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November 27, 2014
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Argentina, preferred by gay travellers

A national government stand at a recent international fair in Madrid, specifically designed to promote gay tourism in Argentina.
By Jayson McNamara
Herald Staff

The country battles it out with Thailand for LGBT tourism’s big spenders

Fine wine, gourmet dining, and luxury hotels — not to mention the country’s ground-breaking equal rights legislation — it might come as no surprise that Argentina is, for the fourth consecutive year, one of the world’s preferred destinations for high-flying gay travellers.

Knocked out of the top spot by “land of the smiles” Thailand, the country was last year second on the radar of a whopping 11,000 LGBT survey interviewees who earned a yearly household income in excess of US$120,000, the UK-based firm behind the study Boutique Marketing, confirmed to the Herald.

“From a product perspective, both Thailand and Argentina have a clear understanding and execution of luxury travel, from the multi-national brands to independent boutique brands,” said managing director Uwern Jong, who wrote to the Herald via e-mail while travelling — incidentally —in South East Asia.

Argentina has a fierce competitor in Thailand. Its Tourism Authority runs a tight-ship holiday programme — “Go Thai. Be Free” — which is aimed directly (and clearly effectively) at gay and lesbian travellers. What’s more, on arrival to Thailand (where same-sex marriage is not legal), gay travellers can enjoy fast-track couples lanes when passing through customs, and exclusive LGBT holiday resorts all across the country.

“Thailand courts two specific niche markets. Honeymoons and LGBT travellers. And with the world opening up to LGBT marriage, this opportunity grows greater,” Jong explained, adding that Argentina, even with a tourist board that “works hard to court LGBT customers,” was still to realize the full potential of luxury market in particular.

“While the LGBT community can be an enigma for those who don’t work with them day-to-day, done right, they are an adventurous, high-spending, loyal and word-of-mouth building marketplace,” he explained. “They may not come in volume, but definitely in value, and that’s far more important.”

A lot to work with

While Argentina had been on top of list after the last survey in 2011 (the year after the country passed legislation allowing same-sex marriage), Jong did say the country has a lot to work with in appealing to big-spenders.

“It falls on the bucket list of many an LGBT travellers, with its famously cosmopolitan DNA and the perception of grandeur and ceremony, and because of a good global knowledge of Argentine culture — food, wine and the arts — ” he said. “It’s a unique Latin American destination that is welcoming, grown-up, stable and attractive in all senses of the words.”

Among the country’s major points of appeal were the Argentine people “inherently welcoming natures, mystique, and a cosmopolitan, people-first social leaning.” And let’s not forget the Paris of South America — Buenos Aires.

“Cosmopolitan BA is the draw-card and for most visitors BA is Argentina,” Jong explained.

“There is still a lot of work to do to build BA as a gateway rather than a destination. LGBT travellers will generally combine BA with a trip to Rio or Montevideo, so Argentina needs to work harder to keep the traveller in the country on a single trip.”

Attractive local laws

The survey, which was conducted in collaboration with the gay luxury travel magazine OutThere, highlighted that one in four interviewees use social media to make their all-important holiday decision.

Pablo de Luca director of the Argentine Chamber of Gay and Lesbian Commerce, said liberal laws focused on equality had a lot to do with travellers’ curiosity in Argentina — the first LatAm country to legalize gay marriage, and the first in the world to allow transsexual people to legally change their gender without approval or either a judge or doctor.

“Knowing that in Argentina you’re going to be welcome and your civil rights are going to be ensured has a lot to do with travellers’ desire to come to Argentina,” de Luca told the Herald.

And in more than one way was equality legislation a huge advantage.

“Yes, there are lots of gay foreigners who come to Argentina just to get married. But some even arrive, get married and take their papers back to their own countries to demand the same rights,” he said. “It’s a good way to put laws in their own countries to the test.”

Luxury travel expert Jong largely agreed.

“Absolutely. You only need to see the negative impacts that Russia and India’s homophobic laws have had on LGBT travel,” he stressed. “Argentina’s approach to openness has given it the boost.”

@JaysonMcNamara

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