Queers Ahoy!

The high price of gay and lesbian travel

Though many travelers think they get what they pay for, this is not always the case. It is true that tour operators have office overhead and must advertise. And they provide their own staff, as many as 35 on an Olivia cruise, plus entertainment. "We pamper our guests," says Dlugacz. But one travel agent, who asked not to be identified, says that some of the ships chartered to gay tours are "not top of the line. In fact, it would be difficult to get too much below this."

Both Dlugacz and Rounds admit that the Seabreeze and the Oceanbreeze are older ships. "I take the entire universe of ships that are available," Dlugacz notes. "I look for where we want to go and how many people I can put on a ship, and then I go for the very best I can get." Rounds stresses the "value" of his cruises and the "respect" gays get on board from the staff, but admits, "These are older ships. If homosexuals want glitzy and bright, why aren't they living out in suburban New Jersey in brand-spanking-new homes. Why do they live in the East Village?"

Excessive surcharges are probably legal, particularly on trips that accept both men and women. However, it is questionable, to say the least, to charge people more for being in a group of men or women. "Of course charging different amounts violates the 'equal' principle," says Ruthann Robson, author of several books about gay men, lesbians, and the law. "An analogy might be when women are charged more for haircuts or dry cleaning simply because they're women. It's a harder case if it's 'all women' versus 'women and men.' The cruises would need to be identical, so that gender was the only distinction. If the cruise lines have any solid legal advice, I bet the cruises have trivial differences that get tagged with the price differential."

Stephen Savage

Most of the male-oriented tours include women, but RSVP trips, for example, are about 90 percent male. However, women's excursions, including Olivia and Robin Tyler International Tours for Women, rarely include male clients. According to Robson, "If the 'accommodation' is being limited on the basis of sex, then it's arguably sex discrimination." Since both land and sea excursions have male staff members, it would be hard for tour operators to argue, even to the women's community, that they are preserving a "woman-only" space. (Olivia refers male travel inquiries to RSVP.) "Legally, we can't stop anyone from traveling with us unless they are coming with us for the purpose of disrupting," Dlugacz says. "Will I stop someone from going? Not if they really want to go."

Of course, if queers could do all the things straight people do on an ordinary cruise, without being accused of frightening the stewards, then there might be no reason for these tours to exist. But as long as ordinary affection between people of the same sex is seen as an affront to decency--if not a crime--homosexuals will pay a premium for the

The Gay Tax

Club Med charges $675 for nonmembers (that includes travel insurance) for any room at its Sonora Resort in Mexico. With airfare from New York, Club Med will bill you $999. Olivia charges $1295 or $1395 (ocean view) plus $50.30 airport tax for the same rooms, though Olivia includes a short flight from Phoenix (approximately a $200 value). In short, Olivia charges a $500 surcharge for the women's week.

RSVP divides the same rooms at the Sonora resort into four categories, ranging from $699 to $999, to create ''value,'' according to Charles Rounds of RSVP. No flights are included. A round-trip flight from New York would add on $551 for a total (with the most expensive room) of $1550—that is, $500 more than Club Med charges with airfare.

Olivia charges $895 to $2695 for a voyage on the Oceanbreeze to the Southern Caribbean. The same trip costs only $549 to $849 other weeks. In other words, the most expensive room is over $1800 more on an Olivia cruise.

On a recent cruise to Alaska on the Norwegian Dynasty, Olivia charged a top price of $2895; RSVP's top price was $2495. ''The price that Judy [Dlugacz] got on that cruise I could have retired,'' Rounds complained. His own prices have come down over the last decade since he can negotiate better deals with cruise lines, and there's more competition among gay male tour packagers. ''My pricing is really, really carefully done,'' Dlugacz responds, ''so that we are able to do the promotion we need to do, have the staff and service, and be able to grow.''

With the average price on an Olivia cruise averaging $500 to $1000 over the standard fare, lesbian cruises may be charging almost a million dollars extra per ship, not even counting the discount the organizers receive. When the surcharges are multiplied over the more than 150 queer tours each year, the gay tax winds up taking tens of millions of dollars out of the pockets of queer consumers. —K.J.

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