The pink dollar is becoming a force to be reckoned with, and it’s not just local boutiques and nightspots that are trying to benefit from its potential. International tourism agents are recognizing the need to provide gay-friendly travelling facilities, and none more than Buenos Aires, a South American city seeking to expand its tourist appeal.
European on the outside and uniquely Latin on the inside, the Argentine capital is now making a name for itself as the gay capital of South America. The live-and-kicking scene in Buenos Aires was ramped up a notch in Dec 2002, when Argentina became Latin America’s first country to accept civil unions between same sex couples.
This tolerance means good news for tourism. Homosexuals account for around 20 percent of the foreign tourists who visit Buenos Aires. As well as an increase in well-heeled gay tourists, the number of entrepreneurs and foreign businesses now investing in the city is increasing. “Everyone wants a piece of the ‘pink money’ and that makes everyone more open and friendly to the gay community,” says Carlos Melia, an executive with Pride Travel.
Positioning itself as a gay and hetero-friendly tour company, Pride Travel offers its clients gay travel guides and gay-specific maps of the city, as well as personalised tours. It’s just one of the 200 or more businesses catering to the homosexual market—from hotels, bars, restaurants and clothing stores to tour operators. “Culturally Buenos Aires is amazing, it’s very cosmopolitan and it’s the most modern city in South America. That’s why many gay travellers feel comfortable here, but at the same time, they are looking to discover something new,” said Melia’s partner Abel Arana, director of marketing for the Pride Media Group.
Buenos Aires is benefiting from having out-stripped Rio as South America’s number one gay-friendly city. While Rio might have a slightly sleazier image, anecdotal evidence shows that gay travelers to Buenos Aires are generally more interested in getting to know the city and its culture. “We don’t do ‘sex tourism’…sure there are these kinds of saunas and bars, but we prefer to show the city, the shops, the restaurants, the discos…we offer more culture and lifestyle, we are much more elegant than that,” says Arana. Check out some a list of gay-friendly establishments here.
The government is keen to promote Buenos Aires’s gay credentials. It is seen as a lucrative market, pivotal in helping the city regain its feet after a debilitating economic crisis in 2001. “[Gay travellers] are generally young between 34-45 years-old, who have strong purchasing power…and are usually big spenders,” says Daniel Aguilera, Argentina’s Under-Secretary for Tourism.
The city’s official website even has a section for the gay traveller, providing information on where to visit. Plus, of course, a trip to Argentina would not be complete without taking in a tango show. There is even a gay-friendly milonga (the word for any place that tango is danced) on Wed nights at La Marshall. This night was founded by Augusto Balinzano, one-half of the world’s only professional gay tango couple. Interestingly, when the tango was born in the brothels and on the streets of the late 19th-century Buenos Aires, it was not uncommon for macho men to dance the tango together.
Most notably, Buenos Aires will soon be home to the world’s first five-star hotel designed to attract homosexual guests. Construction is already well underway for the Axel Buenos Aires hotel, in the gay-friendly, downtown neighbourhood of San Telmo. Billed as a designer gay hotel, there’ll be 48 rooms, as well as a spa, cocktail bar, chillout area, two swimming pools and a solarium.
It’s funded by Argentina’s former Tourism Secretary Hernan Lombardi and the Spanish based Axel group, also behind a similar hotel in Barcelona. Axel Group Owner Juan Julia says his hotel will be a cosmopolitan boutique hotel to host the gay community. “The hotel will have an atmosphere of quality and tolerance,” he said. Despite the worries of investing in a country with risky economic cycles, Julia knows that Buenos Aires is ripe for this kind of development. He’s confident he’ll have a full house in this European city with a sexy South American twist. Only time will tell.
List of Events
Every year in November Buenos Aires plays hosts to its own gay pride parade Marcha del Orgullo—www.marchadelorgullo.org.ar.
For the first time, Buenos Aires will host the International Gay and Lesbian Football Association World Cup in September 2007.