travel

Interview | Out Adventures' Robert Sharp on coronavirus and the future of LGBTQ travel

"Seeing the world come together over the past few months gives me hope for the future."

2020-05-13

Robert Sharp is the owner of Out Adventures, an LGBTQ tour company that takes guests to explore regions such as Cuba, Japan, India, Peru and Kenya.

When Robert isn’t touring the world and is in his home country of Canada, he co-hosts The Gay Travel Podcast.

For three seasons, they have had episodes focused on specific destinations as well as travel subjects such as travelling with a family and travelling while HIV positive and most episodes feature an expert to help them take a deep dive into the subject matter.

Robert in Slovenia

The most recent episode is an in-depth exploration of travelling in Tokyo with travel influencers The Nomadic Boys.

One of their most recent episodes was on COVID-19, which hit the travel industry fastest and hardest. It is an uncertain time for everyone, but especially those in the hospitality industry and shedding any light on the situation is welcome.

Robert in Antarctica

One poignant remark in the episode was the news that Emirates has become the first airline to conduct on-site rapid COVID-19 testing for passengers boarding their flights. It is a scary Pandora's box: just imagine this type of medical procedure in airports, but being used to test for HIV before allowing people into certain countries.

COVID-19 will change travel for years to come, but with people like Robert fighting for the industry's survival, we should be discovering our sense of adventure again soon.

Robert with his Out Adventures' group in Antarctica

When and why did you start the podcast?

Co-host Peter Graham approached me with the idea about three years ago. He hosted a radio show in university and is a huge podcast fan. My team and I ultimately decided to go for it because there wasn’t a podcast focused exclusively on LGBT Travel. I think we bring a meaningful voice and a lot of expertise to the conversation. We’ve made it a point to have an expert on nearly every episode and to candidly discuss sensitive topics such as how to travel ethically as an LGBT person.

 

Why is travel so important to the LGBTQ community?

Travel is ingrained in us as LGBT travellers. Generally speaking, we venture out earlier in life to seek out others like us and to go places where we can be ourselves. This is especially true for queer people from smaller communities. As a result, I believe LGBT people are more savvy and comfortable with travel, and ultimately more willing to travel internationally. This affords us the opportunity to see how other people live, and to experience other cultures.

Robert leading an Out Adventures' group in Nepal

What have been are your favourite episodes?

Our most popular episode to date is “Gay Cruises—Everything You Think You Know Is Wrong… Sort Of.” But I really loved our early episode “Unpacking Ethical Travel”. We chat about whether or not LGBT travellers should visit countries that are less “welcoming”. And our “Travelling with HIV” episode—we had a guest from the United Nations on the Pod to discuss some of the challenges travellers with a positive HIV status face. On a lighter note, our season finales bring our entire Out Adventures crew into the studio to throw shade and talk about future travel plans. They are always a lot of fun.

What episodes do you have coming up beyond the Japan episode this season?

Our season 3 finale airs on May 15th, then we take a break to plan the next season which I suspect will focus on destinations that we feel will bounce back from COVID-19 quickest.

Robert at Mount Everest basecamp

What are your main concerns for travel beyond COVID-19?

Where do I begin? The world is forever changed, and the other side of COVID-19 still remains a mystery. Prices may temporarily decrease while travel providers try to regain consumer confidence. It could take months for airlines to ensure aircraft are primed for flight after sitting for months, and for pilots to obtain the required “recency” to fly a plane with passengers. As consumer confidence increases, however, we may see prices increase due to a rise in operational costs related to strict new health and safety requirements. All of this aside, my main concerns are for small business. This is a tough industry at the best of times, and the longer this goes on, the more boutique providers like Out Adventures will struggle. I talk extensively about this in our recently released COVID-19 episode.

What gives you hope for the future of the travel industry?

Seeing the world come together over the past few months gives me hope for the future of the travel industry. From a business perspective, I’m seeing a level of cooperation, compassion, and understanding that I’ve never seen before. Tourism accounts for roughly 1 in 12 jobs globally and it brings joy to more than a billion people a year. Bookings are slow right now, but if our website visits and podcast listens indicate anything, it’s that LGBT travellers have not lost their sense of wonder or their sense of adventure. I speak for every LGBT tour operator, travel agent, independent hotel owner, and guide out there when I say we are here, we are planning, we are waiting, and we will be ready for you when you are ready to travel.

The Gay Travel Podcast is free to listen to and can be found on Spotify, Apple and outadventures.com