GSN brings you insights into some of the emerging trends in gay travel
Thinking about planning your next trip? Unsure where to go, what to see, or things to do?
Relax – GSN is doing the hard work for you. We caught up with a couple of travel industry experts to bring you the latest and greatest in gay travel.
We spoke with Aaron Davis – founder of Venture Travel and Robert Sharp, co-founder of OUT Adventures.
What are some of the latest developments that we’re seeing in the travel industry?
Robert Sharp:Smaller cruises, river cruise and adventure vacations.
Aaron Davis:In many ways travelers are becoming more sophisticated, people don’t want to be tourists – they want to get under the skin of the places that they’re visiting, to have an authentic experience that lets them see the world in a new light.
Is group travel, or organized tours still a popular option for people?
RS:For gay travelers, cruises are still a very popular option, as are organized tours. We find that organized tours do much better when the destination is not as easily accessible for travellers. Our top selling destinations are places like Peru, Nepal, Thailand and Costa Rica. Although you can certainly visit these countries on your own, an organized tour takes the hassle away from planning and researching, specifically when related to gay-welcoming accommodations, etc.
AD:Group travel isn’t for everyone but it does work particularly well for people who only have limited time or if you’re going to a destination that you’re not familiar with or perhaps don’t speak the language.
Group travel is much more interesting than it used to be. We’re not talking about loading everyone on a coach to see Europe in seven days, or miserably following around someone holding an umbrella aloft. These days you can expect group travel to deliver you tailored, unique experiences that you wouldn’t be able to do by yourself.
What are some of the new ways of experiencing travel that you’re currently seeing?
RS:There has been a surge in apartment rental sites such as Airbnb and new gay-focused sites like Gay-ville where you can not only live like a local by renting an apartment, but also get the low-down on the area, insider tips on a city, etc. Basically these are benefits similar to a tour. Great for major metropolitan centers such as New York, Paris, or London.
AD:‘Living like a local’ is definitely a buzz phrase in the industry – what that might mean is spending longer at a destination, renting an apartment instead of staying at a hotel, really immersing yourself in what’s going on around you in the neighborhood so you really start to understand what it’s like to live there.
Longer, unique and specialized trips seem to be becoming more popular – Japan and Australia are two areas where we’ve concentrating on as it’s a way to make these destinations fresh for people who have perhaps visited before.
The other thing we’re seeing a lot more of is sports-related travel – whether that’s to big sports events such as the Outgames [which is being supported by Gay Star News this year] or the Gay Games or more niche trips such as open water swimming along Australia’s shipwreck coast, this is definitely an area that we’re getting a lot of interest.
Is a trend like fitness or adventure travel, a way for people to get more out of their travel experience?
RS:Yes, definitely. Also, we find it’s essential to travel in small groups. By doing so we can facilitate more interactive activities and meals that wouldn’t be possible with a large group.
For example, in Cambodia we head out to the countryside where we cook under a tent, surrounded by rice fields. As the sun starts to set and we finish cooking, we enjoy our meal in a traditional Cambodian open-air house on stilts, overlooking the rice paddies. Truly spectacular!
AD:Absolutely – it’s almost a way of maximizing your time and money. You get to go somewhere new and different but still get to pursue your hobbies and your passion. This has been popular for things like yoga retreats for a number of years, but we’re seeing variations now such as bootcamp training in the Bahamas or taking part in environmental research trips in Central America.
What are some of the emerging destinations people should be thinking about?
RS:For gay travellers, Croatia is definitely becoming quite popular. Colombia is also rolling out the welcome mat for international travellers. With a small, but vibrant gay community, this is a great place for a city stopover or group tour.
From a not-so-gay perspective, places like Burma, Bhutan, Tibet, North Korea other emerging Asian countries are fantastic options to really experience something unique and interesting.
AD:Often what we’re seeing is people rediscover places they have been to before, but finding some new aspect or adventure that makes it interesting.
One example would be the French Alps – always a popular destination for winter but its really booming as a summer destination now, great weather, spectacular scenery, and fantastic activities – particularly if you’re into cycling or mountain-biking.
Japan is another one. We’re seeing a real resurgence in interest in Japan, particularly on things such as running holidays or adventure breaks. Examples would include kayaking or swimming for 10 days in Okinawa; following the Shikoku pilgrim paths by cycling or trail running; or hiking the ancient Kyoto merchant loop.
What’s the secret to ensuring a great travel experience?
RS:Research. Whether you do it yourself or leave it to a professional, it is always key to enjoying your vacation. Unless you have months to travel, you’ll want a pretty organized itinerary in order to make the most of your short time away from home.
There are great new apps out there such as tripit that organize multiple itineraries and bookings into one central place, outlining your full vacation. Voila! Amazing! If you’re choosing a travel professional, make sure they are legit, and that they have recommendations and testimonials. Social media is a great space to research potential tour operators or hotels to get the low-down.
AD:Be flexible. It’s always great to have a plan, but don’t shut the door on spontaneous opportunities that could elevate your trip to become a memorable adventure.
Also, try new things. If it makes you a little nervous or apprehensive, if it challenges you and takes you out of your comfort zone, then you should totally do it. It’s those moments that make great travel experiences.
What are some common travel pit-falls that people should watch out for?
RS:Plan well, but don’t overplan. Most people are too ambitious when it comes to their time, and fitting too much into a day. Plan some down-time to allow for snags, delays, or just simple relaxation.
Carry copies of your passport and travel medical insurance (a must). Leave the originals in your hotel safe or locked in your suitcase. Trying to get a passport replacement is not fun!
Don’t rely strictly on guidebooks. They can be skewed to the writer and in many cases even advertisements. Try an online dating app like Grindr or even Scruff for something other than a bit of action.
Look people up that look like guys you’d like to be in the same place with and ask them what the hot bars, clubs or restaurants are. You’d be surprised how willing people are to show off their city and not just their junk!
AD:Don’t assume you know everything. I once had a boss whose favorite saying was ‘every day is a school day’. The more I travel the more that I find myself using that phrase on a regular basis. The world will constantly surprise you.
Read more from Gareth Johnson.