As part of the Travel Industry Exchange in Orlando, we asked LoAnn Halden, communications director for the International Gay & Lesbian Travel Association (IGLTA), what the most LGBT-welcoming island in the Caribbean was, and she responded by saying, “Curacao, Curacao, Curacao!”
Known for its unique architecture, 60-plus dive sites, wide range of adventure opportunities and year-round warm weather, Curacao is currently considered one of the hottest escapes for seasoned Caribbean clients looking for something different in the region.
And now, with new nonstop flights via JetBlue Airways from New York, the island is poised to become an option even for the first-time Caribbean visitor.
There are still some Caribbean islands that are not onboard with the acceptance of LGBT vacationers, but Curacao is certainly not one of them. The island’s European influence and the open, friendly nature of its people, along with events such as Gay Pride Week and South Caribbean Pride Week, have put the island on the frontline of LGBT tourism in the Caribbean.
Known by many as the most LGBT-friendly hotel on the island, the 72-suite Floris Suite Hotel & Spa Curacao is the site of the annual Curacao Pride festival celebrating the Caribbean LGBT community. General Manager Frank Holtslag is also the president of Curacao Gay Pro, which works to organize LGBT events on the island.
Floris Suite has a brand new fitness center with steam room, a sauna and new fitness equipment and the courtyard has a private pool, and it is the only hotel on island that caters to guests 18 and older.
Another great feature for LGBT clients is the hotel’s “Out and About” list, which is a list given to the concierge that details LGBT friendly activities throughout the island.
"Staff training is so important," says Hotslag. "Our guests are comfortable enough to hold hands and kiss around the pool and snuggle in the ocean without anyone giggling or giving them strange looks. LGBT clients feel comfortable, but also all guests here feel comfortable because there is a very accepting vibe here."
While Curacao is on the fast track to the mainstream tourist market, Saba is still most popular amongst the seasoned Caribbean travelers looking for an island they haven’t been to yet.
With increasing numbers of gay and lesbian tour packages being offered by the island, and with American travelers not only accepting the LGBT community, but embracing it, we expect Saba to get on the mainstream map very soon. So, tell clients to go now while it’s still a secret.
Saba is very easy to get to and is located within a cluster of other impressive Dutch islands that make Saba the perfect starting point for an island-hopping tour. Tell clients to fly to St. Maarten and take a short, scenic ferry ride to Saba. Saba can also be reached by air from St. Maarten via a 12-minute flight from Windward Islands Airways.
While an agent’s prime market for Saba is the LGBT community, you can target seasoned Caribbean travelers who would opt for adventure and nature over a casino, a beach and a nightclub. But don’t ignore the newbies, as long as you pair Saba up with a few nights in either neighboring St.Maarten/St. Martin or Anguilla.
Located in the hills of Saba is another all-time favorite amongst LGBT experts for two reasons: the seclusion and the food. The small, yet attentive, staff is very hands-on at the Queens Gardens Resort, catering to every guest’s individual needs.
The outstanding Caribbean cuisine is prepared by Chef Kevin Hollans, while the hotel also houses a robust selection of rums from Martinique and Guadeloupe. The kicker, however, is that every room has its own open-air Jacuzzi facing the valley below. Think Jade Mountainin St. Lucia but for way cheaper.
Both the Dutch and the French have traditionally been pretty accepting of the LGBT community for years, so it’s no surprise that both the French side of St. Martin and the Dutch side of St. Maarten are good fits for the LGBT client.
LGBT clients looking for some fun in the sun will love Cupecoy Beach in St. Maarten, often considered a popular retreat among LGBT clients.
As a Dutch island, St. Maarten tends to be a bit more LGBT-welcoming than other islands in the Caribbean. While same-sex marriage is not legal, the island does offer an array of symbolic wedding ceremonies and vow renewals. St. Martin, as we previously mentioned, just began conducting symbolic same-sex marriages this year.
Belmond La Samanna, an IGLTA certified hotel, is located in the LGBT-welcoming destination of St. Martin and is arguably the best hotel in general on the island. The Belmond company as a whole is very LGBT-welcoming and is actively marketing toward this clientele.
In fact, Belmond, a global collection of 46 iconic hotels, trains and river cruises, appointed Tom Alderink back in May as the company's first director of LGBT sales.
The property offers all the amenities one would expect from a five-star hotel, from swanky beach cabanas to a 15-foot-long infinity pool. This is also a great spot for LGBT clients with families, as the hotel also offers its unique Camp La Samanna, which provides such activities as treasure hunts for children.
There are pockets of Puerto Rico that are more LGBT-welcoming than others, but you can’t do wrong pitching San Juan to a Caribbean-bound LGBT traveler, as it is often considered one of the best spots for LGBT travelers in the Caribbean.
Specifically, the Condado District is currently booming with LGBT visitors. The area has seen a resurgence in general as many new hotels have popped up recently including the re-opening of the famous Condado Vanderbilt earlier this year. This is where you dine out and stay out until you’re ready to sleep.
“Puerto Rico is the best of all worlds, a vast collection of islands, the main one offering verdant rain forests, colonial Old San Juan, top resorts like the new Ritz Carlton Dorado Beach and the St Regis Bahia Beach and more,” says John Clifford, president of International Travel Management, which is affiliated with Tzell Your Travel Center, a branch of the Tzell Travel Group. “The opposite are windswept and funky Culebra and little sister, laid back Vieques Island where the chic W Retreat & Spa Vieques is the isle’s only full service resort and so much more than a thumping night club, coming complete with an airport welcome suite, massive oceanfront digs and a talented 'Whatever, Whenever' team.”
The 486 all-suite Gran Melia Puerto Rico is located in the tropics of the El Yunque rainforest, allowing ample privacy for LGBT clients, although they can still feel comfortable walking the streets of the surrounding neighborhood, as this area of Puerto Rico is deemed extremely LGBT welcoming.
The hotel is scattered over 20 two-story bungalows, a YHI Spa and the Trump International Golf Club, with two 18-hole championship golf courses designed by PGA pro Tom Kite.
All of the U.S. Virgin Islands are LGBT-welcoming, but none more than the small island of St. Croix. Because it is a U.S. territory, the island is very Americanized and shares a lot of the same general principles of Americans. To put it simply, a gay tourist is nothing new here.
You just need to visit the hotel’s website to get how LGBT-welcoming the Sand Castle on the Beach Resort on St. Croix is. From photos of gay couples kissing on the beach to a proclamation that “We Celebrate Inclusion and Diversity. We do not Discriminate,” the Sand Castle on the Beach is pretty open about including everyone at their hotel.
The hotel offers LGBT clients seven room types from beachfront villas to economical studios. All accommodations are air-conditioned, have private baths, overhead fans, cable TV and a beach cooler.
All of the Suites and Beachfront Villas are equipped with kitchens, separate living areas, and a sleeper sofa.
As is the case of St. Martin, LGBT clients are also accepted here do to the accepting nature of the French culture. This small French-Caribbean island offers so many secluded, high-end villas and cottages to make anyone feel safe, but by no means does an LGBT client need to stay put at the resort. Food, art and culture are also top priorities of Caribbean-bound LGBT clients and St. Bart’s has plenty of all three.
Although it is not IGLTA certified, Le Guanahani, St. Bart’s private enclave, invites the LGBT community to experience the luxurious, secluded, tropical escape that is St. Bart’s. The newly renovated, five-star hotel is located on a private 16-acre peninsula between Marigot Bay and Grand Cul de Sac.
LGBT travelers can enjoy two beaches, two pools, a restorative Spa by Clarins, a full suite of water sports, two restaurants with al fresco settings, a fitness center, flood-lit tennis courts, and engaging children’s programs.
The hotel and staff are very LGBT-friendly and inclusive, whether it’s hosting LGBT couples or planning a symbolic LGBT wedding or honeymoon.
Aruba, although its joins Curacao and St. Maarten as the Dutch islands where same-sex marriage is illegal, has a long history of priding itself on its diversity. LGBT visibility, especially in the hotels and restaurants, is pretty apparent here. La Vie Lounge Aruba is the spot to be for LGBT clients looking for some nightlife. The club often hosts drag queen shows and other fun LGBT-oriented events.
At the Aruba Marriott Resort & Stellaris Casino, LGBT clients can enjoy luxurious Aruba accommodations that feature spacious guestrooms, upscale bedding and bathrooms, high-tech amenities and some of the largest balconies in Aruba. LGBT clients will love the relaxing H2Oasis Adult Pool or the more exciting Stellaris Casino. The hotel culinary offerings are lead by the always-popular Ruth’s Chris Steak House.
Keep visiting www.travelagentcentral.com for all your latest LGBT and Caribbean news. Be sure to follow Travel Agent's Joe Pike on Twitter @TravelPike. UPDATE: If you're looking to learn more about selling travel to the LGBT market, perhaps a story on qualifying the LGBT client heading to Hawaii may be of interest to you. Click here for the full story.