Welcome to Insider Out Travel, a blog about LGBT travel written by LGBT tourism professionals. Travel the globe and gain insight into the tourism industry (with a gay twist), brought to you by the International Gay & Lesbian Travel Association.


Tuesday, August 25, 2009

First Time in London – Part Four: Pride & Goodbye

It took me a few days to finish this posting because I honestly wasn't sure how to sum up pride in London. I know there are tons of pride events all over the world and each city boasts their own claim to fame. Some cities have the biggest, some have the hottest guys, some party hard and others are very political. London pride was a little bit of it all. I imagine if you live in London you would argue that it's nothing special or that it's the center of the world - but I would argue that both claims are false. Let me tell you a little bit about my experience.

I woke in the morning very much in the mood for pride. The whole city was buzzing with it, even as far out as the suburbs, from what I was told. Bus and tube stations being out of service didn't stop the tight-clothes-wearing community to grab some cans of beer and trek into Soho any which way they could. It felt as if the entire gay community in the UK had crammed themselves into the small gay area of the city.

Before we experienced this mayhem we decided to head down to Trafalgar Square to watch the Pride Parade. Loving that European Nations let you drink outside, we grabbed some beer, found us a cozy spot and watched the parade of thump-thumping double-decker buses and nightclubs advertising the parties of that evening. It was superb, tons of fun, full of the usual "interesting" people that you're used to seeing in such environments.

After a few text messages from new friends and a quick view of a couple stages, we decided to head up to Soho via lunch and meet up with Tommy. (This weekend happened to also be Wimbledon and Tommy had to park himself somewhere to see which Williams sister would win.) I have never felt more of a sense of community than I did at London pride in Soho. It was a crazy, diverse crowd from one of the world's largest cities packed into a very small area. There was your typical dance area, bar specials, drag queens - the works - but it just felt more alive, more real. I guess that was the number one take away I had of London - everything just seemed real and alive. It was amazing.

We moseyed on around, met up with some people we had met during the week, asked which party was the best to go to, etc. Again, the Londoners were showing that they definitely knew how to throw a good party, and there was debauchery everywhere. Alcohol was flowing properly, dancing was happening and the festivities were just exploding all around us. It was amazing, just amazing.

Dinner consisted of some Indian food (when in Rome...or Mumbai or London) that was amazing. After polling as many people as possible it seemed the best course of action was to either see Lady Gaga at G-A-Y at Heaven, or go to Supermartxé London for the ultimate Ibiza/Miami type club experience. As much as we all love us some Lady Gaga (she's amazing), we opted for the crazy club scene. It was Pride in London, after all. So we went down to South London to this dance club that reminded me of Space in my hometown of Miami. It was huge and full of buff, muscle guys who danced until the wee hours of the morning to house and trance music. It was tons of fun and hard to not get caught up in the atmosphere, and we all found ourselves dancing all night long!

In the morning, Tommy and Trenard left on a train going to Paris for a few days. I bid them farewell and had an absolutely perfect last day in London. The weather turned cool the last day I was there so it was almost autumn-like. There were some sites I hadn't seen and some things a good tourist would have done to tick it off his list, but I needed to just soak in as much as possible. I walked lesiurely to Covenant Garden and had a sandwich, bought my father a present. Then I found an intersection near Box Bar with a statue and people just sitting out and talking. I sat there for what must have been a good hour, drinking some coffee, reading, people watching and just letting London happen around me.

The city was amazing, brilliant and perfect. This was because it wasn't perfect - it was completely organic, something that you just found yourself in the middle of and so excited that you were. It's so alive, so vibrant full of people from all walks of life and the urge to be a part of it is overwhelming. One of my best friends vows that one day he'll live in London and another person close to me tells me he's moving there "within the year" every time he goes. I can understand why - this vibrant, alive pulse that London gives off is infectious. It seriously leaves you feeling different and wanting so badly to be a part of it. I'm not sure if I will jump on the bandwagon and say that I'll be living in London one day, but the thought captures my spirit and I definitely know I will be going back whenever possible.

First Time in London – Part Three: Friends, New and Old

Tommy and Trenard arrived towards the end of the week, in time for pride. The year past, Tommy and I had traveled to Stockholm together for EuroPride and had a fantastic time. We were all excited to not only experience London Pride – but experience London. It was the first time any of us had been in the city. Upon their arrival they needed a nap after that long journey across the Atlantic, and then we were set to do some touristy sight-seeing – some of the stuff I hadn’t done already.

When I used to live in Washington, I was a tour guide. It was a fitting, wonderful job – and it’s something I feel like I do well, even now. When visitors come to Florida I show them around as if I personally built up the city and make commission on whenever somebody likes it. I showed off London with the same excitement – showing them the streets, areas and sights I had stumbled across the first few days there. I also recited every little tidbit of information that anybody spat at me. By the end of the first day there, both Tommy and Trenard felt like I had been to London many times before and knew exactly where everything was.

The first thing we did was take a walk down to the Thames through Tafalgar Square and hit up the London Eye. It’s a tad over-priced, but it seems like a necessary thing to do on a first-trip to London, and we were right. It was exciting to spend a little bit of time in that slowly revolving orb, taking in as much of London as we could. The only complaint is at the top of the wheel, when the car shifts to the other side, we all got a little nauseous.

I had scored myself a theater ticket that night and Tommy and Trenard had opted out. They weren’t as excited by the theater as I was. I had heard wonderful things about Priscilla, Queen of the Desert – fresh from a run in Sydney based on the hit movie. I got a seat and wasn’t really sure what to expect. The show was absolutely fabulous (is there any other way to describe such a thing?) and I had such a great time. The theater was nothing but LGBT people, I figured it was because the show itself is so campy and gay, but I was told later it was because of a special pride-showing. I highly recommend it, the story is great, the music fun and the dancing can’t help but get you moving in your seat.

The rest of the day was full of some more exploring, a nap and some catching up. As dusk started to settle around us we had to try and figure out where to go party. My friend Landon – an avid fan of London – swore that one of the best nights he ever had was at a party called “Porn Idol” held at Heaven. I had heard of Heaven many times before from many people, so I figured this would be a good place to start. We had a fantastic time drinking, dancing, watching twink-ish boys take their clothes off in hopes for a porn contract. We even made some friends from all around including Los Angeles. We were incredibly fortunate to be staying in the midst of the West End and every sort of club, so the walk home wasn’t bad and definitely involved a quick binge at McDonald’s.

The next day we were itching for some Pride festivities. The main event we knew was Saturday, but the city’s alive vibe was starting to buzz even more ferociously, it was a Friday in July after all, and London was experiencing some of the best weather all year we were told. The day just enabled us to explore a little more. We really wanted to see different areas of London so we decided to go down to Vauxhall – an area we were told was also pretty gay like Soho. The area was rather residential and even though we saw tons of bars and clubs, they were pretty empty during the day. Still – the whole thing wasn’t a bust and we did have a great drink in a bar under some railroad tracks to escape the heat. We took a disco nap and then got excited to explore some more nightlife. Before it got too dark we hit up Old Compton Street and made some new friends at Comptons. The place was festive for the Friday crowd and we couldn’t help get caught up in it. We strolled over to G-A-Y bar, taking in the sights, and met up with a friend of mine there who was crazy busy working for Pride. I was connected with somebody in London via a friend and we met him out at the Box Bar which was absolutely packed to the brim with insanely hot guys. I felt very mediocre here, but the people we met and talked to were incredibly nice and we had a lot of fun.

That night we walked with our new friends through Soho to go to Lo-Profile, a dance club that exists down a long hallway and down some stairs. This place was so much fun; we danced the night away among some really cool people. The vibe in this club was that of people who know how to party. It was laid back yet intense, one of those places where you feel like you can just dance and have fun with friends or really go crazy with some new friends.

After many a red bull and vodka drinks, the night lasted for a very long time. I won’t bore you with details, but we all had a very good night. We went to bed a little drunk and a lot excited for the next day, what we were sure was going to be hardcore insanity. Up to this point London was a city teeming with excitement and partying and life. We couldn’t begin to fathom what Pride would actually be like and we couldn’t wait to find out.

Friday, August 21, 2009

First Time in London – Part Two: Getting Acquainted

The beginning of the trip was the quintessential travel beginning - one you hope for whenever you travel. After the first 24 hours I began to get into the groove of the city and it started to become a part of me as most vibrant cities do. My friends were coming in Thursday for the festivities, so I had a few days to explore by myself and see what was out there. I allowed myself to be a tad more touristy than I usually allow to go sightseeing and whatnot.

I am a huge fan of modern art, so the first stop on my list was the Tate Modern. A very interesting architectural building on the Thames, I was almost giddy walking into the incredibly dramatic building. The exhibits were great - some better than others - but a couple really stuck with me. There was a room full of Soviet propaganda posters that created an image of Lenin and Stalin as gods. It was alluring - some of the best political propaganda. Then there was an instalment of different artists depicting the escape of a Japanese anime star from her animated world and corporate creators. Very cool.

The day I did all this was absolutely beautiful. The weather was warm and there wasn't a cloud in the sky. I equally wanted to lie in a square and people watch and explore every inch of London. I walked tons that day. I do this thing involuntarily where I sing showtunes if I am in a place a musical takes place. (I know, how gay is that? I annoyed my boyfriend-at-the-time living in Paris and belting out Les Mis always.) So I found myself in front of St. Paul's singing "Feed the Birds" from Mary Poppins and then walking down Fleet Street looking for the demon barber and loving Sondheim's Sweeney Todd. Naturally this type of behavior puts me into a great mood and I stumbled into a Chipotle-like place and had a lovely burrito.

When I could walk no more and my peeps back home were waking up I went back to the hotel to do some work. I had a friend of mine then meet me and show me some more of London (he lives in NY but travels to London often.) We walked all over Soho and my were the boys out even though it was a weekday afternoon. We actually were walking and I heard somebody yell my name - so I turn around to see a coworker of mine and a colleague! It's a crazy small world so we had a drink with them and chatted.

The evenings those first few nights were incredibly fun. Bar hopping to G-A-Y, Ku and other bars I can't remember their names. I never felt more American - from "Hi" I got that look and then the inevitable, "Oh! You're American!" Smiling and saying yes would then open up endless dialogue from how great New York and Miami are to our lack of universal healthcare and gay marriage.

I will use this opportunity to describe the type of people I came into contact with at these instances. I have heard many stereotypes about British people and I have to say - like all stereotypes - you can see where they came from but obviously barely fit across the board. Londoners that I met were incredibly social, great conversationalists and you could feel their thirst for life that the city oozes. At the same time nothing is sugar coated and debates seem to be friendly ways to engage each other. Being an honorary New Yorker, I loved this. It added to the life of the city and I felt myself enjoying everybody I was meeting. I must say I've met a few Londoners in my travels and was less than impressed, but those few bad apples - it was nice to see - were not the norm.

So I spent the week working, exploring the city and letting it become a part of me. It was fantastic. I was ready for Tommy and Trenard to come and show them what I've learned and get ready for pride. The weekend hadn't even started yet...

Thursday, August 20, 2009

First Time in London – Part One: The First 24 Hours

Whenever I would tell people that I hadn't been to London I would get an incredulous look. It was a look that said, "You've been to South Africa, lived in Paris and are going to China – how have you not been to London." To be honest, I had no answer for this question that made sense. So when our board meeting was scheduled to take place in Belgium in June, I decided the only thing that made sense would be to indeed take a week and go to London after the trip. I was also excited that the trip was going to coincide with London Pride – an event I learned all about from my friends who worked on the event that I had met at the InterPride convention.

Leaving on a Monday from Antwerp, I figured the easiest way to get there would be the EuroStar. The actual cheapest way is on a flight from the Antwerp airport which was about $70.00 if booked well in advance, but I unfortunately waited until the last minute. So EuroStart it was, via Brussels. The train was nice, anything you would normally expect from a European rail experience. Flying past cute Belgian and French countryside, through a dark tunnel and then the British countryside. I arrived at St. Pancreas station and thus arrived in the UK for the first time in my life.

I can't really describe the first feelings of walking around London and experiencing the Underground. It was almost surreal, visiting a place that you've spent your entire life learning about and seeing on screen and elsewhere and then being there. I suppose since the US has such a cultural connection to the UK it makes sense – but I found myself feeling almost giddy hearing, "Mind the Gap" and being on the "Piccadilly Line."

I was lucky enough to stay at the Radisson Edwardian Hampshire Hotel on Leicester Square – in the heart of West End – an amazing location. I lugged my luggage up the stairs of the Leicester Square station and as I walked through the square looking for the hotel, the vibe of the city almost overwhelmed me in a great way. There was a movie premiere for Johnny Depp's new movie so there were people everywhere hoping to get a glimpse of the star. I hadn't been this close to a movie premiere, even with all the time I've spent in LA. People were lying out in the square, eating in restaurants, laughing, having a great time. It was a Monday, but it could've been any weekend day with the amount of activity and I all of a sudden longed to be a part of it in any capacity.

I had an agenda that first night – so I had to check into the hotel and head over to an IGLTA Reception. My favorite part about being in a new city is walking around and just taking it all in, so I quickly Googled where the place was and found an easy walking path there. I saw that the walk would take me around Buckingham Palace, and felt that giddy feeling again. I must also mention that London was experiencing a bit of a heat wave with temperatures in the upper 30s degrees Celsius.

The walk was great if not a little warm – the lush green parks surrounding the palace also full of people lounging and laughing. The urge inside of me to be with them, to sit in the area with my friends and make new friends was overwhelming again. I arrived at the reception a little sweaty – it was held at a great hotel bar in the Red Carnation Hotel right to the west of the Palace. A few drinks of wine and some hors d'oeuvres, I was able to reconnect with some IGLTA members I had not seen since our convention two months prior in Toronto. I also had the luxury of making new friends and thus a plan for my first night in London. They were going out to a couple bars in Soho, in the gay neighborhood, and invited me along.

We hit up Old Compton Street – a street that I would get to know well as the week progressed and Pride overtook the area. If there's one thing people can say about the British (at least the ones I experienced in London) it's that they know how to have a good time. Here it is on a Monday night and not only were the bars packed with people streaming onto the street, but there was no shortage of alcohol and an excitement for the night and week ahead. I don't know about you – but this is what Monday should be. Not a day to be dreaded, but a night to celebrate the week ahead. I then came to learn that this seemed to be the mentality of Londoners, Monday let's celebrate the week ahead, Tuesday to celebrate the great day you had or to lament the bad day, Wednesday cause the week was almost over, Thursday to pre-game for the weekend, Friday to celebrate the weeks victories, etc. While some people may scoff at the seemingly over-indulgence of beer at pubs, I welcomed it as a celebration of life. Laughter and beer should be enjoyed whenever possible in my opinion.

The night wasn't too late as the next day I wanted to get some work done and get in some touristy sight-seeing. I was close enough to walk back to my hotel and as I approached Leicester Square, again felt excited to be in the heart of such a vibrant community. The overwhelming happiness and life that flowed from almost every corner was incredible.

Waking up bright-eyed and bushy-tailed on Tuesday morning I decided to hammer out some walking (as it's my favorite thing to do in a new city) and just see what I could. I didn't want to necessarily do uber-touristy things because my friends Tommy and Trenard were joining me that week for Pride so I was saving some for them. My excursions took me from Trafalgar Square to the Thames, by the London Eye and then some dramatic exploration of the theater district. Losing myself in the streets of Soho and nearby communities gave me a great picture of the area and I felt like I knew where I was.

My first 24 hours in London set the stage for the rest of the week. I knew that no matter what happened that I would find myself in the middle of a vibrant, alive city and that was exciting enough. Added to the fact that I've wanted to be in London for years and heard so many great things fueled my excitement and I couldn't wait for the rest of the week to take me on journeys I couldn't even fathom.

NYC and American Airlines Bring Special Discounts!

New Travel Itineraries Provide Visitors with Useful Tools to Better Navigate the Five Boroughs: Kid-Friendly NYC, NYC in One Day, NYC in Three Days, and New York Eats

New York City (August 19, 2009) – NYC & Company, the marketing, tourism and partnership organization for the City of New York, is inviting consumers from five U.S. cities to visit New York City in 2009 to take advantage of exceptional value and unique experiences in the World’s Second Home. To encourage domestic visitors to book now for travel beginning in September, NYC & Company today joined with American Airlines to debut special, limited-time airfare offers between five major U.S. cities and NYC. The cities offering the specially discounted airfares to and from NYC are Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, Dallas/Fort Worth and Miami. The fares for Los Angeles or San Francisco are just $109; Dallas/Fort Worth is $99; Chicago is $84; and Miami is $69. The special fares are priced each way based on round-trip purchase for Economy Class travel. They are available for purchase through this Friday, Aug. 21, 2009, so act quickly. Travel on these special fares is available from Sept. 15, 2009 through Dec. 12, 2009, with some dates embargoed around the Thanksgiving holiday period. Lowest fares are for Tuesday, Wednesday, and Saturday travel. Other low fares are available on other days of the week. *See specific details below or on AA.com. NYC & Company also today launched new, customized travel itineraries for visitors to more easily navigate the five boroughs, and take advantage of all the excitement the City has to offer. All information summarizing the deals and travel itineraries can be found at nycgo.com/itineraries.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Whitefield, New Hampshire

by Daniel Drolet, The Ottawa Citizen, 27 June 2009

It’s 6:40 p.m., just before supper on a warm and still June evening. I am sitting by myself in an Adirondack chair on the front lawn of the Mountain View Grand Hotel. Technically, the hotel is in the small town of Whitefield, New Hampshire, but in reality it’s far from any built-up area. I can hear birds twittering, the quiet conversation of hotel guests on veranda just behind me, and not much else.

I sit mesmerized by the view before me – an uninterrupted swath of the White Mountains’ majestic Presidential Range, from Mount Madison to Mount Lafayette, all lined up neatly on the horizon.

With such a grand vista, it’s no wonder there’s a historic grand hotel in this spot.

A century ago, there were hotels just like the Mountain View Grand all over New Hampshire. These “grand hotels” were large and often elegant places, built to offer fresh air and summertime relaxation to city folk.

But one by one, the grand hotels closed. Today, only four remain.

During a recent trip to New Hampshire, I stayed in two (Wentworth by the Sea and Mountain View Grand) and visited a third (Mount Washington).

What this trio has in common, apart from magnificent locations and plenty of history, is the fact that during the last few years they have all been saved from oblivion. Restored, repackaged and rebranded, they have been reborn as elegant 21st century resorts in their spruced-up 19th century wooden structures.

And that combination of history, location and up-to-date elegance gives them great cachet.

The Mountain View Grand is the oldest of the three. Opened in 1866 as a guest house on a family farm, it grew to a very large hotel whose guests included U.S. presidents.

The Wentworth dates from 1874 and had its moment in history in 1905, when for a month it hosted delegates to the peace conference that ended the Russo-Japanese War.

The Mount Washington was built in 1902 and in 1944 it was the site of the conference that led to the Bretton Woods Agreement, which structured the world economic system after the Second World War.

The hotels’ stories are all similar: In their heyday, they catered to well-to-do families who would come by train and stay for weeks at a time. Guests relaxed on spacious verandas and spent a lot of time socializing.

But car travel changed tourism patterns after the Second World War and the hotels went into serious decline.

The Wentworth closed in 1982, the Mountain View Grand in 1986. The Mount Washington never closed, but by 1991 was renting out only about 60 of its 200 rooms and was in need of serious renovation.

The Mountain View and the Wentworth were essentially gutted, their furniture and fixtures sold off. The Wentworth was in such bad shape it was used for the filming of a 1999 horror movie, In Dreams. Locals were sure it was going to get torched one Halloween.

But then, during the 2000s, each of the hotels – quite independently, since they have separate owners – got a new lease on life.

The Mountain View Grand was bought by an ambitious Massachusetts businessman and reopened in 2002 after years of renovations. The Wentworth reopened the following year after a $30-million reconstruction. And the Mount Washington was bought in 2006 by new owners who this year added a new wing and are in the process of upgrading and renovating the rooms.

And from shabby, the hotels have gone to chic.

Architecturally, they have a similar look: They are built of wood, are only three or four stories high, and have massive front verandas. The Mount Washington and the Wentworth are white, with red roofs, while the Mountain View is painted yellow – the colour it’s always been.

My room at the Wentworth was done in what I’d call “elegant country,” with an up-to-date bathroom and solid, traditional furniture. (The hotel’s Stephanie Secord said that because the hotel was in such bad shape, the interior had to be completely rebuilt. That allowed the builders to put in some 21st century conveniences such as wireless Internet that otherwise couldn’t be added to a historical property.)

My room at the Mountain View Grand was done in a similar country style – think floral prints and dark furniture.

The renovation there left some quirks. The carpeted hallway floors, for example, are rather warped in some places. It gives the place character, say hotel staff.

I didn’t stay at the Mount Washington, but I walked around enough to know it too has character despite the renovations: The floors creak just like you’d expect them to in an old place.

And the updated lobby is not an open space, but a room full of columns – which gives it an older feel. The decor mixes country with elegance: There’s a huge moose head above the fireplace in the lobby, for example – but there are also chandeliers.

In their new incarnations, the three hotels are taking aim at travellers in search of relaxation: All have spas. The spa at the Mount Washington is brand new, opened earlier this year in a discreet new wing built to harmonize with the old.

And they all offer fine dining with a bit of tradition thrown in.

At the Mount Washington, a sign outside the dining room announces that gentlemen must wear sports coats for dinner; it also states that no jeans, tennis shoes or ball caps are allowed.

Patrick Corso, the president and CEO of the Mount Washington Resort, says they polled guests about the dress code and nearly three-quarters were in favour of keeping it.

“I think it’s a niche for us,” he said. “Our niche is the very traditional experience.”

The Mountain View has a lovely dining room too – but the highlight, as far as dining goes, has got to be the hotel’s wine cellar.

It contains 9,000 bottles of wine – and a private dining room with its own kitchen that can be rented out for small groups.

Each of the hotels offers resort-style amenities for guests.

The Wentworth sits on an island and boasts that most rooms have a water view.

I walked to the marina, but couldn’t see a beach. Sales manager Lindsay Chapman told me later I’d walked in the wrong direction and that there was a beach a few hundred metres away. The hotel owns a few memberships in a golf course next door and these are for use by guests. And guests can do such things as ocean kayaking and harbour cruises.

(I actually didn’t hang out much at the hotel; I did, however, visit nearby Portsmouth – a charming and walkable historic town.)

The Mount Washington has turned itself into a large-scale resort offering such things as golf, ziplining and skiing; it has plans to include a Tremblant-style village in the development in a few years.

And the Mountain View, in addition to golf and a spa, has a small movie theatre with 17 reclining seats, popcorn and bar service. Guests get to choose the movie. “You can fit a lot of kids in here,” says the hotel’s activities director, Paula Harris.

For me, the mountains are the attraction.

I know the peaks of the Presidential Range well. I have, over the years, hiked up many of those summits.

The hikes were arduous, and the amenities up in the mountains were very basic. We’re talking five days without a shower here.

Sometimes, from the mountain trails, I would get a glimpse of the Mount Washington Hotel down below and I would fantasize – in my grubby state – about staying in one of the grand hotels.

I’m glad I was finally able to do it.

If you go:

New Hampshire has four “grand hotels:”

* The Wentworth-by-the-Sea is on the Atlantic coast near the historic city of Portsmouth and is operated by Marriott. Rates vary and packages are available; expect to pay about $300 U.S. a night in summer, $179 in the off season. www.wentworth.com/, 603-422-7322.

* The Mount Washington, which is at Bretton Woods at the foot of Mount Washington in the White Mountains, is operated as the Mount Washington Resort by a group of New Hampshire businesspeople. Rates start at $99 U.S. per person per night, based on double occupancy. Packages are available. www.mountwashingtonresort.com/, 1-800-314-1752.

* The Mountain View Grand, a short drive north of the Mount Washington, is owned by Great American Insurance Group, which runs historic hotels in the U.S. Packages start at $80 U.S. per person per night, based on double occupancy. www.mountainviewgrand.com/, 1-866-484-3843.

* The Balsams, in Dixville Notch in the far northern part of the state. It’s the only grand hotel I did not visit. It’s also the only one of the grand hotels that has been operating continuously, with the same owners since 1954, according to general manager Jeff McIver. You can get a package for about $200 U.S. per person per day that includes all meals and amenities, or pay less for packages that don’t include meals. www.thebalsams.com/, 1-800-255-0600.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

The Sustainability of Tourism in Africa

The sustainability of Tourism in Africa

by David Ryan, Rhino Africa Safaris - IGLTA Member

As a visitor to Africa or even as a tour operator, one could be excused for thinking that all is well with tourism and conservation on the continent. After all, guests can jet in and within hours we can have them tucked up in a luxury lodge, viewing Africa’s famous Big Five with almost guaranteed certainty.

However, when one takes a step back and looks at the raw facts, the picture isn’t so pretty. In the last 50 years Africa’s lion population has decreased from 750,000 to less than 20,000. Leopards have not fared much better, dropping to 50,000 from around 700,000. This affliction affects all species, evidenced by the fact that the overall population of wildlife in Kenya’s Masai Mara Reserve has plummeted by over 80% in the same time period.

As Colin Bell so aptly put it, “to think we have allowed this degradation of our greatest asset to happen in our generation”.

For an industry that is destined to be Africa’s economic savour, the question begs: how sustainable is this industry really – or are we setting ourselves up for catastrophic failure, beyond the realms of any economic recession?

If this environmental degradation continues, or the winds of change don’t sweep across our continent, the collapse of our eco-systems and our industry is imminent. Sadly we don’t have another 50 years to play with - the time is now!

I believe that this change begins with agents and tour operators across the globe that market Africa. Collectively we control the spending power of tourists (not the individual lodge and hotel owners) and without owning a bed, our industry can become Africa’s saving grace. But for this to happen, tour operators and agents need to act on their social conscience and put something back into Africa.

By helping our clients to reduce their carbon footprint and by consciously supporting suppliers and products that adopt eco-friendly strategies, facilitate transformation and employ social responsibility programs, we can increase the amount of land under wildlife, thus reversing the current trend. In addition, we can actively force suppliers and product owners that are simply chasing profit without regard for the environment, to review their practices and adopt green policies - or face being cut out of the market.

This is naturally easier said than done. Tour operators and agents must adopt a social conscience and herein lies an important lesson, learnt though our inception ofChallenge4aCause, our in house social responsibility programme.

Having a positive Balance Sheet is no longer the sole means of measuring a company’s success. Tourism companies can actively increase their clout in terms of brand positioning by adopting a strategic approach that gives back to the community by supporting sociological, cultural or ecological causes through volunteer initiatives.

Challenge4aCause is a case in point. By creating a dynamic platform to generate vital funds and awareness in support of non-profit organisations (in our case Save the Rhino Trust) we have been able to improve both the public image and revenue of our business. I have always viewed Rhino Africa as a Tourism company with a passion for conservation, but we are just an island in a huge ocean. Tourism and conservation are not mutually exclusive, and for the sustainability of our industry, conservation now has to be our collective legacy.

Less than 50 years ago there were over 4,000 Rhino here. Now there are under 200!

Building business value with charitable activities is a win-win strategy for both the business and the cause. But one can never ‘do’ social responsibility as a means of marketing...your core strengths are still key to business success.

So I ask all potential visitors to this beautiful continent to actively examine the impact they will have when travelling. And when choosing your preferred operator, please make sure that your operator does not only provide a professional service at an excellent rate, but embodies a vision and passion to actively conserve and expand the last remaining natural heritage of Africa.

Ask your operator what they are doing to actively conserve Africa and the criteria they use when selecting and partnering with hotels and lodges, as you will ultimately be supporting these. While price is naturally an important consideration in any African itinerary, and companies employing “green” strategies have an obligation not to overcapitalise on the “goodwill” bestowed by operators, global consciousness is the only means we have of saving Africa and ensuring the sustainability of our industry.

As we turn 5 years old today, my commitment to you as a visitor to this magical continent is that Rhino Africa will continue to innovate, conserve and transform Africa. We will continue to do our bit to facilitate the change needed and hopefully our friends in the industry will start developing their own Challenges and Causes, in order that the legacy we leave behind will, in some small way, start paying back for the sins of our forefathers.

We look forward to you joining us on this journey...

Monday, August 3, 2009

NY Times Travel - Gay Lebanon

Here is an article in the New York Times about gay travel to Beirut. Featured in it is IGLTA's Ambassador to Lebanon, Bertho Makso!

by Patrick Healy, 2 August 2009, New York Times
THE pre-party began at 9 p.m. in Bertho Makso’s room at the Bella Riva Suite Hotel, and by 9:05 p.m. the air was awash in cologne, hair spray, cigarette smoke and gossip about the night ahead. Would a certain 20-something from West Beirut be at the beach party? Had the two men from Cairo arrived yet? Was the cute D.J. from Bardo, a gay bar here, going to be spinning? And did anyone need condoms?

Click here to read more.