Argentina was the first Latin American country to honor homosexual civil unions and has long been a popular destination for gay tourists — who represent a fifth of visitors to the country and spend an average of $250 a day in addition to hotel costs. Gay tourism has proven a boon to the country’s economy.
Benjamin Gedan is a Fulbright research scholar living in Montevideo and studying the Uruguayan media. He writes at his blog, “Small State,” about the thriving gay tourism industry in Argentina and Uruguay’s efforts to attract gay travelers.
Gay tourism leaves Buenos Aires awash in ‘pink dollars,’ Montevideo hoping for a piece
Serving up empanadas last Sunday in Montevideo so my visiting in-laws could meet some of my Uruguayan pals, my wife’s parents got more of an introduction to Uruguay than I had planned. I don’t recall how it came up, but a friend from Melo told a fascinating tale about gay life in her remote, rural hometown (Melo is near the border with Brazil, a good 390 kilometers, or 242 miles, from Uruguay’s capital, Montevideo). It turns out, we learned, Melo has a surprisingly active gay community and plenty of opportunities for discreet experimentation among supposedly straight, and occasionally married, locals. The Comunidad de Homosexuales de Cerro Largo has even asked that the city be proclaimed the “Capital Gay del Mercosur,” La República has reported. But according to guest-blogger Todd Martinez (see photo below), a Fulbright researcher in Montevideo, the rest of Uruguay has a long way to go if it wants to compete for gay tourists:
This month, the Economist reported on the importance of the “pink dollar” (gay tourism) to Argentina’s thriving tourist industry. They aren’t the first to notice: a year ago, The New York Times published a similar piece highlighting the opening of the Axel Hotel, a posh “heterofriendly” hotel in the San Telmo district of Buenos Aires. In 2008, Buenos Aires was named “Best International City” by the International Gay and Lesbian Travel Association thanks to its nightlife and progressive climate (same-sex unions were legalized in 2002). An estimated one in five tourists to the city is gay, and considering gay tourists spend $250 a day in addition to lodging, far more than their straight counterparts, it’s safe to say that Buenos Aires’ bet on the pink dollar is paying off.
So it’s no wonder that neighboring Uruguay also wants a piece of the action. Tourism is one of Uruguay’s most important industries, and for luring the pink dollar, Uruguay seems to have some key elements in place: progressive politics (gay common law unions were legalized in 2007); beautiful beaches; a fantastic price-to-quality ratio; and the same Mediterranean gene pool that gives Argentina its reputation as a country of supermodels. But “gay tourism” hasn’t spilled over into Uruguay for a number of reasons.
First of all, Montevideo’s gay venues don’t hold a candle to the gay megadiscos, cafes and spas of Buenos Aires, and a large portion of gay Uruguayans seem disinclined to patronize the few venues that do exist.
Also, while they come from the same stock as Argentines, Uruguayans lack the seductive panache that makes Argentine men and women that country’s greatest tourist attraction.
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