Variety Cruises Inaugurates Gay Getaways

Summertime means most Minnesotans are looking to get away from it all, and enjoy whatever vacation time they can squeeze into their schedules. But whether they can afford a getaway is a bigger factor this year.

Santorini Island, Greece.

At a time when businesses and individuals are cutting back, and weathering the economic storm, one company is expanding in the hope of tapping into the GLBT market. Variety Cruises launches its inaugural gay cruise on August 21. A family-owned business specializing in tours throughout the Mediterranean, it’s the largest small-ship cruise company worldwide.

Yiannis Vontas of Variety Cruises says, “The gay and lesbian community is the ideal audience for our cruise programs. They offer a more intimate, elegant, and personalized experience.”

The ship departing on August 21, the newly renovated Panorama, has a 49-passenger capacity, allowing for a more intimate experience. It has been commissioned by major organizations such as National Geographic. Over the course of seven days, the tour will take vacationers to Mykonos, Santorini, and other Greek islands.

Vontas explains, “Our new specialty cruises aim to please the most discerning travelers with a convivial small-ship environment and unforgettable excursions.”

Next year’s cruise departs on August 20. A specialty lesbian cruise departs July 9, 2010.

Vacation packages range in price from a luxury experience to a more casual (and affordable) trip. Regardless of the price tag, the amenities remain the same—lush facilities, personalized service, and expansive itineraries. Each stop allows vacationers to explore rich history and unspoiled natural surroundings.

The response to the new cruise is expected to be positive, despite market pressures.

According to a 2008 study by Harris Interactive, the GLBT consumer has not cut back on travel as much as straight counterparts. The GLBT market is said to have an estimated buying power of more than $700 billion. Because three out of four GLBT Americans live in homes without children, they have more discretionary funds at their disposal.

These factors play a strong role in the importance of the International Gay and Lesbian Travel Association (IGLTA). Founded in 1983, it helps the travel and hospitality industries court travelers throughout the world, with a membership of more than 2,000 spanning 55 countries. Members include travel agents, accommodations, airlines, tour operators, and media.

IGLTA has formed a partnership with Variety Cruises to promote the new endeavor.

In March, IGLTA entered into a contract with the Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA). The two organizations will work together in promotional, marketing, and educational efforts.

IGLTA Executive Director John Tanzella states, “When considered side by side, the current findings and projections about the cruise industry and the gay and lesbian travel market suggest a natural partnership between IGLTA and CLIA. Though no industry, organization, or single consumer is exempt from the economic downturn, opportunities for growth still exist, and I’m convinced that our two organizations working more closely will demonstrate that.”

This sentiment is shared by CLIA’s Robert Shark, who adds, “The gay and lesbian community is very important to the cruise industry, and we look forward to working with IGLTA to promote cruises for all who love to travel. The cruise industry has shown tremendous growth over the last 20 years or more, in part because the variety of cruise vacations has exceptional appeal for a diverse audience. There is a cruise for every taste, interest, and budget, and all travelers are made to feel welcome.”

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