LGBT travel. It’s all rainbow flags and cheap shags in a minuscule selection of locales like Miami or Mykonos, right? Wrong. It’s 2016. And while homophobia still has a home with a diminishing number of hotels, tour operators and indeed countries, it’s slowly but surely being given the (designer) boot it deserves as attitudes continue to change and people realise just how lucrative the pink pound can be.

But why the change of heart? Thanks to the recession, the industry was forced to target niche markets it hadn’t otherwise considered in order to thrive and survive. At the same time, the ever-expanding legalisation of same-sex marriage in the US, the UK and further afield has ensured that the market continues to grow and develop as the recession receded.

That means more fabulous cities to choose from outside of the usual tried-and-trusted remit, bigger and better operators that cater specifically to their needs, and the confidence in stays that are as safe as they are stylish. We, for one, will certainly raise a sundowner to that.

Ultimately, travel is travel and shouldn’t be affected by your sexuality. But for those looking for particularly LGBT-friendly destinations, we’ve rounded up what’s hot right now.

The operator opening up LGBT-friendly travel

Is there anything more satisfying than setting your out of office notification as you gear up for an impending trip? We think not, and neither does, launched by Darren Burn after a badly chosen holiday to Egypt with his then-boyfriend. Not only did the newly formed company earn a whopping £1 million in its first quarter, but it is now firmly leading by example when it comes to catering to the huge LGBT market, worth an estimated £6 billion in the UK and $85 billion in the US.

The intuitively designed site showcases all the usual destination suspects, from blowing off steam with a chilled cerveza in Barcelona to stripping off under the sun in Sitges. Yet it unlocks more unusual choices by asking each and every destination, hotel and partner it works with what it does to cater to the gay traveller. It ensures that there are no red faces or awkward exchanges when it comes to touching down on the tarmac or checking into rooms. No single beds where there should be doubles. And – crucially – no hate crimes for holding hands. Interestingly, heavy-hitter Kuoni has followed suit, recruiting LGBT-specific travel experts to advise customers on the laws and customs of their bookable destinations, allowing them to make both informed and inspired decisions when they book. More of the same, please.

The hotel group getting into bed with the LGBT community

Just because you’re in the business of hospitality, it doesn’t necessarily mean you welcome all travellers with warmth. Take, for example, the Christian-run Cornish B&B that refused to accommodate civil partners when they turned up at the front desk in 2008. The picture-perfect property and the idyllic countryside in which it is set suggest nothing of the hostility or small-mindedness inside. Which is why it’s kudos to Hilton, one the biggest hotel groups in the world, for leading the way when it launched dedicated LGBT microsite a couple of years ago. Combining a series of packages and pop-up Pride events across its portfolio, the hotel has become a byword for acceptance within the industry and a place of sanctuary for LGBT travellers.

Most recently, Hilton ran an advert in the June issue of fellow travel bible Time + Leisure that featured a same-sex couple on one of its beds sharing earphones emblazoned with the headline: “Stop clicking around.” The ad – aimed to be tongue-in-cheek – was of course referring to the complimentary WiFi offered within rooms (as should come as standard these days). But the fiercely conservative American Family Association didn’t see it that way, publicly slamming the ad in a statement that doesn’t deserved to be published a second time round. But Hilton stuck by its guns: “We’re proud to depict and reflect our guest diversity in our advertising.” While hotels such as Elysium in Mykonos and Hôtel Gaythering in Miami certainly provide an oasis from the storm, it’s good to see that the mainstream, too, is embracing LGBT travellers so wholeheartedly. May it continue to evolve.

The Instagrammers giving us serious wanderlust

Why head off into the great unknown when you can let someone influential do all the legwork for you? A quick scroll on the right Instagram feed will reveal the footsteps you need to follow, the cities you need to check out, the hotels you need to check into and the restaurants you need to chow down in. First up, @nomadicboys, made up of knowingly cutesy couple Stefan and Sebastien sharing their joint travels. With just under 50,000 followers we promise that the pictures these guys post are always inspirational and insightful. After all, seeing the world is always better with four eyes than two. Elsewhere, award-winning travel writer @mrdavidduran is just the ticket, offering on-point advice as he bounces between continents (seemingly, with a never-ending supply of rosé). Justin Livingston @justinliv might be more your bag if you’re into travel with a seriously chic slant. The watches! The fashion! The poses! 190,000 followers can’t be wrong. For the ladies, @LezBackPack is the brainchild of recently engaged Melissa Langley and Constance Taylor who met teaching English in South Korea, proving that far-flung destinations are full of LGBT love. Meanwhile German-born Dani Heinrich may have split with her partner but continues to trailblaze the way for LGBT travel, documenting her round-the-world tour @globetrotter girls, where images of over 50 countries put her motto “one globe, no regrets” into practice and inspire others to do the same. Tip: Follow these guys to start with and Instagram will suggest similar feeds.

The destination where LGBT travellers descend en masse

Fire Island. Palm Springs. These places continue to prosper when it comes to embracing gay travellers. But for a refreshing destination, look no further than New Caledonia, a French territory in the South Pacific comprising dozens of islands. With a beautiful barrier reef, palm-lined beaches and a tolerant attitude, the colony will play host to TropOut 2017, the second edition of a new LGBT beach festival from 6-13 May. Following the huge success of this year’s event in Phuket, Thailand, the second iteration is set to be even bigger and better, complete with a private island, a day club floating over a reef and a nightclub bobbing up and down on the water to see revellers through until the small hours. With all eyes on the island, expect business to boom afterwards, so get in there quick to soak it up before the masses arrive.

There are some dedicated weekends which draw fierce female crowds from around the world, where lesbians descend to party as hard (if not harder) than their testosterone-fuelled counterparts. Dinah Shore – named after the charismatic American vocalist from the 1940s – is of particular renown, running every year in Palm Springs between late March and early April. Billed as ‘the largest girl party music festival in the world’, the Wednesday to Sunday extravaganza includes superstar DJs, pool parties, live performances and comedy shows, while plush properties like The Hilton and Hard Rock Hotel have partnered up so that guests can slip between fine thread-count sheets after the dancing is done. High-calibre celebrity guests come part and parcel too, with none other than Lady Gaga rocking up poolside as a special guest in 2016. Next year’s weekender tickets are selling like hotcakes, so act sharp. Otherwise, similar girls-only weekends take place on Fire Island off Long Island, New York and Key West, Florida.

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