By Norma Connolly, email@example.com
Monday 27th July, 2009 Posted: 16:26 CIT (21:26 GMT)
A travel company is planning to bring up to 3,700 gay and lesbian tourists to Cayman early next year.
Grand Cayman residents held up signs as gay cruise passengers got off tenders at the harbour in George Town in 2006. Photo: Jewel Levy
This will be the second time in four years that gay and lesbian travel organisation Atlantis Events will bring the cruise, billed as The World’s Largest Gay Cruise, to Cayman.
Oscar Yuan, vice president of sales and marketing at Los Angeles–based Atlantis Events, which organises gay cruises, said: “People are interested in going to Cayman, which is why we are going there. This isn’t about making a political statement.”
Cayman controversially turned away a gay cruise ship in 1998.
Three years ago, Atlantis Events brought 3,200 gay tourists to Cayman. A small number turned out to protest when the passengers came ashore in 2006, but the visit passed off without much disturbance.
Mr. Yuan said he believed people’s attitudes had changed since 1998, and that the tourism industry in Cayman had extended a welcome to Atlantis and its customers.
“We have no doubt it will be a successful cruise,” he said.
In 2003, the Ministry of Tourism implemented a policy of non–discrimination to all who seek to visit Cayman.
However, Cayman’s acceptance of gay tourist was cast into doubt in April last year when American gay visitor Aaron Chandler was detained by an off–duty police officer for kissing his partner in Royal Palms. That led to an outraged commentary by Hollywood blogger Perez Hilton on his website, which called for gay tourists to boycott the Cayman Islands.
Mr. Yuan said: "Incidents like that take place in the US and the UK. It happens in a lot of countries in the world. If you will avoid all the countries where there had been incidents against gays and lesbians, there would not be any place left to go."
The man at the centre of the furore over the gay kiss last year, Mr. Chandler offered some advice to passengers on the Atlantis trip. “Know what they’re getting into – that they’re travelling to a place in which the laws may not be the same as they’re used to where they may be from.
“That’s not to say that they shouldn’t feel free to kiss, hold hands and such with each other. They should just know that doing so might very well invite criticism on them by locals in the Cayman Islands, as well as police harassment.”
He also had some advice for the government. “If they gradually become more lenient, open and accepting regarding gay issues, it might be politically unpopular in the short–term, but in the long–term, folks will get used to it and while they might not like it a lot, they won’t make it a condition of lawmakers staying in office.”
The Cayman Ministers Association, which has opposed the arrival of gay cruise ships in the past, has not changed its stance.
Reverend Bob Thompson, chairman of the Cayman Ministers Association said: “We don’t want to support that kind of image to our young people. We are not trying to make any personal attack on any person, but we do stand against this kind of thing being forced on to society. We don’t think we need this kind of business.”
Mr. Thompson said he would urge the government not to let ships that advertise themselves as exclusively gay into port.
“I am sure there are people of that persuasion that come here with other cruises, but they’re not making a statement, whereas these ships that come in, we say we would rather not be part of that,” he said.
Asked his opinion of gay tourism at a press briefing on Thursday, Leader of Government Business McKeeva Bush, referring to a gay cruise that had been due to visit Cayman in 2001 said, “When I found out what was going to happen, I talked to the stakeholders and the concern was… people didn’t want them here and there was going to be problems.
“I simply passed that information on to the people who were organising the charter… and they didn’t show up. They took on board the concerns of the stakeholders. That’s what I would do,” he said.
He added that he did not want to offer his personal opinion on gay tourism.
“I know that as soon as I give a personal feeling, that people will take that and run with it and beat you over the head with it, even though you tell them this is a personal view.”
Atlantis’ Mr. Yuan told the Caymanian Compass that his company had taken tourists to places that were not known to be gay and lesbian friendly.
“We’re going to Egypt in August and to Turkey next year,” he said. Homosexuality is illegal in Egypt, and although it is legal in Turkey, many gay people claim they are actively discriminated against there.
“We’re a travel company and these are places people are interested in going to. It’s not about a political statement. Of course, we put the safety and wellbeing of our guests first,” he said.