Sixty-nine. That’s the number of countries that currently criminalize being gay. According to the BBC, in Brunei, Iran, Mauritania, parts of Nigeria, Saudi Arabia, and Yemen, the penalty is death. And that doesn’t account for all the places where simply being gay, bisexual, DD transgender, or queer puts people in the middle of an unaccepting culture. Yes, we still have a long way to go on this journey to a more inclusive and accepting society, but there is progress being made, particularly in the travel sector. Plenty of tour companies and travel agents are working hard to ensure the LGBTQIA+ community can explore the world as they please — safely, happily, and as their authentic selves.
“They want to feel comfortable. When guests check into the room, they want it to be under Mr. and Mr. not Mr. And Mrs.,” Nadav Peretz, the founder of Outstanding Travel, a company specializing in Mediterranean destinations and LGBTQIA+ guest relations, shares. “Sometimes [hotels] still see two men, and think they are just good friends.”
In 2014, Peretz started his Tel Aviv-based travel company to change all of that and start curating bespoke trips for those in the gay community who wanted to not only explore the places they know well already but also see places outside their comfort zone.
“I spoke to a couple today who are coming here in September. They're both HIV positive. Which, in Israel, is not an issue, but when you cross the border to Jordan like they want to do, it’s an issue,” he says, referring to the nation’s rule in barring people with HIV from entering the country. As the U.S. Department of State explains, “Travelers may be denied entry at ports including land border crossings if they are known to have HIV. This policy, however, is rarely enforced and Jordanian authorities do not screen for HIV/AIDS at the border.” Furthermore, Peretz says Outstanding Travel works with specific tour operators and hosts in the area to work around travel restrictions like this with the assistance of locals who know the ins and outs of the laws and how to make them work for travelers.
“It's not something that will affect your vacation,” Peretz confidently adds.
Peretz also wants to make it clear his company works to ensure the safety of transgender and non-binary travelers because, “Just like any of our clients, transgender tourists want to feel free, welcome, and safe and it's very easy to deliver when they visit Israel.” (Peretz even provided proof of client satisfaction by pointing to Gigi Gorgeous, who traveled to Israel with his company in 2018, after getting detained and denied entry in Dubai for being transgender.)
Peretz is far from alone in his quest to ensure people of all sexual orientations can explore the world as they wish, either solo or with their partner by their side.
“It's really important that you're sending people to hotels that you know, and trust,” Ben Eddon-Carruthers, who cofounded Huben Travel with his partner in life and business, Hugh, says of his business sense. As Eddon-Carruthers explains, they started their own company after failing to find one that would help serve their specific needs. “We set up the company because when we wanted to book our honeymoon there was no company that would have the heart to say, ‘you're going to have a safe time,’” he says.
For a location example, Eddon-Curruthers points to the ever-popular vacation archipelago, the Maldives. There, people identifying as LGBTQIA+ can face execution. But, that’s where Eddon-Curruthers comes in, as he’s personally gone to vet any hotel you’d stay in and all the guides you’d interact with along the way, to ensure they are LGBTQIA friendly and more importantly, people and places who will ensure your safety. “We just wanted to set up a company that can hand on heart say ‘I've been to that hotel. I've spoken to that hotel. You’ll have a great time,” he says, noting they also go above and beyond for honeymooners to ensure everything is appropriate along the way.
“If you go to a hotel for a honeymoon package it’s typically flowers for the lady and something for the gentlemen and the staff walk in and they're like, ‘Oh God, this is awkward,’” he shares with a laugh. “The hotels love it when we call up and we're like, ‘Okay, there's going to be a gay couple coming. Do not be coming in with flowers and a gift for a guy, it’s not going to work.’ We'll even make sure that bathrobes are the right size because there's always a tiny one for a lady and a massive one for a guy. We take care of all of that.”
Of course, solo adventurers haven’t been left behind in this LGBTQIA+ travel revolution. “We actually limit our group sizes,” Shane Bingham, director of operations at Detour Travel, a company that specializes in gay tours and group travel, says. While the company allows about 15 people per trip, it actively asks that groups of friends break apart, so they can come and make new lifelong buddies on epic trips around the globe.
“You’ve got every kind of personality coming,” he says of their clientele. “You've got the ones that are so adventurous and are like, ‘I want to go bungee jumping and I want to do rafting and I want to do everything else.’ And then you've got the other guys that are like, ‘Well, I kind of just want to do a cooking class and I want to learn about the culture and history.’ And luckily, we do it all.”
When asked if there are things they have to consider for their LGBTQIA+ clients that straight-identifying and cis-gender individuals may not think about, Bingham says it’s complicated, simply because they so often choose to bring groups to destinations where they know they will feel safe. But even in those places they still ensure guests are surprised and delighted by what they find.
“When we go to Greece, of course, we're going to go to Mykonos, because it's the gay mecca of that part of the world,” he says. “So we go into these famous gay bars that these guys have known about. We'll go to drag shows in the evening and we'll go to a gay beach. But then, we'll also go to Delos where we have this awesome local guide take us around and our minds are just blown by the history dating back centuries.”
However, he notes, the company is starting to dabble in new locations that are in high demand, like Egypt. “When we go, we're staying in a little bit more Western-friendly hotels,” he says, adding in places like this “we need to be really mindful and respectful of local culture. So it'll be interesting how that plays out, but the demand has been astronomical.”
Perhaps most importantly, Bingham says, trips like Egypt are starting to broaden the company’s audience because “we're not going to just gay destinations. We're going to places that people who just happen to be gay, want to travel to.”
Looking for more LGBTQIA+ tour operators and hotels? Check out a few options below. Out Adventures: The Canada-based company offers small group luxury tours for gay travelers. Guests can choose existing trips or build their own private adventure.
Olivia Travel: Olivia Travel focuses on women-only trips for those in the LGBTQIA+ community. It offers full-charter vacations, including cruises.
R Family Vacations: R Vacations is the place to go if you’re looking for both an LGBTQIA- and family-friendly getaway. However, the company does note “Kids are welcome on most vacations but they are not a requirement.”
Source Events: As the company states, not just a travel company, it’s an "Experience Company.”
Toto Tours: The company has served the gay community since 1990, all in an effort to help clients “explore the wonders of the world in comfort and safety while having the time of our lives.”