Several works have defined gay tourism as a type of ‘niche tourism’. Niche markets gained a lot of prominence during the 20th century, as well as in the early 21st century. The move to popularize niche tourism was with a view to differentiate certain areas as distinct from the mass markets. Gays could enter these special or niche markets, just like anybody else. However, we are yet to find out if indeed, sexual orientation can have an impact on holiday activity or choice.
The tourism industry generally views the gay tourist as healthy, middle class, white, and male. We can therefore understand why the tourism industry would be so obsessed with free-spending, global cosmopolitan and well-off men. However, we need to be concerned about the extent to which the aforementioned context of ‘global gay’ could end up filtering into the common dialect. For example, it is important to take into account how class affects choices. The culture of the working class gay is rarely addressed, as well as its effect on the desires and patterns of working-class gay culture, and the desire for the gay people to be tourists indicates the desire for the gay people to be mobile. On the other hand, interactions with gay tourists indicate that the issue of status is as significant for gay tourism as it can be for other types of tourism as well.
My essay will aim to determine the extent to which gay tourism has been embraced, the economic and social impacts of gay tourism and evaluate the experiences.
Studying sexual activity has not been the main goal of gay tourism studies, although a number of studies have sought to explore it to a certain extent. These studies have endeavored to emphasize more on the link between sexual orientation and tourism, as opposed to sex tourism (that is, sexual encounter of gay people while they are on holiday). Nonetheless, we still have several works that have endeavored to explore such issues. For example, in his 2004 edition book, Luongo has dwelt extensively on the travel and sex encounters of gay men, albeit from a non-academic context. The book features a subtitle, ‘A collection of gay travel erotic’, and this acts as a clear sign that indeed, the book in question mainly dwells on the narratives and tales of the sexual experiences of travelers while on holiday. If we attempt to explore the issue from a more angle, Ryan and Hall have emphasized on the heterosexual aspects in writing their works on sex tourism. However, they have also dedicated an entire chapter to addressing the issue of gay tourism mainly with Sydney Mardi Gras, along with the associated social and political importance.
The evident lack of enthusiasm by a majority of the tourism researchers to explore the issue of gay tourism could merely be a pointer to the emergence of tourism studies in recent years, or could be a sign that indeed, tourism research has, by and large, ‘tended to neglect the perspectives and experiences of marginalized groups’. This is indicative of the existing dominance and power relation of the main research agendas by a male, white, and heteronormative context. Moreover, these researchers could as well have been a bit hesitant to research a field that they do not have any personal association with, along with the likely risk of stigmatization and labeling. The current comparative rise in the number of researchers who have endeavored to explore the issue of gay tourism is not only an indication of the desire to challenge hitherto dominant research agendas; it could as well be due to the need to challenge the prevailing dominant research paradigms.
Importance of studying gay tourism
What impact does studying gay tourism make? There is chance that the experiences and motivations of homosexuals who are on holidays could be different in comparison with the experiences of heterosexuals. Therefore, it becomes important to evaluate such differences in a bid to dissuade practitioners and academics from continuing viewing tourists as “an undifferentiated homogenous mass. There is a chance that we could encounter differences while studying this issue mainly because the meanings attached to tourism experiences and spaces are, to a certain extent, social-cultural constructions.
A number of social geographers have addressed the issues of the influence of sexuality on the character of space, as well as the influences of sexual identities by such space. To this extent, there is a certain spatial dimension to the concept of tourism. Already, there has been an unwarranted emphasis on the masculine component of tourism experience, with many tourism studies producing large quantities of ‘hegemonic, disembodied and masculinist knowledge’. On the other hand, it is important to appreciate the fact that the experiences of men and women in as far as tourism is concerned are different. As a result, there has emerged a gendered construction on the issues of tourism, along with the need to examine how women have experienced tourism. For example, motivations are largely constructed based on the existing social realities “of the lives of those who participate”. In addition, such realities also happen to be the products of control and power. In this respect, tourism hinges on human relations and for this reason, it tends to affect and is affected by local and global gender relations; since ‘sexual orientation’ has been substituted by ‘gender’.
An assessment of sexual orientation and tourism, as well as an evaluation of gender differences, would ideally point at how diverse the experiences of tourists are, besides contributing immensely to the wider debate regarding the more general inequalities that are likely to emerge from sexual and gender orientation. In this case, tourism acts as “an ideal vehicle” or enabling as to achieve the desired understanding. In addition, tourism also helps us to better comprehend the ‘power dynamics’ that have played a crucial role in shaping the heteronormative and patriarchal societies.
Winning Entry 2- Written and submitted by Kellie Rodgers