The annual New York Times Travel Show docked at Manhattan's Jacob Javits Center last weekend, stoking our wanderlust with over 500 exhibitors, from the Finger Lakes to the Philippines. Among the several hour-long seminars was Gay Travel: Hot New Destinations, Events, Tours, and Cruises, led by Ed Salvato, gay travel guru and former editor in chief of The Out Traveler, along with Tom Nibbio of IGLTA and Jeff Guaracino, VP of Philadelphia Tourism. The presentation covered an exhaustive list of tour operators, gay-friendly hotel chains and airlines, digital travel tools, and tips for stretching your pink dollar.
So what were the major takeaways?
Now is not the time to order à la carte. Deep discounts abound on packages, especially cruise packages. Cruises themselves are rarely discounted, but the airfare packaged with the cruise can be downright cheap. Just be flexible to save the biggest bucks: with diminished routings, you'll pay a premium for Fri-Sun itineraries. Also, channel George Clooney from Up in the Air and never pay for anything without getting air miles.
Stay social. Companies are turning to social media services such as Facebook to reward and interact with loyal customers or offer killer contests. Case in point: Southwest Airline's Twitter-only fire sales and air specials.
Come out for savings. The travel industry is down across the board, but less so amongst gays and lesbians according to a recent study, so companies are aggressively courting the gay market with special offers and incentives. For example, hotel brand Kimpton is offering 15% off your room rate, a $20 daily dining credit, and 30% off in-room spa treatments for Thurs-Sun weekend stays through the end of March. Just enter the "LGBT" code at checkout. Check out the IGLTA Partners page for deals from big travel brands like Avis. (But do your homework; one gay advertisement does not a gay-friendly destination or company make.)
Hot Destinations. Domestically, Hawaii, Alaska, and Las Vegas have been hurt by an oversupply of rooms. Take advantage of hot deals in these gay-friendly locales before the general tourist hordes return (and they will). Internationally, now is the time to visit London thanks to one of the most favorable exchange rates in recent memory (thanks, recession!). A trailblazer in gay outreach, VisitBritain has an excellent gay microsite with tailored deals.
Destinations currently lighting up mainstream Hot Lists include India, Sri Lanka, Chinas big cities (Hong Kong, Shanghai, Beijing), Beirut, Turkey, Tel Aviv, and Bogota. In South America, think outside the Rio/Buenos Aires duality with an extension to Santiago and the Atacama Desert in Chile, Florianopolis in Brazil (where gay Brasileiros holiday), and Lima and Machu Picchu in Peru. Tip: If you're not a fiercely independent traveler consider booking these destinations with a gay tour operator as they often suss out the scene where gay visibility isn't as apparent.
Legal gay honeymoons. The Prop 8 battle rages on, so reward those destinations that honor and respect same-sex relationships: Belgium, Canada, the Netherlands, Norway, South Africa, Spain, Sweden, Mexico City, and in the U.S., Connecticut, Washington, D.C., Iowa, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Vermont, and Coquille (a Native American tribe with lands in Southern Oregon coast).
Finally, keep it in the family. Make like a piano bar and stick to the tried-and-true standards of Provincetown, Key West, Ft. Lauderdale, and Palm Springs. Besides outstanding "gaycation infrastructure" they also proportionally re-invest a larger percentage of money back into local LGBT charities, community groups, and HIV/AIDS initiatives. Support the community you're visiting!
For a PDF of the entire presentation, chockablock with gay travel essentials, upcoming cruise and event schedules, and digital tools, click here.