A short history
There has always been gay accommodation - be it gay hotels, gay B&Bs or gay guesthouses. Back when the gay community was ghettoised, gay hotels sprung up in a few of the worldâ€™s main gay areas, in the centres of cities such as the Castro in San Francisco, the West Village in New York, Soho in London and The Marais in Paris. These were havens for the relatively few people who were out enough at the time to book in to them. Like the gay ghettos of the time, they tended to be small and camp - appealing to a still-tiny clientele.
As gay liberation started to warm up in the 60s and 70s, the number of gay hotels and B&Bs rose - spreading to more and more cities around the world. The first gay resorts popped up, in places such as Key West, Mykonos in Greece and Sitges in Spain. At last, gay travellers had somewhere safe to stay on holiday - where, at least within the confines of the resort, they could â€˜be themselvesâ€™.
Acceptance of all things gay started to accelerate in the 80â€™s and 90â€™s, and with that, the prevalence of gay hotels, guesthouses, resorts and B&Bs rose still further. Gay accommodation could now be found almost anywhere, with gay guest houses and B&Bs popping up in all sorts of far-flung places, from Tuscany to the Costa del Sol to the Cotswolds. In the 90â€™s, the Axel Hotel opened in Barcelona - the first example of a large, mainstream hotel catering to a â€˜hetero-friendlyâ€™ crowd of mostly gay guests. The group have since opened three more hotels - proof perhaps that the â€˜gay-hotel conceptâ€™ has legs. This spread of gay accommodation was a sign that gay travellers, in large cities at least, were becoming very much more accepted.
But why 'exclude'?
In the early days, checking in to a gay hotel or guest house was a way to protect yourself from an unfriendly majority. As the decades have past, and attitudes towards homosexuality have softened, the need for gay-only accommodation has been questioned. Why stay with only other gay people (mostly men, as it happens) and actively exclude heterosexuals? Surely itâ€™s hypocritical - a form of reverse-prejudice? Itâ€™s an interesting moral dilemma. If the 2012 ruling against a Christian couple in the UK who turned a gay couple away from their B&B is anything to go by, then the law frowns on any sort of exclusion on the basis of sexual orientation. Might the gay-only hotel become illegal? Or might it become redundant? As gays are accepted by more of the straight majority, surely the need to escape to a â€˜safeâ€™ gay-only environment recedes?
The future for the gay-only B&B, resort, guesthouse or hotel is not yet clear. It may be that, as a younger generation of gays start spending on travel, they may avoid gay-only and plump for gay-friendly or simply stay at mainstream hotels. Are they not already more likely to go to â€˜mixedâ€™ bars and clubs, sharing a drink with their hetero and gay friends alike?
But it may be that the â€˜birds of a featherâ€™ factor will always kick in. Even if the need to be somewhere â€˜safeâ€™ declines, the desire to be amongst like-minded guests, who might be more likely to share your interests and sense of humour, may always be a powerful factor drawing gay men to want to stay, now and then at least, with other gay men, and lesbians with lesbians.
Then there is the â€˜elephant in the roomâ€™ - sex. Whether its the fun of flirting around the pool with other guests, or spending a night of passion with someone youâ€™ve been eyeing up in the hotel lounge, gay-only resorts and hotels do maximise the opportunity of sexual â€˜frissonâ€™ and encounters.
Beyond the West
The happy incidence of gay-only (and gay-friendly) accommodation is, of course, a western phenomenon. And the slow journey that Europe, North American and Australia have gone through is likely (we hope) to be repeated in other parts of the world. Latin America is catching up, as incomes rise and their local gay populations become wealthier, itâ€™s likely that more gay hotels, B&Bs, guesthouses and resorts will open up. Axel Hotelsâ€™ opening of a hotel in Buenos Aires is a sign that acceptance of gay travel is spreading. Asia too should see a slow opening up of the gay travel scene. Thailand has always been accepting to gay people - but itâ€™s likely that other (mostly non-muslim) countries will soon follow suit. Hong Kong, Taiwan, Japan and South Korea already have lively gay scenes. The prognosis for China is good - not terribly religious, it is likely to go the way of Hong Kong and Taiwan and realise that gay people, and eventually gay accommodation, isnâ€™t a threat to society. The more religious societies of India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Indonesia and Malaysia may take a while to catch up however.
Within Europe, of course, there are variations in the acceptance of gay people and thus the prevalence of gay hotels, guesthouses and B&Bs. Russia and Eastern Europe are going through their own social revolutions, with gay pride marches being banned or attacked. The function of gay accommodation in these regions goes back to the â€˜safe havenâ€™ idea of American and Western Europe in the 60s and 70s. It could be a decade or more before we see an Axel Hotel in Moscow or Kiev!
And the future?
Overall, however, it seems the future is bright. Gay people do seem to want, at least now and then, and primarily during leisure travel rather than when travelling for business, to stay in gay-only hotels, bed and breakfasts, guest houses and resorts. Itâ€™s nice to know no one is staring or tutting when you hold your boyfriendâ€™s hand. And hanging out with like-minded guests can make a holiday all the more enjoyable. We predict more Axels in the future, more large â€˜gay-mostlyâ€™ hotels and resorts (perhaps in the style of the Atlantis Resorts in Mexico) - catering to an ever more confident and wealthy group of gays who enjoy and expect to travel on their own terms.