in China 12 years ago, being gay was something of a taboo and HIV posters had just started popping up at train stations. It wasn’t acceptable to wander around Tiananmen Square holding hands and kissing, but when I did my research, there were some excellent gay bars and clubs where I could feel right at home. It comes down to research but that goes for all aspects of travel; what injections do I need? Where can I change currency? What is the religion and will acting a certain way be offensive? And are there any gay bars which I can pop to after a day exploring my new surrounds?
Ever looked at a beach holiday in the Maldives with your partner? Yes so have I and those huts on the water where you can literally dive off from your balcony look too divine for words. But you’ll need to do your research as gayness of any sort there runs the risk of the death penalty. Hotels such as the Sheraton or Hilton Conrad welcome the pink pound, will allocate you a double bed, but you’ll need to discreet. Please note I didn’t say don’t be gay, I said be discreet, there is a big difference.
Gay travellers I’ve met
I’m not saying gay travellers don’t travel past beaches; all you have to do is read my blogs or follow ‘Travel Geek UK’ who has an assortment of blogs from some very sexy locations around the globe. I’ve met other gay travellers in some far off places such as Egypt, Antarctica, Colombia, China, New Zealand and many more. When I worked as an adventure guide in Egypt, Jordan, China and Japan I had gay men and women join my tours who simply found it safer and easier to travel in a group. There are of course gay tour operators who specialise in tours for gay men such as ‘Out Adventures’ and do an excellent job of it!
Gay locals I’ve met
Gay locals are a great way to feel at ease and add a bit of personality to your trip. They can provide a safety net and point you in the right direction if there is a gay scene to explore. Keep in mind there may not be any scene at all so you’ll need to work out if that is important to you before choosing a destination. Finding a gay tour guide online before you travel is a smart thing to do if you’re concerned.
Remember it is not always a one way street. I met a closeted gay bar owner in China where I took my travel groups to many times, he found it very tough to live in a small town and appreciated the chance to be able to loosen up and flirt a bit with westerners.
The Yellow Brick Road Beach Holiday
Gay men and women will continue travel to beach destinations and places like Sitges, Mykonos, Gran Canaria, and Key West; it is the bread and butter for British gay travellers and let’s face it, who doesn’t like a week in the sun when Jack Frost is nipping in the UK. But there are so many other places in the world, some offering incredible experiences where you can finish your holiday on the beach so you get the best of both worlds.
Do your research before travelling and if you’re concerned, try connecting online with a gay local guide where you can be yourself and ask the right questions to the right people. I’m always happy for you to email me questions about specific countries or for contacts.
For any gay men and women thinking of travel plans further afield but on the fence? What have you got to lose! You need to take the leap of faith and embrace the fact you’re not in Kansas anymore!
Happy travelling folks!