|All travel services and products featured in Carlos Melia’s blog have been tried and tested by either Melia himself or one of his clients.|
Travel agent/consultant Carlos Melia offers tips on selling South America to gay travelers.
Contrary to some existing stereotypes floating around in the industry, gay travel is not a one-size-fits-all niche. Like any other niche, the trip depends on the individual client’s preferences, usually determined by age and budget.
We spoke to Carlos Melia, travel agent, blogger and marketing consultant, and learned some vital tips to tap into this market, dispelling some myths on the way.
“Everyone lumps gay and lesbian travel together when they are actually completely different as far as preferences go,” says the Argentinean native and owner of the New York-based company CM by Carlos Melia. “And everyone thinks the gay traveler is the same. But that’s not the case. Younger gay clients just want to go to a place where they can party and have fun. The older clients, the 35-year-olds and up, are a little more detailed. They want to know where the good wines are, the good cuisine, the religious excursions, etc.
“There is really not that much difference between the gay client and any other client,” he adds, “except the gay client tends to be a little picky.”
Apart from running CM by Carlos Melia, which specializes in gay travel to Argentina, Uruguay and New York City, for the last 20 years, Melia has also been an affiliated member of Pisa Brothers (a Virtuoso member) for the last six months and is an avid blogger on the issue of gay travel.
Twenty percent of Melia’s annual clients are cruise passengers; 30 percent are groups and the rest are made up of FITs. Forty percent of his clients come from the U.S. (mainly New York, Washington, Los Angles, Dallas and Atlanta); 40 percent come from Europe and 20 percent from the rest of the world.
In his blog, www.carlosmeliablog.com, all travel services and products reviewed, offered and featured have been experienced, tested and approved personally by Melia or one of his clients.
“Word of mouth is huge with this niche,” Melia says. “It is a very tight community and they often share advice and suggestions with each other. I once got a call out of nowhere from Vietnam and I was like, ‘How did you get this number?’ It was a recommendation from a client.”
Marketing on the Internet is also highly recommended for agents since Melia describes the gay community as being a bit more Internet-savvy than others. “You have to remember that for a long time gays had to remain hidden, so to speak,” he says. “They got used to communicating with one another in chat rooms online. That’s why they are used to booking online and doing things online.”
In Latin America, Melia says the existing and up-and-coming hot spots for gay travel are Argentina, Uruguay, Chile, Peru and Panama.
“It seems as though when Argentina does something, the rest of South America follows,” says Melia, who notes that the country emerged as a gay tourism destination when it passed a law recognizing same sex marriage in July 2010. “Argentina is getting really big with gay travel, so these other destinations will follow shortly.”
Melia was Mr. Gay International in 2008, and is a current member of the Board of Directors for Mr. Gay World. He also works with the main Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) organizations worldwide.
“Like you would with any client, do your research,” he says. “Make sure these places are gay-friendly, make sure they have welcoming hotels, make sure this is a place your clients will like. Know your suppliers, know what hotel you are sending them to. See these places for yourself. The only way to know is to stay there yourself.”
A Gay Travel Tour in Argentina
In his native Argentina, Melia encourages his gay clients to first make a two-night, three-day trip to Buenos Aires. Here, Melia recommends either the Design CE Boutique Hotel Buenos Aires or the Serena Hotel Buenos Aires. He offers a detailed, custom-made city tour for the client, and a Rojo Tango show followed by dinner at Tengui in the vibrant Palermo district.
If your clients want to spend some more time in Buenos Aires, Melia also suggests booking the boutique hotel Legado Mitico, the Vitrum Boutique Hotel and the Park Hyatt Buenos Aires Hotel. Other recommended restaurants include the Olsen restaurant and Mott, both in Palermo.
From Buenos Aires, Melia suggests clients head to the Iguazu Falls for at least two nights. He recommends Hotel La Cantera Iguazu Falls. Clients get a tour of the Argentinean side of the falls and an adventure tour. He also includes a tour of the Brazilian side, but reminds agents that U.S. clients will need a visa for this segment. Some suggested sights are the Minas of Wanda and the Jesuit Ruins of San Ignacio.
Melia also recommends and offers a four-night, five-day tour to El Calafate, El Chalten and Perito Moreno. He suggests Hotel Esplendor El Calafate and Hotel Lose Cerros in El Chalten for gay clients. Tours of the Perito Moreno Glacier with mini-trekking on the glacier, and a full day tour of the El Chalten National Park and Fitz Roy rank high on Melia’s list.
On to Uruguay
In Uruguay, he suggests taking clients for a two-night, three-day adventure in Colonia del Sacrameto. Book them into the Hotel at La Casa de los Limoneros or Casa los Jazmines, he says, and arrange for soft adventures like horseback riding, biking and walking tours.
In Montevideo, Melia has his clients stay at Le Biblo Hotel and go on a private tour of the city. He says the Mercado del Puerto is a must-visit.
Finally, Melia usually arranges for roughly a four-night stay for his clients in Punta del Este, where he suggests the Serena Punta del Este, the Hotel Estancia VIK and the Vik Hotel-Estancia Jose Ignacio. Be sure to tell your clients about Chihuahua, the gay beach here.
Besides these land tours, Melia reveals that Argentina’s first gay-flagged cruise sets sail from Buenos Aires on December 12 for a four-night voyage with stops at two of the main cities of Uruguay, Montevideo and Punta del Este. For details, contact Melia at 212-399-6161.
|CM by Carlos Melia puts together elaborate land tours of Argentina and Uruguay for gay clients.|