Back when I took my first few gay vacations, I always referred to the higher cost as the “gay markup” – the extra fee gay tour operators added on because they could.
And I would give a big, dramatic gay sigh. (I’m good at those, just ask my husband.)
But I wasn’t aware that there are legitimate reasons for that higher cost.
First of all, yes, gay tour operators do often charge more than your average straight version of the same trip. (As does any other organization booking a chartered trip. Look at the cost of, say, a Harvard Alumni or Tinder cruise.)
But it’s not – with most gay travel companies, anyway – because they think they can get more money out of a specialized audience. There are a variety of factors at play.
One is that, when a tour company books, say, a river or ocean cruise ship, they’re personally guaranteeing that charter. And that financial guarantee can be $500k, $1 million, or more. So, they have to pony up the difference if for some reason that cruise doesn’t sell out. The same is true of resorts, like, say, the Sabi Sabi safari camps in South Africa, which Brand g takes over to create an all-gay experience. They’re on the hook for rooms that can cost $2,000/night.
Another factor is onboard entertainment. Bringing on high-quality entertainers for a gay cruise, like, say, Ann Hampton Callaway, Amy & Freddy, etc. adds significantly to the total cost. But it’s a cost companies like Brand g feel is necessary. Gay audiences are generally less than excited by the cruise line’s typical fare. (Clogging, anyone?)
So, these two factors explain a portion of the higher fare. But what explains the rest?
Brand g, for one, offers MANY additional inclusions to their trips that are not a part of the bargain with most other tour companies, straight OR gay. They strive to make your experience as all-inclusive as possible – so the up-front price you pay is pretty much all you end up spending.
Typically, on a Brand g trip, you get all of the following as part of your trip (using, say, a Danube river cruise as an example):
- Pre-cruise hotel stay (2 nights in Prague or Budapest) at 4.5 or 5-star hotels. No Best Westerns for Brand g.
- Airport transfers. And these are not big bus transfers, where you’re waiting an hour for 40 people to congregate, but smaller 2 and 4-person transfers, whose drivers meet you on arrival.
- Adult beverages – this can be anywhere from beer and wine with lunch and dinner, to complete open bar (cocktails, beer, wine, etc) throughout the trip. Most frequently, it’s complete open bar.
- While some river cruise lines do include daily excursions as part of their fares, many others do not. Brand g always includes these. And land tour trips rarely include the kind of high-end excursions (a helicopter flight over Victoria Falls in Africa, a mountain flight over Mt. Everest in Nepal, etc) that Brand g does.
- Itinerary changes. Brand g knows what their guests like and expect. On straight Danube cruises, for example, ships dock at an outer Vienna location that requires a bus or train ride to teach the city center. Brand g pays $33,000 to move the docking location to downtown Vienna – so you walk off the ship and you’re in the center of the action. It’s a dramatic difference that Brand g feels is worth every penny.
- Lots of little extras, like a kickoff cocktail party in a ballroom at the pre-cruise hotel, Brand g swag, etc.
And when it comes to land tours, Brand g keeps its tour groups to a small and manageable size. Our African safari and Nepal & Bhutan vacations, for example, are groups of roughly 40 guests. This personalizes the service tremendously. It also allows us to do excursions that would be impossible with 200 guests. And it gives the guests the opportunity to really get to know one another – many people become lifelong friends from these vacations.
But those factors do add a bit to the cost.
So, as you can see, although a very few gay tour operators are Greedy McSelfish bastards looking to steal your wallet, most are not. There are solid and – hopefully, you’ll agree, when it comes to Brand g, anyway – very worthwhile reasons for the higher costs.
And if you disagree, you can always take that straight cruise to the Bahamas with your Aunt Sadie. She’ll really appreciate the audience while she complains about her hip.