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January/February 2006 | 2006 Travel Trends

January/February 2006 | 2006 Travel Trends

Know where you’re going? Let us help you navigate the hot new destinations, ideas, and choices peeking over the gay and lesbian travel horizon in the new year

“We just returned from New Zealand!” boasts your jet-setting friend. “It was amazing...a once in a lifetime experience.” Beyond a tinge of jealousy, your overriding sentiment is likely to be, I desperately need a vacation! Versions of this bar conversation are happening all over the world right now as gay and lesbian travelers are taking more trips per year than ever before. Whether you’re a seasoned world traveler looking for the next great adventure, a budget-minded novice contemplating your first trip abroad, or an overworked homebody looking for a gay-friendly weekend getaway, here’s a preview of where gay travel is going in 2006.

1. NEW DESTINATIONS

“Deciding where to go is always more difficult than deciding when to go,” says Stephen Harding, a New York investment banker. “I love returning to my favorites, but I want to try something new this year.”
Regional weekend jaunts are becoming increasingly popular, not only to U.S. cities like Philadelphia, Dallas, and Portland, Ore., but across the borders to Mexico and Canada.

Despite damages from Hurricane Wilma, trendy Mexican destinations such as Puerto Vallarta, Mexico City, and the Mayan Riviera are poised to get a boost July 1, when a law goes into effect allowing tourists to make tax-free purchases in the country. And thanks to its same-sex marriage law, Canada is perceived as an ever more welcoming neighbor, leading more Americans to explore the large gay scenes of Toronto, Montréal, and Vancouver.
Europe also remains hot, especially the United Kingdom, where a civil-partnership law went into effect in December. Hotels and resorts in London, Bath, Manchester, and Brighton are enticing couples with romantic wedding packages throughout the year. Spain is also marriage material, with Barcelona now competing head-to-head with Amsterdam for the title of “Europe’s gayest city.”

Adventurous travelers who have “been there and done that” are heading to Eastern Europe. Ljubljana, Slovenia, is getting notice as the “new Prague” thanks to its combination of affordability, stately architecture, and off-the-beaten-path charm; and the gay club scenes in Croatia, Poland, and Bulgaria continue to grow.

At the same time—notwithstanding the bird flu threat—a grand tour of Asia may figure into the plans of ambitious travelers as an increasing number of discount airlines are shuttling between China, Malaysia, Indonesia, Japan, the Philippines, Thailand, and Cambodia. There’s even a new gay bar and restaurant in proximity to the Angkor Wat temple complex, Cambodia’s number 1 draw.

2. THE LESBIAN TRAVELER GOES SWANK

“My vacation time is very precious,” says Ronda Buckley, a corporate lawyer from Los Angeles. “I want to see things I’ve never seen before, experience rich culture, food, and wine—basically, live like a queen!”

Buckley is not alone. Though women aren’t as likely to plan vacations around urban gay meccas, making them less visible than their gay male counterparts, lesbians are being courted by travel outlets. “Lesbians are really starting to come into their own as an identifiable tourism segment,” says Jerry McHugh of Community Marketing Inc. “The number of lesbians that respond to our surveys has tripled in the past couple of years.”

This year women will be embarking on culinary trips to Southern Italy and Sicily, indulging in wine tasting tours from South Africa to Argentina, and teeing off at Scotland’s St. Andrews Links—the birthplace of golf—with an LPGA touring pro. The latter trip is offered by 12 Muses, a new lesbian travel company. Meanwhile, Olivia Cruises and Resorts, the world’s largest lesbian travel company, is expanding to include smaller luxury cruises for the first time this year.

Even tourism boards are catching on to the spending power of the lesbian traveler. Throughout the year Philadelphia will work to make the city a top destination for women, with a new campaign that includes advertising, guerrilla marketing at lesbian events, and the formation of a local lesbian tourism advisory group.

3. THE WAY WE CRUISE

“I wouldn’t have been caught dead on a gay cruise 10 years ago,” says Philip Galido, a restaurant owner in Houston, “but they’re not just floating circuit parties anymore.” Indeed, the popularity of gay cruises has grown in proportion to the variety of ports and types of cruises being offered.

Atlantis is offering the first gay large-ship cruise to South America in February, taking in classic cities like Buenos Aires and Rio de Janeiro while exploring relatively undiscovered gay hot spots like Florianópolis, Brazil, and Punta del Este, Uruguay. Olivia’s most requested voyage is a new Hawaiian island hop via NCL’s Norwegian Wind, allowing port-to-port travel between the state’s four main islands: Hawaii, Maui, Kauai, and Oahu.

In addition to seeking new ports, gay travelers are looking for intimate, more upscale experiences at sea. Small-ship cruises will continue to meet that demand in 2006: RSVP Vacations is offering a 160-passenger riverboat cruise through Eastern Europe, and Romance Voyages is setting sail for the Greek isles, following their inaugural 2004 voyages on the Rhine river through Europe and up China’s Yangtze river. Building on the success of their large-ship cruise to Alaska, R Family Vacations is expanding into the small-ship market with a 47-passenger ship bound for the Galápagos Islands.

“It’s easier and calmer to walk off a ship as part of 100 passengers, not 2,000,” says Steve Champion, president of TravelPride, a company specializing in gay small-ship cruises. “And you can visit smaller ports that don’t exist on T-shirt and postcard sales because the footprint of a small cruise ship is not as big.”

Still, the giant luxury liners haven’t lost their appeal. More and more gay travelers want floating five-star hotels. Mainstream cruise lines like Cunard, Seven Seas, Oceania, and Crystal offer top-notch accommodations and services for couples seeking privacy and romance in an expanding roster of exotic locales, like the United Arab Emirate of Dubai; Alexandria, Egypt; St. Petersburg, Russia; and Tripoli, Libya.

4. GETTING THERE IS GETTING EASIER

“Beam me up, Scotty!”

Until we figure out a way to e-mail our atoms around the globe at the speed of light, the air travel advancements in stardate 2006 will have to do. Yes, you’ll still need to pack your bags, but you won’t need to check them thanks to services like BaggageDirect and Luggage Free, both of which collect your bags at your home and deliver them directly to your travel destination.

Arrive at the airport and breeze through the security line with the Clear Card, part of a new TSA-sanctioned program in which—for an annual fee—you can be prescreened to use a separate no-hassle fast lane. The service is currently available only at the Orlando International Airport, but plans are in the works to expand it to other airports.

After an inaugural flight in November, 14 major airlines started flying the new double-decker Airbus A380, the biggest news in aviation since the Boeing 747 debuted in 1969. “Don’t expect swim-up bars, bowling alleys, and shopping malls,” says James Boyd of Singapore Airlines, but the new planes promise to set new standards in space, luxury, and connectivity.

While U.S. domestic carriers have backed off from installing expensive high-speed Internet equipment, Singapore Airlines is in the process of adding onboard e-mail service to their fleet, and nine other foreign carriers already offer the service. But it does raise the question, Do you really want to be reachable at 35,000 feet?

5. THE RISE AND RISE OF LUXE

“I’m addicted to hotel amenities,” admits Eric Libby, a frequent business traveler in San Francisco, “but I’m starting to take perks like flat-screen TVs, wireless Internet service, and in-room iPods for granted.” How will hotels keep up with Libby’s obsession in the coming year? Beyond mere gadgetry, hotels are trotting out new services, from subtle personalized touches to extravagant extras: W Hotels can arrange to have your local newspaper delivered directly to your room, Hotel Vitale in San Francisco offers free daily yoga classes in their penthouse, and Hotel Gansevoort in Manhattan provides a free luxury sport-utility vehicle to shuttle its guests (the Four Seasons one-ups them with its “shuttle,” a $325,000 Rolls-Royce Phantom).

And that’s just a tiny taste of what’s to come. It makes you wonder how hotels will outdo themselves in 2007. We can already purchase everything from the sheets to the love seat in many upscale properties—maybe we’ll get to take home the concierge!

For the complete article, pick up the January/Feburary issue of The Out Traveler. If you'd like to have a copy of the issue mailed to you, contact our subscriber services.

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