Peter Canellis and Matthew Dontje are planning their first trip together as a couple but they don’t know where to go.
“We have no idea,” Canellis said, “We’re looking at all our options. Something romantic, something relaxing. Probably either a quick getaway for a weekend or something where we’d get away for a week or 10 days – beaches, sightseeing.”
The couple browsed through pamphlets and spoke to travel reps to find “somewhere new, somewhere different” on Tuesday at the GLBT Travel Expo at Center on Halsted.
Both couples and the unattached visited the expo for travel inspiration, special pricing packages and a look at who’s marketing to the gay community as the economy picks up.
Canellis said he hoped to find a gay-friendly destination that would be more open to public displays of affection, given that the couple has been dating just three weeks, a “young love.”
“I will want to hold hands and constantly kiss and touch,” Canellis said.
Exhibitors courting expendable dollars like Canellis and Dontje’s represented destinations from as close as Naperville and as far as Budapest.
The couple was most intrigued by Panama and other destinations served by Copa Airlines, which began flying to Chicago O’Hare International Airport in December of last year and now offers connections throughout Latin America.
Tourism board representatives from gay staples like West Hollywood were joined by newer additions to the gay travel circuit like Mexico City, which was represented by both the Casa de la Ciudad de México and the airline AeroMexico. Representatives from both groups touted the legalization of same-sex marriage in the city and investment in its gay zone as a draw for LGBT tourists.
Partners for 20 years, Craig Curnow and Richard Martinez are the travel industry’s demographic dream. “Two old men with expendable income,” the couple travels five or six times a year, making it down to Puerto Rico at least once a year to visit Martinez’s family.
“We’re interested in travel where the gay and lesbian community is welcome,” Curnow said.
The two have been everywhere and were surprised to see Mexico City at the expo, he said. The last time they were in Mexico they didn’t find much for the gay and lesbian community but admitted, “It has been 20 years.”
“Just talking to them, it was like, ‘Wow!’ The world’s different,” Curnow said. “Everywhere we’ve gone recently it’s much different. We were just in South America, and I remembered when we went before, the clubs would pop up and shut down. It was all hearsay. Now they advertise. It’s very different.”
Steven Levenberg, the expo’s organizer, said companies have grown more aware of the LGBT traveler in recent years and are putting more of their marketing dollars in the gay market as the economy recovers.
“They’re looking to give their business to companies that reach out to them,” Levenberg said. “I don’t think you have to worry about going to a chain hotel and worry about having a problem checking in, but things like having the same benefits driving a rental car as a straight married couple. That’s what we want.”
The expo also drew some industry insiders as visitors. Sawyer Lahr, owner of The Friendly Greeter, organizes tours in Chicago and made some business connections with the representatives of some Chicago-area hotels. Lahr said most of his tours have been educational tours for high school bands and choirs but he’s looking to expand into adult, corporate travel planning.
“I’m putting together an eBook travel guide on off-Loop Chicago hotels,” Lahr said. “For people who want to get out of the downtown area and find something a little more discreet in the neighborhoods.”