When Patrick Gunn and Randle Roper founded VACAYA they were hoping to find a “sweet spot – a great ‘in between’” that blended just the right amount of the “liberating, empowering, and fun aspects of all-gay travel” with the variety of activities, destinations, and types of people found with more mainstream vacation travel.
“While everyone loves a good time, there’s more to a memorable vacation than just parties,” Gunn notes. “We also recognized the trend with Millennials that they didn’t require an experience to be exclusively gay men to be a viable option. They wanted to travel with their friends, no matter whether their friends were gay, straight, bi, questioning, or fell anywhere else on the spectrum.”
The travel company’s name itself blends elements from gay and straight worlds, Gunn explains. “‘VACAYA’ is a word from Polari, a centuries-old language used by the gay subculture to discreetly communicate.” And of course, “vacay” is a casual mainstream term for vacation. To create the right environment for these experiences, VACAYA charters entire ships and resorts, giving travelers the freedom to express themselves authentically.
“For one magical week, our community gets to be the majority and live life out loud in the blissful utopia VACAYA creates,” Gunn says. “That single change from being an always-minority to a sudden-majority can have a profoundly positive real-world effect on individuals. And in those moments of bravery when an individual is feeling safe within our traveling group, some choose to share their authenticity with the communities we visit, which helps change the world – one story and connection at a time.”
Gunn adds that he believes “that by understanding a place and its people, we can better share our stories and that little by little, sharing our stories can change the world.” This is, he argues, why LGBTQ+ travelers should visit a wide variety of destinations around the world, rather than boycotting those that might not be entirely welcoming to queer tourists.
The economic impact of LGBTQ+ visitors isn’t lost on Gunn either. “Global tourism generates almost $9 trillion annually and employs over 330 million people worldwide,” he notes. He points to data from a 2020 Harris Poll, demonstrating that LGBT adults took an average of 3.6 leisure trips in the previous year compared to 2.3 trips for straight cisgender adults — and nearly double the number of business trips compared to non-LGBT adults (2.1 versus 1.2 trips).
“The cultural reasons behind the LGBTQ+ community leadership role in the return to travel is even more interesting than the data itself,” Gunn says. “The LGBTQ + community has long been known to travel more than their straight counterparts due to their higher proportion of dual income, no kids, allowing more discretionary time and money to spend on travel. Now, more than ever, we’ll see strong bookings because money that would have been spent in 2020 on travel did not get spent so there’s a pent-up surplus of travel funds.”
He argues that LGBTQ+ travelers are also more comfortable with the risks associated with pandemic travel in part because we’ve always had to navigate higher risks while away from home. After all, around 70 United Nations member states still criminalize consensual sexual acts between same-sex adults. Because of our community’s history, juggling uncertainties and risks in 2021-2022 is easier for LGBTQ+ than straight travelers, Gunn contends.
Another thing driving LGBTQ+ people back to travel is the fact that many of us still live in rural areas or small towns, aren’t out, or don’t have a chance to “experience the gay community on a daily basis. For them, the lure of traveling to experience the joy of feeling in the majority for the first time is palpable.”
It can truly be life changing for queer folks to join hundreds of other LGBTQ+ people on a boat or at a resort. And it can be great way to recover from the turmoil of the past 18 months. “While traveling can be exciting and exhilarating, it’s so much more than sipping margaritas on a sun-soaked beach,” Gunn maintains. “Exploring a new place can do wonders for your mental and emotional health. Taking a break from the daily hustle and bustle is essential for your mind to relax, recharge, and rejuvenate. If you allow it, travel has the ability to expand your mind in a way you never realized was possible.”
That broadening of minds can also ripple outward, Gunn says. “LGBTQ+ travelers have the potential to impact the lives of thousands and thousands of locals in the destinations we visit along with hospitality workers and their families. One example is VACAYA’s own ReachOUT program where our mission is to ensure we’re giving back more to the communities we visit than what’s being taken away. Partnering with local organizations, we offer our guests an opportunity during their vacation to give back to the communities we visit – either with a bit of sweat equity or financially. Helping to make the world a better place for others is likely to be the best thing our guests can do to counter the pain of 2020 for themselves.”
African Safari Add-On to VACAYA’s Seychelle Islands bucket list vacations
Gunn says that VACAYA has pivoted to offer the “truly bucket list destinations” that LGBTQ+ travelers are seeking these days. “We’re focusing on creating memorable travel experiences to new destinations, with customized itineraries that haven’t been offered previously… It all started with our Inaugural Cruise to P-town in 2019 and continues with never-before-seen all-LGBT+ itineraries like New Orleans, Iceland, Costa Rica, Antarctica, and the Seychelle Islands.”
VACAYA is also embracing the industry’s move toward more eco-conscious and regenerative travel. “Our guests believe we can change the world… [and they] care deeply about the environment,” Gunn says. “That’s why we aligned with PONANT cruises for our expedition adventures to places like Iceland and Antarctica. PONANT prides itself on a constant respect for the environment, from the design of their yachts and procedures to low-impact shore visits.” The company has won numerous awards as for its proactive approach to embracing social and environmental responsibility.
“There is no doubt VACAYA and our guests leave a lasting impression in places we visit,” Gunn adds, pointing to the company’s collaboration with Project Backpack. “One of the most devastating consequences of living in poverty is the impact it has on a child’s education. To an underprivileged student in places like Roatán, Barbuda, or Mexico, being able to start the school year with brand new school supplies is critical to their ability to learn and grow. For the past two years, VACAYA brought Project Backpack to our Mexico Resort experience…[giving] guests the opportunity to collect and deliver these supplies to schools in the ports we visit.”
Gunn argues that travel is an important part of many LGBTQ+ people’s lives. “Travel is our guests’ favorite way to get inspired and become better global citizens of our beautiful world,” he says. “While our guests love the nonstop entertainment and parties we provide, they’re also looking for experiences that resonate on a deeper emotional level: vacations to a wider range of destinations, more personalized, and more attuned to local culture, inspiring our community toward a path of self-discovery.”
VACAYA is closely monitoring the constantly shifting COVID-19 protocols and travel requirements around the globe as we keenly focus on protecting the health and safety of our guests and team. That’s why for the foreseeable future, COVID-19 vaccinations are required of ALL GUESTS and VACAYA Staff Members for ALL TRIPS. Learn more here.