Just because we’re seeing more brands like Hilton and W taking full-page ads in gay publications doesn’t mean the same-sex niche is a new phenomenon. To see where it started, you need only look at longstanding gay vacation destinations like Fort Lauderdale and Key West, Fla., Provincetown, Mass. and Palm Springs, Calif. “And,” adds gay travel writer, Mark Chesnut, “areas like New York’s Fire Island, California’s Russian River Valley and New Hope, Penn., are also among the earliest where small, upscale hotels targeting gay travelers appeared.”
Chesnut, whose travel site LatinFlyer.com gives tourists of all stripes insight into LatAm destinations, warns innkeepers and hotel chains alike that putting up a rainbow flag and calling your place “gay-friendly” won’t build clientele. “My partner and I got weird looks from a hotel receptionist in Massachusetts just because we asked for a room with one king-sized bed.”
Guests at the Adonis Tulum Riviera Maya Gay Resort & Spa will suffer no such indignities. And on the whole, says E-Commerce Sales Executive Fernando García Castro, Mexico has come a long way in the arena of gay rights. “In the past, a same-sex kiss, or even a couple holding hands, was almost forbidden, but the gay community has been gaining respect throughout the country. It’s better every day.”
The Riviera Maya, he says, not unlike Puerto Vallarta, is something of a gay-friendly pioneer and therefore an ideal location for the all-inclusive resort, which opened last December. “The area has attracted residents from all over the world. That multicultural mix has created an open-minded, open-hearted population.”
At Adonis Tulum, says García Castro, “couples are free to be affectionate — kiss, hold hands, apply each other’s sunscreen — without regard from staff or guests. You can be yourself here, 100 percent.”
Adonis Tulum Riviera Maya Gay Resort & Spa
The Rainbow Learning Curve
It’s an ideology Chesnut stresses to properties looking to court the community. Saying you’re gay-friendly is one thing, “but you’ve got to back it up by training your staff,” he advises.
Joanne Funaro, co-owner of Casitas Laquita, a lesbians’ oasis in the desert city of Palm Springs, believes mainstream hotels that ignored the gay market until now are hurting economically. “For years, these chains never mentioned a gay or lesbian in any of their ads… [Now,] they need heads on the beds and they don’t care whose.”
She echoes Chesnut’s comments to a degree, as well. “Chain hotels have enough trouble training diversity to their employees,” she says plainly, “let alone teaching hundreds of them how to make the gay and lesbian market comfortable.”
Beyond the “friendly” element, says Chesnut, marketing a gay hotel is not different; those running it just need to determine the overall product positioning. “Are you top-of-the-line luxury or value-priced? Are you trendy and stylish or classically elegant?” These things have nothing to do with sexual orientation…. “I personally might prefer a more contemporary boutique hotel with original art on the walls,” he says, “but I have plenty of friends who prefer more traditional décor.” It’s not a one-size-fits-all prospect.
“If you’re booking a clothing-optional, men’s-only hotel with a spa in Fort Lauderdale, you can obviously expect a very different experience than if you stay at an LGBT-friendly, boutique spa hotel where everyone is welcome,” says Chesnut. “It’s like if you’re straight and want to choose a traditional B&B versus a nudist resort…Travelers aren’t stupid; they usually know what to expect.”
Not Gay, LESBIAN.
You don’t have to be Sherlock Holmes to notice that once you start researching gay properties, far more are courting men. “Oh, Honey,” my friend Laura — 40, married and the mother of one — tells me. “Don’t you know that the vast majority of what is labeled ‘gay’ only means ‘gay men’ ?”
Kinda, but I needed a quote from an actual lesbian. It’s a journalism thing.
She makes a persuasive argument, however, about why most resorts are male-driven. “Do the math. Men make more. Hence, two gay men together often have more money than a hetero couple and maybe double the money of a lesbian couple. They have far more disposable income, so more places are going to cater to them.” Lesbian couples, she points out, are more likely to have children and therefore more interest in family-friendly accommodations. “It also means they’re that much more likely to have less money!”
“Catering to lesbians has its drawbacks,” Funaro admits. “You will not have the same occupancy of a mixed or male resort. Women’s travel habits are different than straight people, families or gay men.”
Funaro has run Casitas Laquita with her partner of nearly two decades since 1998. “Women tend to travel less. They take longer, more exotic vacations once every few years or they own timeshares.” Like Laura, she notes the lower-pay statistics. “Women spend more cautiously, saving for that rainy day.”
She also says that lesbian vacation habits — particularly for her clients, mostly couples whose ages average from mid 30s to mid 60s — are decidedly different than that of gay men. It’s a distinction Funaro says is easily noted in Palm Springs. “Men’s resorts are far more profitable and frequented by those who enjoy the party scene and love to mingle on a personal level…. Many are clothing-optional. Women would not feel welcome in that environment.”
While couples rule the roost at Casitas Laquita, the resort runs singles weekends on occasion, generally in conjunction with an event, such as the Dinah Shore Kraft Nabisco Golf Tournament or the Bold Strokes Book Festival which showcases readings, author signings and other activities related to its LGBTQ catalog.
Although many gay men choose to stay in resorts with less sexual energy, Funaro points out, “they’ll often choose a small, mixed-but-gay-friendly boutique hotel.” She and her partner often see gay men as visitors, but most don’t book a room. “They tend to stay with their lesbian friends for dinner and then go back to their hotel of choice.”
Laura has no beef with the catchall term “gay” applying to both genders, but she does note that her ideas about the ultimate lesbian resort differ quite a bit from what many of her brothers-in-arms might opt for in theirs. “I’d have big comfy beds, roaring fireplaces, happy innkeepers — preferably ‘in the life’ — lots of access to nature and maybe a quiet, intimate bar that served a mean martini.”
Master suite at Adonis Tulum Riviera Maya Gay Resort & Spa
Frankie Said, “Relax.”
For all his love of hip happenings and lively décor, South Beach Hotelier Brian Gorman says the essence of a vacation comes down to a sense of comfort, whether you’re straight, Sapphic or a boy who wants to hold hands with another boy. “For the gay community today, it’s not about hiding,” he says emphatically. “It’s about presenting a new face for gay that has strong roots and a good support system.”
Jen, 37, a kindergarten teacher and single mom, says that a “gay-friendly destination” is simply where she’s not the only gay person or couple on the street and feels comfortable. She cites her hometown of New Orleans as a place that fits the bill, along with Atlanta and Burlington, Ver. “Those places have been great to me. I didn’t feel like I stood out like a sore thumb.”
Gay-specific properties, however, aren’t really her cup of tea. “I love traveling with my daughter and most gay places aren’t so much about kids,” she says, “plus I never need to be ‘gay 24/7.’ That’s just not my market.”
The main thing, says Laura, conjuring that same sense of ubiquity — of utter invisibility — I enjoyed at 13, smooching my beau in the high-school hallway before bio, “is that when you pay to go to a gay resort, you do so to be surrounded by people who, like you, are with someone of the same gender, where you can hold hands and not have someone stare at you and just feel normal — which is a rare occurrence in this world.”