Gay (Money) is Good

Rio is the hottest gay travel spot on the planet. True or False?

I asked Gregory Mitchell, Assistant Professor of Women’s, Gender & Sexuality Studies at Williams College and resident expert on gay sex tourism in Brazil, to confirm or deny media claims that Rio is the hottest gay travel destination on the planet.

A reply from his current book manuscript, Tourist Attractions: Performing Race and Masculinity in Brazil’s Sex Industry: 

Gay (Money) is Good.

From the late 1990s onward, Brazil’s reputation as a gay travel destination has grown.  The Sexual Diversity Coordinator of Rio de Janeiro’s government reports that the city received 880,000 gay tourists in 2010. Although the number’s derivation is suspect (given that there is no way to assess sexual identity) and it does not disaggregate foreign tourists from domestic ones, it still gives a general idea of the massive size of gay tourism and the government’s perception of its importance to the industry.

At the World Tourism Congress in 2009, the gay television network Logo gave Rio its award for Best Global Destination. It regularly appears in top 10 lists from gay travel magazines and articles in gay publications like Out and Instinct.  Paulo Senise, Executive Director of the Rio Convention and Visitors Bureau, declared: “The importance and growth of gay tourism in the world is indisputable.  Rio has all the characteristics to be recognized as a gay friendly city,” noting that “diversity makes a lot of money for the city, it creates jobs, it increases tax revenue and contributes to sharing out wealth.”

Riotur, the city’s promotion firm, boasts that the city’s “top notch” restaurants, hotels, bars, and clubs are all gay-friendly and inclusive. The mayor’s office is currently working with US agents to craft large-scale campaigns aimed at foreign gay tourists.

Even mainstream corporations have noticed the trend.  Delta and other airlines feature it as a “top destination” on the dedicated gay travel sections of their websites (the mere existence of which bespeaks the growing power of the gay travel industry.

Rio’s in the midst of the biggest prostitution crackdown in a generation to get the city ready for World Cup and the 2016 Summer Olympics. During the Rio+20 conference they targeted pricier venues popular with foreign tourists. So I asked Greg if he thinks the crackdown will affect the gay tourism scene. His reply:

I don’t think the city wants to appear that it is discriminating against gays by conducting raids, especially at a time when they are investing large amounts of money into the Rio Sem Homofobia (Rio Without Homophobia) campaign and launching new efforts to attract international gay tourism.

Now is not the time to have a bunch of gay blogs covering raids of gay venues popular with tourists. But now that they are so vigorously targeting major sex venues like Centauros, I have to wonder.


>> Featured image from Gay Pride 2012 in Copacabana Beach.

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