Gay Hotels - What's the future for gay-only accommodation?
A short history of the gay hotel
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 world’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 ‘be themselves’.
Acceptance of all things gay started to accelerate in the 80’s and 90’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 90’s, the Axel Hotel opened in Barcelona - the first example of a large, mainstream hotel catering to a ‘hetero-friendly’ crowd of mostly gay guests. The group have since opened three more hotels - proof perhaps that the ‘gay-hotel concept’ has legs. This spread of gay accommodation was a sign that gay travellers, in large cities at least, were becoming very much more accepted.
Do gay hotels '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 it’s hypocritical - a form of reverse-prejudice? It’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 ‘safe’ 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 ‘mixed’ bars and clubs, sharing a drink with their hetero and gay friends alike?
But it may be that the ‘birds of a feather’ factor will always kick in. Even if the need to be somewhere ‘safe’ declines, the desire to be amongst like-minded guests in a gay hotel, 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 in a gay hotel.
Then there is the ‘elephant in the room’ - sex. Whether its the fun of flirting around the pool with other guests, or spending a night of passion with someone you’ve been eyeing up in the hotel lounge, gay-only resorts and hotels do maximise the opportunity of sexual ‘frisson’ and encounters.
Gay travel 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, it’s likely that more gay hotels, B&Bs, guesthouses and gay resorts will open up. Axel Hotels’ opening of a gay hotel (supposedly 'hetero-friendly' - but their hotels are mostly gay) 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 it’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 hotels, aren’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, gay guesthouses and gay 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 hotels in these regions goes back to the ‘safe haven’ 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 of gay hotels?
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 gay resorts. It’s nice to know no one is staring or tutting when you hold your boyfriend’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 ‘gay-mostly’ 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.
We predict the quality of gay hotels will also rise. Small gay hotels in Europe have improved in the level of quality they offer their guests. Cinq & Sept, in the south of France, for example, offers beautiful rooms and friendly service in a striking 18th century mansion in the centre of a village. Their gay hotel is a long way from the tacky gay hotels of the past, with their statues of David and oil paintings of nudes. The era when gay hotels could get business purely by providing a place for gay men to congregate on holiday is over. Gays now want better quality gay hotels that are classy and offer standards of comfort and service that they get at top non gay resorts. The promise of a quickie with the couple next door is no longer enough to draw in the guests.
Gay Welcome's Gay Hotels
There are over 4000 hotels on our site, but only a fraction of those are gay hotels, of course. It's easy to claim to be gay-friendly, and increasingly, in the west of Europe especially where gay people are largely excepted, 'gay-friendly' hotels are becoming ubiquitous. So we've designated many of the non exclusively gay hotels on our site as 'Actively Gay Friendly'. These are hotels that actively target the gay travel market, spending money to list their hotels on gay websites, or paying to advertise in gay magazines. We believe that these hotels are more likely to be able to truly offer a 'gay welcome' - as they're more aware of the needs of this special group of travellers. Quite often, these hotels are owned or staffed by gay people - even if they aren't exclusively gay. They're more likely to have a concierge service that know which local bars and clubs to point you to. They're less likely to raise an eyebrow when you turn up asking for a double bed. They're probably also more likely to be in or close to the gay area of town. But most importantly, due to their active marketing efforts, they're more likely to have greater numbers of gay guests staying at their hotel. You don't have to go to a gay hotel necessarily to find other gay guests of course. Many of our 'Actively Gay Friendly' hotels, especially stylish, boutique establishments in the centre of big cities, are likely to have lots of other life-minded guests staying.
We hope you find this gay hotels search page useful and easy to use. If you have any feedback on the page, or any other part of our site, we'd love to hear from you. Similarly, if you know of a gay hotel in Europe that isn't listed on our website, please do let us know about it. We'll do our best to get it listed.