Petersburger Alexander Petrov, who lives in Vilnius, organized the Six Colors Travel travel agency less than a year ago, targeting LGBT clients (lesbians, gays, bisexuals, transgenders). Travel agency organizes trips to prides in Europe, to church services in Israel, to the sea in Crimea. Alexander told Life around about why gays need a separate travel agency, for which they are willing to pay more, as well as how the sanctions affected his business.
I used to have a usual travel agency in St. Petersburg: we applied for visas and sold tours. The idea to open a travel agency for LGBT people appeared several years ago. But Nikolai Raduzhny, a good friend of mine, a man well known in LGBT activist circles (now he is no longer with us), said he has girls who are already doing this. Like, St. Petersburg two similar firms will not pull.
Then I began to communicate closely with local human rights organizations such as the Exit and the Side by Side festival. At the end of 2013, one Finnish human rights activist organized a festival in Turku, which was called "Oh, Russia", respectively, about human rights in Russia. I decided to organize a trip for our activists. As a result, I gathered a group of 15 people, and we went perfectly.
Several months passed, and I thought: why not engage in LGBT tourism more professionally? He created a group of LGBT travels on the VKontakte social network, and began collecting information. Together with the Exit volunteers, we came up with the name Six Colors Travel. My boyfriend painted a logo. I began to look for business partners.
Now, as I understand it, there are no similar travel agencies in Russia. I found a site of a similar company in Moscow, but it has not been updated for more than a year.
This business, like any LGBT business (with the exception of the entertainment industry, for example), can hardly bring money. He is enthusiastic, for me it's a hobby. I am still engaged in "ordinary" tourism. For economic reasons, I moved from St. Petersburg to Vilnius and now I work as a host tour operator in the Baltic states. I would like to develop LGBT tourism in Russia, but so far I have dismissed this idea, because even advertising materials cannot be done. I can’t take pictures of two guys against the background of the Hermitage: for this it’s easy to get in the face and in addition to end up in a police station for “propaganda”.
With the help of Six Colors Travel, a person can purchase a tour by making a bank transfer, while he will be a client of a Lithuanian company (however, at the moment the travel agency’s website is temporarily disabled. - Note ed.) It is impossible to come "live" to us. My main business was always virtual too, we never had an office. Not a tourist comes to the office, but we come to a tourist: the effect of chance, when a person walked along the street, saw a sign and went in, now it is disappearing in all businesses. Most tourists search for many things themselves through the Internet. In addition, in Russia it would be unsafe to have an office. I do not want the agency to look like a sex shop behind a curtain or a cellar with an iron door.
Now I have got partners in Europe, Israel. It's funny that the Israeli partners do not understand why it is impossible to bring a large number of LGBT tourists from Russia to them - "because the country is huge!" They ask: "Is there really no LGBT people among the wealthy Russians who come to Israel?" I say: “Of course there are, but people, afraid of losing their position, workplace, are unlikely to turn to an LGBT travel agency. They will go like regular tourists.”
All our customers are Russians. I have not yet entered the local market, including due to the language barrier. Basically, we still organize activist trips to events. For example, last summer a lot of people went to Scandinavia - to the Helsinki and Stockholm prides. Now we have a lull, we are updating the site, we are preparing a program for the summer season.
The remaining customers are mainly people who "sit in the closet" (Do not advertise their sexual orientation. - Note ed.) They want to go to another country where you can feel what it is to be yourself, not to be ashamed of yourself.
Due to the current situation - Ukraine, sanctions, currency appreciation - it has become more difficult to work. Many colleagues who are engaged in ordinary tourism are reorienting to Russian resorts: this year Sochi was quite crowded compared to the past New Year holidays. But LGBT tourism is interesting for Russians because it allows you to plunge into the atmosphere of tolerance. In Russia, in my opinion, there is no mention of it, so we cannot, after the rest, reorient to domestic tourism.
Comrade Milonov, which the likes to attend St. Petersburg gay clubs and shows of the Side by Side festival, until gay hotel in Crimea, apparently didn't get
However, we have an agreement with a gay hotel in Crimea. It is located near Sevastopol, called "Friends". The hotel exists for a long time - even when the Crimea was part of Ukraine. This place is somewhat like a gay club: a closed area where guests can feel comfortable holding hands. There is a swimming pool, a program for LGBT shows, contests. But when you go outside the hotel, you should remember that you are in Russia. They have 18+ markings on their site, they cannot be with them with children - that is, they cannot be attracted for propaganda. Comrade Milonov, who likes to attend St. Petersburg gay clubs and shows of the Side by Side festival, apparently didn’t reach them. When Crimea was annexed to Russia, they changed the currency, changed the phone code and continue to work the same way, everything is still the same for them. I know that in the Krasnodar Territory there are similar hotels, but we do not have agreements with them.
It seems to me that hotels of this type are a spare option for many tourists: for example, for young people without a passport or for those who are now too expensive to travel abroad.
I myself love Crimea very much - with its nature and attractions. I have been there several times: in my youth I went with a tent, on a bicycle. So, after some doubts, I decided that it was worth forgetting about politics and promoting Crimea as a beautiful nature, a great clear sea.
One of my favorite destinations is Israel. We offered our customers trips there for Christmas. The partners had a ready-made program - but imprisoned for Catholic Christmas: that is, from the end of December until the New Year. We reworked the entire program for the Russian consumer: from January 1 to 10. With a visit to services in Jerusalem. Everyone knows how the church in Russia relates to LGBT people. As for Israel, it always surprised me how tolerant society is there. Moreover, this is a very religious country.
LGBT tourism can be divided into two areas. The first is trips as part of regular groups to LGBT-friendly countries: for example, from St. Petersburg to Sweden. We can guarantee that in this country the client will feel free. Naturally, such tours can not be in most Arab countries, for example. Or here in Chechnya - unlike the same Crimea - I, too, will not send customers. The second direction - tours as part of LGBT groups.
According to various estimates, LGBT people make up 3-5% of the total population of the planet, so the market is limited. Individual tours prevail that are quite expensive. For example, here's what a trip to the same Israel looks like. Tourists fly to the airport, meet them there, organize a transfer to the hotel, then - excursions as part of LGBT groups (it is clear that no one is standing with a gamer at the entrance, but still). A man among his own, you can communicate, get acquainted. Further - trips to night clubs, animation programs. A trip to the Dead Sea - to the closed territory of a special resort. At will - a trip to the factory where they produce Dead Sea cosmetics.
We write programs based on expensive hotels. There is a stereotype that gays love luxury - it is to some extent fair. The cost of the tours is individual, but always higher than the price of a "regular" trip by at least 10%.
Most of Europe is LGBT tolerant. Recently, two more countries have appeared on the map where our tourists can be sent, albeit with a warning. These are Estonia and Latvia. Estonia has passed a law on civil partnerships, which also legalizes same-sex partnerships. This does not mean that all of Estonian society has become sharply tolerant, but if such a law exists, then people are ready for this.
As for Latvia, this year Riga is the capital of Europride. I can hardly imagine how it will look. Yes, there is an annual Baltic Pride, but it is rather modest. And Europride is a huge event, a ten-day festival: exhibitions, shows, conferences and climax are the procession itself. In addition, recently there was a loud cuming out of Edgar Rinkevich, a famous Latvian politician, - I was struck by this act. And it seems to us that Latvian society is slowly moving towards tolerance.
There is a stereotype that gays love luxury - he is to some extent fair. Programs we write based on luxury hotels
To some extent, Thailand is tolerant, but I consider this country only in terms of sex tourism. There is such a place in Curacao - in the Caribbean, not far from Venezuela. This is the overseas territory of the Netherlands - in many LGBT guidebooks it is indicated as a gay friendly destination for summer holidays. There is a very beautiful architecture. We are negotiating with them, but there is very expensive transport - there are no charter flights.
There is still such a direction as gay cruises - including in the Baltic. Until last year, the liners came to St. Petersburg for two days, then stopped, due to Russian laws, and indeed the country is considered unsafe. Prior to this, the liner stopped by twice during the summer and many Petersburg guys went to the club to meet people from this cruise. It was known in the city when the liner came in.
Nobody is writing any nasty things to me, thank God. But I am mentally prepared for this. And I even thought that they would send nasty things in connection with our Christmas program: after all, we suggested that LGBT people come to the Holy Land and visit the service, and this, according to Orthodox activists, could offend the feelings of believers. I talked with Natasha Tsymbalova (coordinator of the Alliance for Heterosexuals for LGBT Equality. - Ed.) - she said: "Do not even think about it, you can’t do any PR on it." To come to a gay club and say that they are youngsters is a great PR for the same Milonov. A travel agency on the Internet, fortunately, is not interesting to him.
Photo: Ivan Anisimov