With droves of same-sex couples waiting with baited breath on the eve of the SCOTUS equal marriage decision, those in the LGBT travel industry are left wondering: Will impending equal rights in the U.S. hurt revenues? Is specifically same-sex vacationing still relevant?
I attended a GSBA luncheon last week to hear the answer. According to Judy Dlugacz, the President and Founder of Olivia Travel, LGBT-centered travel and tourism is ridiculously alive and well, and not showing signs of slowing. And although it wasn’t explicitly mentioned, equal marriage means even more honeymoons.
“When I go on regular vacations… I go on a straight vacation, unless I stay home. When I go on vacation, I have a great time, but it helps me remember that I don’t always feel comfortable holding hands with my partner or kissing in the pool or dancing together. It’s still not a perfect world and I feel very lucky then that my job is safe. …The importance of LGBT travel and why it’s relevant, no matter what happens in the rest of the world, is that, in a lot of ways, it’s more fun, and in a lot ways, you are, as gay people, in the majority, which never ever ever happens anywhere else…”~Judy Dlugacz, who founded Olivia Travel in 1973.
Before our rolls and salads, there was a chance to wander the room and chat with members of GSBA. Among them were the Port Ludlow Resort, Elsom Cellars, MVP SeaTac Airport Parking, Expedia, and Holland America Line (which partners with Olivia for cruises). In chatting with Elbert of Expedia, I asked him if he’s seen an increase in demand with Expedia for LGBT-centered travel. He said that in his observations there are “more gay-inclusive standard cruises now rather than gay-specific cruises. Whereas formerly you just had Olivia or Rosie, now you get on a boat and ask where the gay bar is.” Stephanie with Holland America told me she has “definitely” seen a rise in cruise popularity over the past 15-20 years or so, and Holland has “been in the Pride parades for years and has always been inclusive.”
“In the United States, things have changed. In much of the Western countries, things have changed. In most of the world, things have changed ever so slightly, if at all. So when you travel the world, if you’re a woman or a gay man, and you’re out, it’s not as simple as ‘I’m just going to go now because I have my rights.’ I’m sorry, you don’t have a lot of rights, internationally.” ~Judy Dlugacz
She went on to say that not only does LGBT travel have to stay relevant and better than straight options, but that international safety is a top concern that every LGBT tourism company is and should pay attention to. Ms. Dlugacz iterated a story in which one of her cruises had been diverted because of hostilities in Russia. Once, she even asked then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton if Honduras was going to be ok for 1300 lesbians at a certain time, and got the OK.
At the end, I asked, “Do you foresee the transgender community enjoying the same kind of success that we have so far?” (I attempted to clarify that the trans* community may want trans* specific tourism as well and may sometimes feel excluded from gays and lesbians.)
She replied, “…I see the transgender experience not so dissimilar to the lesbian experience in many ways. …We invite transgender people to come on the cruises. Even though it is female-focused…anyone transgender is welcome. Whether it’s female-to-male or male-to-female, it doesn’t matter to us. And one of the reasons is that it’s a safe space that doesn’t exist anywhere else. I understand that completely.”
Dlugacz said that she couldn’t speak to the male experience, of course, but she went on with a story about how she employed a trans* person in the early days of her cruises, and that person begat her awareness. They were an employee [grammar intentional] with Olivia for a few years, working with musical acts.
So yes, LGBT-centered travel *is* still relevant. It’s still a thing, and it’s not going anywhere any time soon. (I mean, just ask the entire state of Hawai’i.) As long as there is not full equality worldwide, and there’s still hate for us in other countries and ours, we can feel safe and confident in queer-specific tourism. Vacation well, and live to the fullest, be it honeymoon or getaway, folks!