3 min

Why we love Vancouver

A queer's-eye view of the Village and beyond

Credit: Xtra West files

Like all good travel stories, this one is a little embarrassing. It’s not my story though; it’s Claude’s. And it begins here in Vancouver, on the floor.

“Leg,” I said, touching the Frenchman’s thigh with studious care.

“Ma jambe,” he replied, melting me.

“Mes levres,” he continued, as he kissed me and turned us under the borrowed blanket.

There is something impossibly wonderful about traveling to new lands.

“Lips,” I said, traveling down his back.

Sex and travel. The combination is as delectable (and inevitable) as wine and a dreamy head. Who hasn’t stumbled upon love while searching for the hotel in a foreign city?

So the fact that gay tourism has become a central interest for Vancouver should come as no surprise. Where else do the great outdoors and sex so easily collide, and within such easy reach of city life?

Out & About magazine recently named Vancouver as one of the top 10 up-and-coming gay travel destinations in the world. And the interest appears to be infectious. Even as we speak, the International Gay and Lesbian Travel Association (IGLTA) is setting up shop for its 2004 trade show right here at the Coast Plaza Hotel. About 200 participants from 1,000 member companies around the globe are expected to attend.

Angus Praught has been preparing for the IGLTA’s Vancouver convention for three years. Praught also maintains, a local website for tourists, which puts all our best bits on display. It’s quite a package, after all. And quite a market we’re after.

It is estimated that queer travelers in North America fork over US$55 billion annually; US$140 billion worldwide. This year’s convention is an opportunity for local businesses and Pride organizations (hint, hint!) to promote themselves and grab Vancouver a slice of that pie.

“We’ve got a great opportunity here,” Praught recently emphasized to Xtra West. Other cities have been marketing themselves more aggressively to the gay market for years, he said; now it’s our turn.

Indeed it is. From May 13-16, the Davie Village will get a chance to open its rainbow-hued doors and show off its wares to a gaggle of gay and gay-friendly travel agents, tour operators, accommodation providers, airline representatives, cruise line representatives, car rental agents and more. The goal: “We want the travel people to go home and say, ‘you will love Vancouver; you have to go to Vancouver,'” says Randy Atkinson, who is helping Praught organize the conference.

Word has it that we’re known as a blossoming gateway city in the travel industry’s parlance. Adventure travelers and less adventurous cruise enthusiasts alike all flock to Vancouver to use it as the launching pad for their holidays.

But many are the folk, like my Frenchman Claude, who become distracted by Vancouver’s own charms. Like our 26th annual Pride Week, set to storm the city from Jul 24-Aug 2 and culminate in one of Vancouver’s three largest parades. (In a fortunate alignment of the fates, two nights of this year’s Pride festivities will also overlap with the HSBC Celebration of Light. World-class fireworks never hurt a party.)

Then it’s three days of rest for tourists and locals alike before the next to-do: our international queer film festival, the ever-brilliant Out On Screen, will run Aug 5-15 this year.

And for those who prefer playing dress-up, there’s always a wedding to crash. Since the Jul 8, 2003 announcement that legalized same-sex marriage in British Columbia, Vancouver has become an internationally coveted marriage destination. These tend to be low-key, on-the-run affairs, says Praught. So we’ve become a queer Las Vegas, it seems.

Add to these delights that whole West Coast mountain deal (Whistler’s Gay Ski Week, Grouse and its lofty gondola, the grand, terrifying stretch of the Capilano suspension bridge). Plus the whole Pacific Ocean deal, with all that kayaking and those exploding golden sunsets. And then there are all the Gulf Islands, strewn like so many jewels off the continent’s edge. And Stanley Park, with its all-you-can-eat sex buffet. And nude Wreck Beach, named, one assumes, after the state of mind some visitors enjoy, courtesy of the beach’s various vendors of lightweight hallucinogens. The question appears to be: when would anyone find time to leave?

But leave they do, with backward glances. My tryst with Claude the Frenchman was only the briefest of affairs. After our night of lexicographical intimacy, we had only two days before his flight home to Nîmes. He sped around this city, wide-eyed, tasting everything he could. And everyone. It would not have been half so romantic otherwise.

* The International Gay and Lesbian Travel Association will show the public what it’s all about on Sat May 15, from 3:30-5:30pm at the Coast Plaza Hotel, 1763 Comox St. Admission is free.