About nine months ago, while perched on the edge of a boat off the Argentinean coast, one of the southern right whales we’d been observing, swam in for a closer view of us, as if we were the attraction. They dived directly under our craft, which suddenly felt very small. Yet the gentle giant barely rippled the surface and vanished into the depths without rocking its mesmerized viewers one bit – an unscripted moment, the kind that inspires travel junkies regardless of sexual orientation; a stunning reminder to never lose sight of what it means to be out there, experiencing the world.
LGBT travel is a big market segment. We are the hot tourism commodity of the moment, and it shows no signs of waning. Mainstream media outlets frequently contact me at the International Gay & Lesbian Travel Association (IGLTA) headquarters to talk about LGBT travel and its potential value to the destinations that have the vision to court it. Our wallets apparently overflow with what seems to be valuable, pink dollars.
But underneath the sales pitches and flag-waving, there is an increasing number of businesses with a genuine desire to make the world feel safe and welcoming to all travelers. And that’s really good news for us.
It’s because of these travel professionals that the year just gone included some of the brightest highlights in 15 years of globetrotting as an out member of the gay community. I’ll never forget my private beachside cottage on Ilha do Papagaio off the coast of Florianopolis, where lesbian-run Brazil Ecojourneys happily arranged for me to eat my body weight in the island’s succulent raw oysters. And thanks to Flamenco Tours, I not only had close encounters with Argentina’s southern right whales, but also to explore the desolate beauty of the Patagonian landscape around Puerto Madryn. How often do you get to feel like you’re standing on the edge of the earth and the sun is sinking into the sea for your eyes only?
Further East, Japan is taking baby steps into the LGBT market. Because of tour operators like Out Asia Travel, it’s possible to easily navigate the 300 gay bars of Tokyo, where I felt as warmly welcomed as if I’d strolled into my local Fort Lauderdale gayborhood. Before that trip, I wouldn’t have placed Japan at the top of my wish list; now, I would love to spend more time immersed in its heady blend of Western modernism and historically distinctive character. My final overseas trip of last year was Madrid, where the city’s tourism office certainly made this gay girl feel welcome: I pronounce my twirl through lesbian hotspot Club 33, as my most entertaining nightlife experience in eons.
What’s the next great destination on the LGBT travel horizon? I expect to see more LGBT tour options in Latin America and Asia. I think the gay owners of Pink Iceland are making a strong case for Reykjavik as a must-do for LGBT travelers, and I, for one, can’t wait to check it out. Nice, France is working on boosting its LGBT outreach, as is Athens, Greece. While urban centers like New York, Sydney, and Sao Paulo will always have their place among gay travelers, more off-the-beaten-path locales enter our lexicon every day. It’s quite possible that my most memorable trip this year will be to a destination that hasn’t even made my gaydar beep yet. I’m encouraged that the world is becoming a friendlier place for LGBT tourism each and every day.
*This article is in partnership with IGLTA.