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When the Miami Beach-based travel agency Source Events teamed up with Gay Naturists International for the first-ever gay nude luxury cruise off Italy's Amalfi Coast and the Greek Isles in May 2007, the boat easily sold out.
Perhaps it was thanks to extensive coverage of the cruise in The New York Times and Newsweek, but Source Events (888-768-7238) founder Craig Smith reveals, "We have discovered a fusion between two growth markets: naturist travel and the boutique luxury experience."
Source Events has partnered with GayNaturists.org (954-567-2700) since 2004, and their trips are becoming even more luxe in 2009, with a planned upscale Costa Rica cruise from February 7-14, and a deluxe all-inclusive resort and spa experience -- complete with a personal butler for each villa -- in Tulum in the Yucatan from March 8-13. If the popularity of this partnership?s past nude trips is any indication, both offerings are sure to sell out quickly.
According to the American Association for Nude Recreation (www.AANR.com, 800-879-6833), naked travel is a $400 million-plus industry, and knowing gay men's love of both travel and taking off their clothes, the queer portion of that chunk of change is probably higher than the typically estimated 10 percent.
When GNI began over two decades ago, it had less than two dozen members. Now their threads-shedding ranks number more than 1,300, with locally organized gay nudist groups estimated to amplify those numbers by another 40,000.
As for the humble gay clothing-optional inn, that segment of the queer travel market is moving towards the plush end of the spectrum as well. Combined, the big three U.S. gay nude resort towns -- Palm Springs, Fort Lauderdale, and Key West -- are home to over 70 gay clothing-optional guesthouses and resorts, and recent posh renovations of these properties include the Santiago Resort in Palm Springs (800-710-7729), the Bamboo Resort in Fort Lauderdale (800-479-1767), and Island House in Key West (www.IslandHouseKeyWest.com, 800-890-6284).
Their expensive refurbishments include gourmet dining, spa services, massage showerheads, feather duvets, high-thread-count sheets, and big-screen TVs. For women, the very social and clothing-optional Pearl's Rainbow in Key West (800-749-6696) has also spent a pretty penny upgrading its pool and patio areas and renovating its suites.
Overseas, nude properties like the Geranium (+ 30-22890-22867) in Mykonos (cool in its minimalist white elegance) and the new Club Mancha 2 (407-850-9770 (agent)) in the Canary Islands (with its immaculate apartment-like suites) have also upped the ante in the naked gay world.
Part of this upscale trend may be the conservative crackdown on nudism on gay-popular public beaches and other areas during the George W. Bush era. In Provincetown, rangers on the once free-for-all Herring Cove Beach have been issuing tickets to all-over-tanners, and rumors persist of undercover cops prowling the cruisy shores of San Onofre, a longtime gay nudist beach north of San Diego.
In 2008, a right-wing initiative called Florida House Bill 801 would have made nudity within 1,000 feet of a public park or beach a felony had activists not intervened. The consequences of such federal and local laws are no small thing: An arrest for public "lewd conduct" in this day and age can mean having the black mark of ?sex offender? on your record forever.
Michael Boyd, author of the gay guidebook Naked Places, laments in his last edition, ?It seems that culturally we are moving backwards as the mad cowboy regime continues to wreak havoc and sow seeds of ignorance.?
In the face of the new nudist police, gays have had to retreat to spending more of their vacations on private properties, and their intolerance for shabby, purely sexually oriented nude inns has grown. Temperatures may rise when people take off their clothes on holiday but, according to converts, LGBT nude travel is no longer just about casual sex -- it's about social camaraderie. "When people shed their clothes," explains Craig Smith, "it's a great equalizer."