COUNTLESS CRUISE LINES go out of their way to welcome LGBTQ+ travelers. But what if you’re in the mood for an environment where LGBTQ+ passengers are the majority — or perhaps the only people on board? Well, there are plenty of options for that type of experience, too.
IF THE PACIFIC NORTHWEST enjoys a unique reputation as a progressive and naturally beautiful paradise in the United States, then Portland, Oregon, stars as one of the hubs featuring what people love best about the region. The city’s liberal, accepting vibe as well as its eco-friendly approach to life also explain why Portland is so popular with LGBTQ+ travelers.
BACK IN 2017, the International Gay and Lesbian Travel Association’s buyer survey named Israel one of the top two emerging LGBTQ+ destinations. Today Tel Aviv, the nation’s center for business, entertainment and the arts, continues to cement its role as a hub for sophisticated travelers. If you’re looking to feel welcome in the Middle East, place Tel Aviv at the top of your list.
VOLUNTOURISM, A FAIRLY NEW TERM, refers to tourism that includes a volunteer or philanthropic component. Its popularity continues to grow thanks to heightened awareness about environmental issues. LGBTQ+ travelers are among those who find an increasingly diverse array of options, making it easy to take part in gay-friendly, eco-friendly, volunteer-oriented vacations that prove both enjoyable and rewarding.
ASK ANY LGBTQ+ GLOBETROTTER to name a top sun-andfun vacation spot in Europe, and Mykonos will likely appear near the top of the list. “Mykonos has always been a welcoming and nonjudgmental place,” said Keith Wein, owner, 127travel, an upscale travel agency that’s a division of Tzell Travel Group in New York City and Seattle.
LGBTQ+ EVENTS ARE A DRIVING FORCE for some travelers, providing an array of value-added experiences and activities to any vacation. And whether it’s pride, culture or sports, the LGBTQ+ event segment is in growth mode, as destinations up the ante with fresh offerings.
IF YOU WANT TO GET A HANDLE ON Amsterdam’s LGBTQ+ scene, just ask Arnold Plotnick, a retired veterinarian from the United States who loved the Dutch capital so much when he first visited in 1998, he moved there. “Amsterdam is a longrunning favorite destination for gays because of the liberal, live-and-let-live attitude in the city and country in general,” he said. “The Netherlands was the first country to gay marriage, and gay life and culture is so ingrained in their society that people really don’t think twice about it.”
A BASIC TENET OF ANY HOTELIER is to be hospitable. And Hilton Worldwide — which owns Waldorf Astoria, DoubleTree, Embassy Suites, Conrad and Hilton Hotels & Resorts, to name a few brands — carved one of the industry’s strongest reputations for welcoming LGBTQ+ guests as well as staff.
A HISTORIC EVENT TOOK PLACE back in 2015, when Florida’s first same-sex marriage united local gay activists Aaron Huntsman and William Lee Jones. The fact the ceremony took place at Key West’s Monroe County Courthouse says a lot about the destination’s long-time welcoming attitude.
WITH DOZENS OF ISLANDS and diverse influences from Europe, Africa and the Americas, the Caribbean offers decidedly different experiences that vary by destination. That makes it even more important for LGBTQ travelers to pick the places that are most gay-friendly and offer the most rewarding ways to enjoy the sun, sand and excitement.
TODAY’S LGBTQ TOUR and vacation packages are as diverse as the people they’re designed to satisfy. Indeed, whether travelers prefer culture, adventure or natural beauty — and whether they’re looking for a package that includes LGBTQ-specific activities like gay nightlife and pride outings or just a comfortable and welcoming atmosphere — there’s likely a tour that fits the bill.
WILLIAM PENN, WHO FOUNDED and named Pennsylvania’s largest city, certainly didn’t realize one day people might consider its meaning — “brotherly love” — an indication of the destination’s appeal for LGBTQ travelers. But today this diverse metropolis is firmly established as one of the most welcoming large cities on the East Coast.
WASHINGTON, D.C., IS MORE than just the nation’s capital. It’s also a hub for LGBTQ life and tourism, with a vibrant array of nightlife and events that represent the city’s role as a national gathering place. D.C. also happens to be in the running to host Gay Games 2022, competing against Hong Kong and Guadalajara, Mexico, to welcome the world’s largest LGBTQ sporting event.
IF YOU’RE AN LGBTQ TRAVELER, now is an especially appropriate time to visit London according to Paul Gauger, interim executive vice president of the Americas, VisitBritain, the nation’s tourism organization. “The United Kingdom is celebrating the 50th anniversary of the start of decriminalization of homosexuality in England and Wales,” he said. “To mark the significant anniversary, cultural establishments throughout Great Britain are featuring special exhibits and events commemorating the anniversary. In London, the British Museum and the Tate are revealing prolific exhibitions great for first-time visitors to experience.”
A RECENT ADVERTISING CAMPAIGN by the San Francisco Travel Association carried a rather attention-getting line: “San Francisco’s gay neighborhood is called San Francisco.” And that pretty much sums up the appeal of this city by the bay with LGBTQ travelers.
WITH ITS SUN-SOAKED coastal beaches, sophisticated vibe and lively celebrations, Australia’s largest city enjoys an especially high profile with LGBTQ travelers. “It’s a city that has it all; lush and green, very walkable, with easy-to-use public transport and friendly locals with a positive vibe,” says Mario Paez, managing director and co-founder, Planetdwellers, a travel company that offers LGBTQ Sydney tours. “The best thing, though, is that no matter where, how or when you choose to party, the Village is centered around Oxford Street, which makes it easy to have a big night out with little or no Ubering required.”
ONE OF SOUTH AMERICA’S top vacation and business destinations also happens to be, according to some surveys, one of the most popular LGBTQ destinations in the Western Hemisphere. And it makes sense — after all, Buenos Aires is the capital of the first Latin American country to legalize same-sex marriage on a national level. But the allure, of course, goes beyond that.
OFTEN CALLED THE “City of Light,” Paris is also widely regarded as one of the top LGBTQ destinations on the globe. France, in fact, ranked No. 2 among all international destinations last year in the 20th LGBT Tourism & Hospitality Survey by Community Marketing, Inc., as well as the top choice in Europe for U.S.-based same-sex couples looking for a romantic place to honeymoon.
AS THE LARGEST METROPOLIS in South America and one of the largest cities in the world, it’s only natural São Paulo offers a diverse array of experiences for travelers. And that goes for LGBTQ travelers as well, thanks to the extensive variety of businesses, events and nightlife that cater to this market segment.
Cruises for LGBT travelers keep getting bigger, as evidenced by the January 2017 debut of what Atlantis Events calls the “largest and most extravagant gay cruise in history.” Royal Caribbean’s Allure of the Seas will take some 5,400 passengers on an action-packed cruise slated for Jan. 22–29, 2017. Setting sail from Fort Lauderdale, the ship stops at Cozumel and Costa Maya, Mexico; and Labadee, Haiti. With 17 decks, 5 theaters, 13 restaurants and 5 dance spaces, the Allure of the Seas promises a lot of onboard activities for Atlantis passengers.
Gay pride parades may be the most visual and festive LGBT celebrations, but they represent just one category of happenings that lure travelers to a wide variety of destinations throughout the year. From film and theater festivals to ski weeks, from street fairs to fundraisers, the globe is dotted with LGBT events to fit the interests of countless travelers. Many organizations that host the events also offer hotel packages including admission and activities, making it even easier for globetrotters to take part in the fun. For decades, film has been a powerful way for the LGBT community to express itself, and multiple festivals offer a chance to view the newest movies. In the United Kingdom, the BFI Flare: London LGBT Film Festival, billed as one of the largest such events on the planet, brings dozens of films to the screen every March. Also in the U.K., the Shropshire Rainbow Film Festival takes place this year Oct. 14–16. Dublin hosts two creative gatherings every year: the International Dublin Gay Theatre Festival, which brings drama, comedy and music to the stage every May; and the GAZE International Film Festival, which takes place in July and August.
Ever since the modern gay rights movement was born following the Stonewall riots of 1969, annual gay pride celebrations have provided an important symbol of LGBT visibility and progress in an ever-growing number of cities around the world. And this year is no exception. In North America, top destinations for LGBT pride celebrations include New York City, where this year’s NYC Pride takes place June 19–26, with top draws including the official March, PrideFest and Dance on the Pier. Also big on the calendar is Pride Toronto, which this year celebrates a number of firsts: It’s the first time the event has been extended to fill the entire month of June, the first time the rainbow flag — a symbol of the LGBT community — will fly over City Hall and the first time a sitting prime minister will participate in the pride parade. The largest overall LGBT pride celebration in the world continues to be the Parada do Orgulho LGBT (LGBT Pride Parade) in São Paulo, Brazil, which attracts more than 4 million participants and viewers. This year’s celebration takes place the first week in June, with the main parade June 5. Also noteworthy in Latin America is the Marcha del Orgullo Gay in Mexico City, which — while much smaller than São Paulo’s event (last year attracting about 100,000 people) — nevertheless boasts a festive spirit, with a parade and concert on the last Saturday in June. Across the Atlantic, the most international LGBT celebration, EuroPride, takes place in a different city every year. This year, Amsterdam plays host, with more than 200 events scheduled for July 23–Aug. 7, including the European Human Rights concert and the Canal Parade with some 80 LGBT organizations participating in a photo-worthy procession of floats. Every corner of the world offers its own version of an LGBT pride celebration. In the Middle East, the largest such gathering takes place in Tel Aviv June 1–4, while the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras slated for March 2017 is Australia’s colorful contribution. WorldPride, a global celebration organized by InterPride, an international organization that aims to empower local gay pride organizations, will happen in Madrid in 2017.
When airlines endeavor to showcase their friendliness to the LGBT community, they tend to take a multipronged approach. From consumer marketing to sponsored partnerships to employee policies, carriers aiming to take off with gay passengers have a variety of angles to exploit. On the marketing side, United Airlines uses email blasts through the International Gay & Lesbian Travel Association. Delta Air Lines offers LGBT vacation packages through its Delta Vacations brand, featuring hotels that meet criteria as gay-friendly properties. American Airlines maintains a gay and lesbian travel section on its site as well, with information about LGBT events, news and special offers. Virgin Atlantic, meanwhile, includes LGBT travel recommendations on its blog. Across the Pacific, Air New Zealand has been among the most successful at attracting attention with its LGBT-focused marketing efforts. In 2008 the company launched what it called the first North American “Pink Flight” — a specially themed service from San Francisco in celebration of the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras. And the carrier staged a same-sex wedding at 30,000 feet after New Zealand legalized such unions in 2013. Several airlines partner with LGBT organizations to sponsor special events and support causes. Southwest Airlines, for example, is the official carrier of the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, the Gay-Straight Alliance Network and the National Gay & Lesbian Chamber of Commerce. The carrier also includes working with LGBT-owned suppliers among the goals of its supplier diversity initiative. United Airlines maintains a presence in pride parades in five of its hub cities, serves as the official airline of Equality Illinois and is a Gold Level Partner with IGLTA. And in 2015 the airline became the only top-tier Diamond Level partner of the National Gay Pilots Association, a nonprofit organization of LGBT pilots and aviation enthusiasts, many of whom work in commercial aviation. The way an airline treats its LGBT employees, in fact, provides another way the industry gauges which airlines are most respectful of the community. Most major airlines in the United States, for example, include LGBT employee groups; American Airlines has one of the newest since its merger with US Airways resulted in a combined group called Pride, which boasts about 620 members. And JetBlue touts its perfect score of 100 on the 2016 Corporate Equality Index, a rating from the Human Rights Campaign based on surveys and reports on corporate policies and practices related to LGBT workplace equality.
Nearly every segment of the travel industry seems to have a strategy for attracting LGBT travelers. Hoteliers, however, have more options than many since their diversity of destinations — not to mention broad marketing efforts and gay-friendly employment policies — provide lots of opportunities to showcase their friendliness in creative ways.
Ask most travelers to name the top LGBT travel destinations in the United States, and Fort Lauderdale will likely appear near the top of the list. After all, this Florida vacation paradise spent years carving its role as a favored getaway for LGBT travelers — especially gay men. And the destination is aiming for an even more diverse appeal within this segment, according to the Greater Fort Lauderdale Convention & Visitors Bureau, which bills itself as the “only CVB in North America with a designated LGBTQ department.”
At the most recent gathering of LGBT Confex, Mexico’s largest business convention focused on the LGBT market, the mood turned buoyant when topics of travel and tourism arose. “There is greater visibility because of the civil rights that are being won in this country,” said Ruben Sandoval, CEO and founder, LGBT Confex. “Businesses and destinations are preparing for this segment. They’re training and they’re sensitizing themselves to it. It’s not just about placing an advertisement; it’s about what you do internally and how you treat your employees.”
It’s no secret LGBT travelers spend a lot on travel. According to the 19th annual LGBT Tourism Survey conducted by Community Marketing, Inc., LGBT travel grew by 9 percent in 2014, with similar growth predicted for 2015. And according to a study by Out Now Business Class, a travel networking association, the market is now valued at more than $200 billion in annual spending.
TAP Air Portugal is adding 15 new weekly flights from the United States and Canada by summer 2020, a new record for the carrier of 71 weekly flights between North America and Portugal.
Alaska Airlines recently debuted its new Pixar-inspired, special-edition aircraft livery. On both sides of the Pixar-themed Boeing 737-800 aircraft, travelers spot recognizable faces from the Toy Story franchise, including Buzz Lightyear, Woody and Jessie. Rex the Tyrannosaurus appears on the boarding door and the little green aliens show up on the aircraft’s winglets.
Chef Philip Guardione used to spend his days and nights on Manhattan’s Prince and Spring streets, where his popular restaurants Piccola Cucina Enoteca and Piccola Cucina Osteria attract locals and tourists who love his Sicilian-inspired cuisine as well as the street scene in the vibrant SoHo neighborhood.
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The New InterContinental San Juan is officially reopening next month. The opening marks the completion of the property’s first major renovation in more than 20 years.
Mandarin Oriental, Bangkok completed renovations on its River Wing, concluding the hotel’s most extensive renovations in nearly 150 years. The River Wing redesign followed restorations of the hotel’s Authors’ and Garden wings. Newly renovated guestrooms and suites feature updated facilities, but maintain the hotel’s signature Thai elegance. The renovations also increased the number of suites in the wing, as well as enlarged guestrooms with views of the Chao Phraya River.
United Airlines’ environmentally friendly efforts lessen the impact on local U.S. communities.