Gay tourism may be a specialised field within the wider tourism industry, but it's nothing if not lucrative. According to a leading LGBT tourism trade organization, the annual expenditure on LGBT tourism will have exceeded $200 billion by this year. The countries with the largest spending markets for LGBT tourism were the United States, with $56.5 billion, and Brazil, with $25.3 billion.
Professor Andrew Lear, however, has found an interesting gap in that market, although some could refer to it as a fundamental flaw. While there are many gay tourism companies that appeal to the pink pound/dollar/euro/etc., the city break packages available are rarely specifically "gay". Instead, the trips would be just the same as any other type of vacation package, possibly with a weak gesture of being gay-friendly.
"You go [on vacation] with a group of gay guys," Professor Lear exclaims, "and... that's it! There's nothing else. What really strikes me, is you look at a gay tour of Greece, and [it] is a 'straight' tour of Greece, with gay people."
At first, you may assume that such a set-up for vacation packages would be a good thing; surely if the gay community want equality, should they be treated differently to their straight counterparts? For as valid as that question is, Lear makes a compelling case, and explains it with the possibly unlikely example of a gay travel destination: Dublin.
If a gay person were to visit Dublin, Professor Lear explains, it would be "a normal tour, [...] and then they'd go to a gay bar in the evening. Did anybody ever mention to them [...] the stories of Mícheál Mac Liammóir & Hilton Edwards, or Colm Tóibín or Roger Casement?"
"These [stories] aren't known," Lear bemoans, "and no-one's telling them."
Lear has a good point; despite the fact that the four names he mentions played their own pivotal role in Irish history, their tales are rarely told to Irish people, let alone tourists. For that reason alone, one can understand why the professor -- a classicist who has also worked in the tourism industry since the 1970s -- decided to set up Oscar Wilde Tours, a gay tourism company which will incorporate LGBT history into their travel packages.
Based in New York City, the company's first package looks at the life of their namesake, the famous Irish-born writer, with a trip to Dublin, London and Paris, scheduled for October. I met Andrew during his press trip to Ireland in what was a successful campaign to promote 'gay Ireland' among the leading LGBT publications in North America, which has only raised the professor's hopes in the success of his new venture. While both Ireland and Britain have traditionally been "ignored by the gay travel industry," he claims, it seems that Lear may be on the crest of a new wave of tourism that embraces all aspects of LGBT culture, not just the nightlife.
While his company is undoubtedly in its early days, Lear is proud when he tells me the reaction of his new customers, and the general public, is that they have been "astonished" that nothing like this has been done before, either in the United States (his target market, for now) or in Europe, the first destination for Oscar Wilde Tours.
If such a company is about to reveal the layers of gay history behind many cities in Europe -- and hopefully across North America too -- then the gay travel industry may have an interesting new addition.
Oscar Wilde Tours are now booking for their tour to Dublin, London and Paris, commencing October 4, 2014.
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