"Gay Travel/Gay Rights: A 50 Year History/A Bright Future" was among a number of educational sessions featured at the International Gay and Lesbian Travel Association (IGLTA) convention at the Hyatt Regency Chicago May 4.
About 20 people gathered to hear Billy Kolber, founder of Man About World magazine, speak about the last 50 years of LGBT specific travel opportunities and the emergence of LGBT visibility and equality around the world.
In his presentation, Kolber told a story about how in the beginning of his travel industry career they had to communicate via telex machine. Kolber noted how fast things have changed over the years, however, "there are many corners of the world where our LGBT brothers and sisters are routinely discriminated against, imprisoned or killed simply because they are LGBT and I believe that travel is a transformative force in the LGBT equality movement certainly in the United States and many other countries."
Then Kolber highlighted three LGBT travel publications: Bob Damron's Men's Travel Guide (1964), Spartacus (1970) and Kolber's Out & About Magazine (1992). "LGBT travel has always been more about the people than the experiences and Bob Damron's guide was a way to meet people while traveling," said Kolber.
To meet the needs of LGBT travelers, Hans Ebensten (called "The Father of Gay Travel") launched the first gay tour company in 1973, Kolber explained. Kolber talked about other international LGBT specific travel initiatives such as Lima Tours in 1977 and Israel in 1979. In 1976 the first gay hotel "Island House" was opened in Key West, Florida, Kolber noted, and three decades later in 2003 Axel Hotelsthe first gay hotel chainopened its first property in Barcelona with the tag line "Hetero-friendly".
Kolber also addressed marketing initiatives directed towards the LGBT community, the history of LGBT friendly destinations like Provincetown , Massachusetts, the emergence of LGBT specific cruises such as Atlantis and Olivia Cruises, the Gay Games, the founding of the IGTA in 1983 (the L was added in 1997), corporate recognition of LGBT people in their company non-discrimination policies (American Airlines was the first major airline to do so in 1993) and knowing which countries are LGBT friendly before traveling overseas (76 countries still outlaw homosexuality).
"Tom Roth produced the first LGBT Tourism Research Study in 1994. His work in the 16 annual studies since, have opened doors for destinations, hotel groups and travel suppliers
to enter the LGBT market, and make the world a little bit gay-friendlier in the process," said Kolber.
Kolber also talked about government sponsored marketing campaigns including Montreal, the United Kingdom and Curacao. As countries (13 so far) have legalized same-sex marriage, Kolber noted, they have seen an uptick in revenue as people travel to these countries for wedding ceremonies.
In 2007 Michael Luongo published "Gay Travels in the Muslim World"the first academic book on the industrythis publication makes gay travel a legitimate academic pursuit as a field of research, Kolber noted.
Kolber asked a number of leaders in the field of LGBT travel what LGBT travelers can do and the responses ran the gamut from donating to LGBT NGO's around the world, seeking out and patronize LGBT businesses when you travel, doing research about your destination's laws and cultural attitudes towards LGBT people, always represent your country in a favorable light and be yourself but be respectful of the cultural norms of the places you visit.
A woman in the audience pointed out that all but one of the respondents were men and called on the presenter to solicit more women when he sends out the questionnaire the next time. Kolber noted that he sent it out to a number of women but only one sent a response back.
During the Q&A session Rick Hurlbut of Pride Enterprises in Vancouver solicited materials for his LGBT travel archives project; a question was raised about the World Travel and Tourism Council's commitment to the LGBT community; and a man from Prague explained that nationalism in eastern European and Asia nations is the biggest threat to LGBT people and travelers need to be aware of this fact.
See www.iglta.org and www.manaboutworld.com for more information.