A bit of a rant about gay travel

Gay travel has become a multi-billion-dollar industry. In 2011, it was estimated to generate over $65 billion in the US alone. Naturally, this has grabbed the attention of many places and agencies, including states like Florida who have unfriendly LGBT laws and practices.

They may not want gays to have equality, but they sure want a piece of the “pink dollar.”

While I think overall that is a positive thing, even if it’s hypocritical (“You can’t get married here, and we won’t recognize your marriage, but we’re a fantastic gay honeymoon destination!”), there is something about gay travel and how it’s advertised and covered that drives me nuts.

Yes, the label of LGBT has to do with a person’s sexuality, but I hate how the focus on gay travel is almost always sexual. Have a look at the following examples. I did a Google Images search for “greece travel” and “gay greece travel”  and grabbed the first few photos that showed up.  Notice the differences?

greece travel

gay travel

So as a gay man I wouldn’t be interested in Greece as a travel destination based on that first set of images?

And there were far less tame photos as well for “gay greece travel.”

What I also found interesting is when I searched for “lesbian greece travel” most of the images were either the ones like the top set or like the second. Only 1 photo out of about 30 included women. Do a search for LGBT, and it’s mostly men.

Women just can’t catch a break.

Now, I like eye candy just as much as the next person, but don’t treat me like a sex-crazed person just because I’m a homo.

If they aren’t trying to appeal to my sexual side, these agencies seem to think the only other things gay men are interested in when they travel are parties, shopping, and boutique hotels. And maybe going to the gym.

When I travel, I don’t do gay travel. Just like when I park a car, I’m not gay parking. I also don’t order gay pizza or gay beer.

gay travel

To me LGBT travel is more about finding the places where I can be myself and where I can feel safe as a gay man. Most of my friends are straight, but I do enjoy hanging out with fellow gays as well because it’s the one group where I can completely be myself. I don’t need to come out yet again, and I don’t feel like I have to guard my words.

When a place is spoken of as being good for gay travel, to me it says I can hold my partner’s (if I had one) hand in public . I wouldn’t have to explain to hotel staff why two men would want one bed instead of two. I know it’s a place where my partner and I would be treated like any other couple.

It’s more about safety and ease.

To treat all gay men like their main travel interests are sex, shopping, fashion, and parties is really insulting to the majority of us. Time to get a clue, advertisers.

And that means you, too, queer publications!

What do you think about when you see the words “gay travel”?

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  1. Sex, in whatever form it takes in tourism advertising, all plays to the glamorization of travel. Look back at older travel advertising. You couldn’t run much of it today, especially airline ads promoting their stewardesses. Remember “Fly Me” from National Airlines? It really hit a peak with advent of the jet, and then the 747. There were big planes to fill and hotels needed heads in beds. Glamorized achievable tourism for the masses. The old approaches were carried over to the LGBT market. The thinking being it worked before, it will work again.

    Initially lot’s of gay advertising was in response to discrimination and law suits against travel and airline companies. All of a sudden everyone was welcome, even though the advertisers might not have known what to do with you when you got there.

    Having worked in sales and marketing in the airline and tour operator business for over 20 years, I can tell you the lack of more inclusive advertising comes down to a budget. You want money to attract a certain segment? Quantify the market.

    Now as the owner of a small travel agency catering to the LGBT market I wrestle with the question of what is gay travel everyday. To me it’s acceptance. It’s sticking with companies who promote awareness training. For some of my clients that means a gay cruise where they can forget the discrimination that plaques the world.

    But for the others, the explorers, the guys probably not portrayed in the ads, it’s about being treated with respect. But that’s a two way street, so if destinations are chosen solely by where one can hold their partners hands their destinations, choices will be limited.

    So thankfully their are some experienced gay agents and travel bloggers around to point prospective travelers in the right direction.

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  2. Talon, this article is spot on. It’s why I’m founding a new agency that will hopefully fulfil your criteria. It stems from me and a partner spending hours researching the best hotel to stay in and there not being an adequate resource. In reality I wanted to spend my time researching what I would do at a particular destination.

    Whilst LGBT is a niche, there are so many sub-niches within it. You’ve got the couple who are looking for a romantic break, the group of friends who want to go party, the family who are looking for somewhere suitable for their kids or those who want to go on a cultural or adventure trip.

    I intend to cater for all of them. We intend to launch later this year. I look forward to your thoughts when we do.

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    • It would definitely be nice to see more attention being paid to the sub-niches. I think there is a LOT of room there.

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  3. The thing is, companies will do whatever is best for them financially. If they’re mostly featuring sex, shopping, fashion, and parties, it’s because their research shows that these are the most in-demand activities for their clientele. We can blame them for perpetuating a false image, but they’re just doing what works to reach their target market.

    People who are not interested in these things are not part of these companies’ target demographic, so they’re not supposed to like the ads. They can look up plain-old non-gay “things to do in Greece” on their own, so I don’t see much of a problem here.

    To me, “gay travel” simply means seeking out LGBT places – bars, beaches, neighborhoods, coffee shops, cultural events. I don’t order gay pizza or gay beer either, but when I travel, I absolutely do gay travel.

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    • I think often companies think something is the way it is rather than actually knowing and researching. We see advertising projects blow up their face all the time. 😉

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  4. I agree there are quite a few problems with the state of gay travel today. And you’re 100% right about pointing out the problems with gay/queer/LGBT media as well! I pitched a travel story recently to a gay publication and they weren’t interested—instead they asked if I could write about sex clubs.

    Gay life is changing pretty fast, though. Gay bars are disappearing in cities around the world because many people just don’t care enough to go out to a specifically gay place. Of course there are those that do (myself included), but I think it’s changing. And the industry has to change as well. That means the media needs to better reflect those changes!

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    • I absolutely agree, Adam. And I have to really shake my head about the publication thing. Life is multidimensional, and so is being gay.

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  5. Sex sells, right? Yea, I agree with you, this is stupid, but it’s not only advertising aimed at gay men, but rather advertising aimed at men in general (straight too). I find it sad, though, that even though we talk about how diverse the LGBT(QIA?) community is, it’s still mostly dominated by gay, cisgendered, young, thin, white, privileged men and sometimes it seems like there isn’t room for anyone else, which sucks.

    Did I mention that I just met Dan Savage recently? You may find me incessantly quoting him for a while now. Oh, thanks for pointing to my post on Dani’s site, by the way!

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    • Very true words, Sam. I’ve been quite surprised at the lack of diversity within the community sometimes, and ironically its lack of acceptance of others as well.

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