Halt! Before you head back to Key West or Provincetown again this year, check out these new (or newly improved) destinations beckoning LGBT travelers.
Buh-bye, 2010. Hello, 2011! All indications are that this year (2011) is going to be a heck of a lot better than last. According to a recent survey by Community Marketing, Inc. — the gay travel research experts for nearly 20 years — lesbian and gay travelers are planning on doing a lot more traveling this year than they did during the last two. With all this pent-up demand, U.S. LGBT travelers will be heading near and far to spend those restless pink dollars. This year, put these five hot spots on your gay travel radar, and venture beyond the tried and true.
South America Rising
Rio de Janeiro has long been an important stop for in-the-know gay travelers who flock here during their summer (our winter). This South American New Year’s is one of the most exciting celebrations for LGBT locals and visitors alike. But this year, plan on going farther a field. Florianopolis, on the coast Brazil south of Rio, attracts droves of sun-seeking gay and lesbian Brazilians. It was a stop on a recent Atlantis cruise and it’ll be host to the IGLTA’s 2012 convention. Buenos Aires — long and justifiably a gay-popular stop — should be coupled with a visit to Mendoza (wine country) or a quick jaunt across the Rio de la Plata to Uruguay for a visit to the romantic colonial town of Colonia or a jaunt to the much-improved beach resort Punta del Este, the South American jetsetter’s version of St. Tropez.
The Venice of the North
The Scandinavian countries have long been light years ahead of the rest of the world in their treatment of gays and lesbians, offering civil unions and other rights before many Western nations. They’ve typically done so in a decidedly low-key manner, until now. Sweden is (finally and justifiably) tooting its horn. The country offers same-sex marriage and recently ran a contest culminating in several same-sex couples tying the knot in the air during a flight by SAS, the national airline. This is one reason to reward Sweden with your pink travel dollars, but it’s certainly not the only reason. Once you visit Stockholm, you’ll instantly understand the appeal. It’s a gorgeous city, which like its Italian twin sister, is built on islands. Sailboats, ferries, and other vessels punctuate the vibrant harbor, which is ringed by gorgeous historical buildings, dotted by lush green islands, and bathed in endless light in the summer. In the winter, it’s dark and cold, so pair your visit with a trip to the Ice Hotel , located in Lapland (120 miles north of the Arctic Circle) where you may actually get to see the Northern Lights.
Vegas, new, you say?! Sin City isn’t new, of course. It sprouted from the desert in the early 30s along with the Hoover Dam. Those dam construction workers needed to spend their hard-earned dough somewhere! Continuously reinventing itself, Vegas seems incapable of keeping itself from adding rooms, casinos, theaters, shopping, and attractions. This travel hot spot is up to nearly 150,000 rooms. That’s almost 55 million heads-in-beds annually. Their overcapacity is a bust for developers (the much ballyhooed Fountainbleau Hotel didn’t even get off the ground), but a total boon for travelers. Rooms can often be had for a steal. Even truly fabulous properties, like the brand spanking new Cosmopolitan, built for the Champagne crowd, is eagerly welcoming the beer-can set. It is not just because Vegas offers very affordable luxury that it’s sizzling again. It’s also because it’s one of the most authentically gay welcoming destinations in the U.S., much to the surprise of many people. The Encore has not one, but five gay packages on their website: EncoreLasVegas.com/Pride. Similarly welcoming hotels include the Mandalay Bay, the Paris, and MGM Grand.
Gay Middle East
Three words you probably never thought you’d read together. While it’s true that the vast majority of the Middle East probably won’t be actively marketing to the LGBT travel segment any time soon, there are a couple of very notable exceptions. Israel, which is the strongest democracy in the region, has a pretty decent track record with respect to rights for their same-sex citizens. Just one example: Legal same-sex marriages performed outside the country are recognized here, thanks to a case brought about, in fact, by the man included below who runs a terrific in-bound travel agency that can help you put together an amazing visit to the region. Tel Aviv, which celebrated its 60th anniversary this summer — it hardly looks a day over 25! — is actively courting the queer dollar. There’s much to love in this destination aside from the hot local women and men, including fine hotels, dining options, and warm stretches of beach lapped gently by the turquoise Mediterranean waves. Beirut — yes, in Lebanon — has also started to reach out to lesbian and gay travelers, with a recent symposium, and at least one out, proud, and highly competent tour operator (listed below).
Sure, getting caned would be a drag, and Singapore, nestled in the island-country of Malaysia, has a reputation for religiously strict adherence to rules that would put the Pope to shame. Problem is: That’s no longer true. You can chew gum and spit it out if you want. You might not want to (the city is really clean). Plus, to the surprise of many visitors, Singapore is a sophisticated, educated, modern city with all the amenities you’d expect as a Westerner. There are charming old neighborhoods, friendly, helpful locals, and a shockingly big and developed (well for a socially conservative society) gay scene. Homosex is technically illegal (a legacy of British colonialism), but there are plenty of gay nightlife venues in the historic Chinatown section. Throughout the city, you’ll find the best of the best cuisines from this part of the world, be it Thai, Chinese, or Indian. This destination also offers great shopping, inexpensive world-class hotels, and some of the friendliest service anywhere in the world. This great experience starts in the air on Singapore Airlines, which boasts one of the world’s safest and highest-rated service records of any airline. Spend four days here and a restful long weekend in nearby Bali, Indonesia, another gay-popular Asian/Muslim destination. Stay in the mystical, natural, yet luxurious highlands of Ubud and visit the nearby beaches.