Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Iranian Diplomat Welcomes Gay Tourists - More Friendly than Eastern Europe at Global Tourism Conference

Andalucía took over an entire pavillion - exciting displays!
Where does the government spend millions on tourism displays even just for Andalucía? Only in Spain, where tourism truly is the industry FITUR is one of the world's largest tourism conferences held in Spain annually & so I attended representing Capital Hostels as well as my nascent LGBT business (the world's 1st global gay concierge!). I spent the majority of my time talking to extremely helpful IGLTA reps and meeting exhibitors and representatives from specific gay tourism enterprises.

But then, I got excited about an idea. What if I went around to each booth and simply asked for LGBT-specific information? Of course, it became only a small, very unscientific test - restricted by my lack of spanish language skills, sometimes absent booth attendants and lack of global attendance. However, it proved fun and exciting. Most surprising: the excited and engaging responses from Iran and Turkey compared to Poland and Romania, who basically "leveled with me" that gays aren't welcome in Eastern Europe! Is it money these friendly darker faces want or simply Eastern Europe's more direct, cold culture compared to always-welcoming Persians? Maybe, but overall, the tourism industry did want LGBT travelers (no surprises here!).

FITUR's Gay Test

Brazil gets an A+ for this at its booth!
Winners of my little test included Germany, who brought up a display showing information for LGBT travelers as well as Brazil who had specific LGBT information pamphlets at their booth. Argentina also brought gay game - they included their own LGBT specific reps (and the general booth contact pointed out their location). Most of the rest of Europe confirmed they had general information online and many countries had specific webpages for LGBT tourists. Of course, I'm not even counting uber-gay Spain - the conference included a LGBT section, although it was hidden in the back of the conference arena - yet front and center on the website.

*the links here are a smattering of the best places for gay info in each place - they were not recommended by anyone but me!

Germany's (Alemania) interactive
display has LGBT-specific page
After zig-zaging through European stands - and being pressed buy 2 (!) Turkish tour operators to bring gays over -  I approached Iran with excitement and confidence. First the rep engaged me excitedly, welcoming a U.S. citizen to Iran, and then introduced me to (a naturally friendly) economic counselor from Madrid's Iranian Embassy. All Americans were welcome, he stated. Then I asked, with a prelude that this might be a "difficult question," "what about gay people?" What if my customers wanted to travel to Iran. Without any hesitation he expressed an invitation - perhaps it would be difficult; they would not be able to show open displays of affection (similar to the response from reps from Tunisia, UAE, and Lebanon) - and that, of course, no venues exist for these people. I pressed him that there must be some underground groups - and he didn't really respond, but perhaps accepted this position. He left me (naturally) with a handshake and his business card.

Don't Don Rainbow Sarbands or Head-Scarfs Just Yet!

Calm down, friends, I'm NOT recommending anyone go to Iran, whose government recently executed LGBT people. Still, this won't stop avid travelers - Iran has incredible sights and history. For sure, I'm certainly not going anytime soon myself. Yet, it was nice to be welcome - even if they just put on a show. And I got to compare that response to Poland, where a woman simply said "no, I don't have any info about that" and then Romania where a woman told me people in Romania would not accept this, and she wouldn't recommend coming! And then Russia where it took me 5 minutes to explain "gay" (though the woman became sympathetic afterwards).

Other highlights included a rep from Vilnius who didn't even know gay venues exist in Lithuania (there's at least one). Apparently, in Africa you should go to Cape Verde, Ivory Coast (but maybe not right now) or Botswana (anyone can Safari!) and obviously South Africa where each of the reps expressed open arms for gay travelers. The Nepal rep expressed that LGBT did not jive with Nepali culture - but still gave his card & encouraged me to contact him. China expressed apprehension (no surprise), Japan pointed me to their website (where the only references to "gay" are bad translations of happy) and let's just say one of the South-Eastern Asian country reps gave me his Facebook!

Generally, most everyone wanted to be helpful - even if they only had general information. Special thanks also to Cuba where "everyone is welcome" and Venezuela where LGBT is "an interesting market" they are looking to do more with :).

Get it!
I'll admit - I doubt few gay people might ask the question as I did (but that's why I hope to help gay travelers seek out information). Still further, I doubt all gay travelers need specific destination information - they want to see the sights and experience the culture just like everyone else. Still, it's important to know they are safe, feel welcome and of course - a country's tourism office surely won't want to exclude those pink dollars (it is Spain after all & plenty of gay couples attended)!

Not only did I have a great time with this activisty, LGBT test - I talked to the large contingent of LGBT events and exhibitors. Unfortunately, my clases de español in Malaga competed with the visit of new (gay) U.S. Ambassador, James Costas to the LGBT booths. Still, I attended both days of the weekend (even after getting my fill of Chueca favorites Liquid and Long Play to "practice my spanish" each night). And of course, Madrid - is always worth a visit. If Barcelona is gay Mecca, Madrid is Medina.

More soon in a post about gay-Medina!


  1. I am a gay in Iran and can help also give advice to gay travelers n Iran. Please feel free to contact me.
    My e-mail address is "ehsan1400@live.com"

  2. I just had nice gay cruise from out-travel.com.au that was best one i would sure ask for iran tour to them thanks for the nice information

  3. Hi guys !
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    Do not hesitate to contact us if you intent to visit Turkey.
    This is our agency website: https://www.everydayturkeytours.com/

    Apart from being gay or straight Turkey is really a very beautiful country you must visit at least once in your life.
    We are also ready to cooperate with other gay friendly travel agencies from all around the world.