London’s Gay Tourist Office opens in Lisle Street, Soho, on October 23 and will be the first dedicated, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender visitor centre in the capital. But in ‘enlightended’ 2009, do gay people really still need a sexuality specific service? And how does gay travel get a fair crack of the whip when it comes to coverage in the national press? I asked centre boss Shaun Newport for his thoughts.
Do we really need a gay tourist office in 2009?
We do. We will provide a safe and friendly environment for the visitors from around the world to chill out, pick up information, find guidance and take advantage of LGBT services. London has the most LGBT visitors in Europe and we want to ensure people have the best time possible. Regular tourists office do not offer the specialist knowledge we do.
How does the holiday market differ for the gay market from the straight? Surely, we all just want to go on holiday, exclusive of sexuality?
The difference is evident across the world. There are LGBT-focused institutions, events and activities running all year and everyday in London. We are very proud of them and are proud to show them to our visitors whether gay or straight.
We do want to go on holiday and not have sexuality become an issue but this is an ideal that has yet to become international reality. People from the LGBT community want to be safe and comfortable and go to places where they feel most amongst friends. This is currently a privilege the heterosexual community often take for granted. I even dare to suggest that the majority of straight people who travel, do not travel exclusive of their sexuality either.
Additionally, visitors may be taking long breaks such as students, travellers and people on work placements and they may want to become involved with community activities. We are a more extensive resource of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender information. We have information pertaining to LGBT nightclubs and bars, as well as health and well-being, community and long term projects.
Do regular travel sections give enough space to gay friendly holidays?
There are many specialist LGBT publications that are online and in-print. Mainstream media however do sometimes lack some of the vital content that I, personally, would like to see.
If you could edit a broadsheet travel section for a weekend, what stories would you select and why?
A flavour of an my initial thoughts: I’d like to focus on some overlooked sections of the LGBT community. Certainly, I’d like to run pieces on where LGBT families can holiday around the world. I would like to provide information on services where LGBT elders can go on holiday. There are places in the world where being gay is illegal and I’d like to see news on how residents survive. There are also many issues on declaring HIV status when travelling abroad which can be a traumatic experience for some. This could be investigated.