Feature - Altitude and attitudes 

Gay and lesbian travel business my be the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow for Whistler

Thomas Dolan loves to travel. Last year he went to Amsterdam, Sydney and New York.

And this year won't be any different.

"I just got back from Montreal," he said from his Vancouver home. He is already planning a trip to Singapore, where he hopes to catch up with some students he used to teach at the University of Calgary and an old friend from his college days.

For Dolan, who takes four to six trips a year, travel is part of his life.

"In all of history there hasn't been a niche market with more disposable income and more desire to travel all over the world," he said.

"Travel is enormously important. My motivation for travel is my desire to see the world. But my desire is to see it the way that I am as opposed to a desire to show up and see the world pretending not to be who I really am."

All over the world and right here in Whistler there is a growing realization by those in the travel industry that the gay and lesbian travel segment needs to be recognized and catered to.

The average gay or lesbian traveller takes seven pleasure trips a year and according to the most recent statistics was worth $54 billion to the travel industry in North America and $140 billion worldwide. That's about 10 per cent of the travel market.

"It is a very robust and ever growing market," said New York-based Ed Salvado, editor of Out and About magazine, which caters to gay and lesbian travellers and travel agents who serve the gay/lesbian market.

In the last issue of Out and About Vancouver was chosen as one of the top 10 emerging destinations worldwide for the gay traveller. And this May the city will host more than 1,000 tour operators and travel agents at the International Gay and Lesbian Travel Association's annual convention.

Indeed many in the travel industry see this segment as the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, as gay travellers take more trips and have more disposable income than other vacationers.

And gay and lesbian travellers haven't been put off by the threat of terrorism, SARS, mad cow, the strong Canadian dollar or just about anything else, which makes them even more attractive.

"A lot of marketers took note of that," said Salvado.

"We did poll after poll that showed people weren't changing their travel plans and in fact were travelling a little bit more after September 11th.

"My personal belief is that gay people have put up with a lot worse that the vague threat of a shoe bomber: being taunted in school or being discriminated against, or being gay-bashed, having AIDS, or being HIV positive. We are tough and we have been doing it on our own for long enough that nothing is going to scare us."

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