MINNEAPOLIS, Minnesota – In 1986, the first all-gay cruise set sail out of New Orleans with 750 guests, thanks to Kevin Mossier, founder of RSVP Vacations. Because of the social climate of the time, during the height of the AIDS epidemic and socialized homophobia, Mossier saw a need to create a safe place for gays and lesbians to vacation.
According to Charlie Rounds, who was one of Minneapolis-based RSVP’s early employees and later became part owner, the gay and lesbian travel market has evolved significantly since the 1980s. An enduring industry spokesman, Rounds received the International Gay & Lesbian Travel Association’s Lifetime Achievement Award last spring and has recently launched a new gay tour operator, Brand g Vacations, which encompasses what he calls a new era in gay travel.
“Brand g is about having our vacations reflect the changes in our community over the last twenty-five years,” says Rounds, “There is still an interest in the experience and camaraderie that are part of traveling with other LGBT guests, but you will see a greater mix of men and women on our trips, as well as straight friends and family members.”
The new company has its finger on the pulse of a notable trend toward culture-focused vacation experiences that offer alternatives to large-scale gay cruises and resort buyouts. Brand g is one of 7 other LGBT tour operators chartering or organizing groups aboard boutique European riverboats this summer. Brand g’s full-ship charter of AMA Waterways’ newest ship, the 164-passenger AmaCerto, features 2 nights in Prague, followed by a custom-tailored, 7-day itinerary down the Danube River that includes stops in Regensberg, Melk, Vienna, Bratislava, and ends in Budapest.
“There is a huge demand for the gay riverboat product,” said Rounds, “It’s an exceptional way to see these destinations, and to do so in an intimate setting, with great food and service, surrounded by a welcoming community.”
He added that the average age of Brand g guests booked so far on the Danube riverboat is 48 years old, significantly younger than the 60+ demographic on mainstream European riverboat cruises. And while small-ship travel may be more conducive to quiet conversation and castle-watching, he notes that the ambiance on gay cruises is anything but boring.
Rounds credits strong demand, as well as a close network of dedicated travel agents, for helping support the new brand, which is also offering 2012 land programs to Ireland (September) and Mexico City (October). Rounds plans to add cruises on the Mekong and Rhone Rivers, and a land program in Argentina in 2013.
“We want to promote great destinations that give full equality to our community,” he said, “Mexico City is a great example of that – a fantastic destination with a vibrant culture, history, archaeology, and cuisine, and where gay and lesbian citizens enjoy equal rights.”
Rounds is General Manager of Brand g Vacations and has set up Marketing and Reservations offices in Minneapolis. Brand g Vacations is wholly owned by The Mark Travel Corporation, which owns and manages such well-known vacation brands as Funjet Vacations, Southwest Airlines Vacations, and MGM Resorts Vacations.
For more information, visit www.brandgvacations.com or call 1 800 433 4303.