Out Escapes is a recently launched members-only travel portal geared to the LGBT community (though the non-LGBT are free to explore and book…they don’t ask for a gay card, and they don’t discriminate). To explain a bit more about it, we got in touch with one of the site’s founders (a former Trip Out Travel contributor) Jimmy Im, who explained the basics of the site.
It’s completely free to join. It mainly features a flash-sale section, with exclusive deals on hand-picked hotels and destination packages. Then there’s also an event platform where members can buy tickets to gay events around the world — and some events they work with offer value added perks to members who are buying from the site. There’s also a lifestyle blog…and more planned like a special section for gay-owned B&Bs and hotels, and ‘Meet Me Here,’ where members can create profiles and interact with other members.
We talked with Im just before he started another assignment out West, and got some more details about the site, along with some of his latest travel tips.
NewNowNext: So how does Out Escapes differ (improve on) others on this category? For example, Jetsetter.
Jimmy Im: Unlike Jetsetter, we offer value added perks. So even with discounts on the rooms for members, they’ll also be treated to other benefits, like round-trip airport transfer, complimentary round of drinks, complimentary meals, free guided tours and more. This definitely adds up in savings. Also, our event platform will serve as the best means to buying tickets to gay events, like Out In the Vineyard, Matinee and more. Often, travelers have no clue where to buy tickets securely, so now they will have one stop.
NNN: You’re not only a founder of this company, but a travel writer. How about a list of your next hot destinations?
Im: There’s so many that’s on my list but the ones that I have personally visited in recent months:
Baltimore: The new Four Seasons finally opened in the emerging East Harbor neighborhood and it brought the city’s first celebrity-chef restaurant (a collaboration with Michael Mina and Ken Tominaga of Hana Sushi). So, believe it or not, luxury is on the rise in Charm City. It’s also becoming a hotbed for the gay community. There’s tons of American history here, too, not to mention cool neighborhoods. So it may give DC a run for its money (speaking of which, everything is just so much cheaper in Baltimore).
Sedona: The wine region in neighboring Verde Valley is finally taking off and luxury hotels have gone though multi-million dollar renovations. L’Auberge just went through a major facelift, has amazing views of the Red Rocks and it’s also a member of IGLTA. I think this year’s trend of spiritual quests has brought a huge influx of visitors as Sedona is a well known destination for self-discovery.
Panama: The recently opened Islas Secas is a private island that only allows 14 guests at a time. Hotel Tantalo in Panama City is also the first modern boutique to open with the city’s first and only rooftop bar and lounge. So Panama is seeing tons of affluent travelers who want something different, less tourist-y. The beaches are buzzing and Frank Gehry’s Biomuseo is finally slated to open this winter.
Koh Samui, Thailand: Sadly, it’s really not the best place for backpackers anymore (go to Koh Phangan) with the influx of luxury hotels like the Four Seasons, but the good news for the non-backpacker set is that there’s a huge boon here.
Turks & Caicos: I think the gays are starting to learn that Turks & Caicos is swelling with other gay travelers, thanks to the fact the locals are made up of mostly ex-pats and several of the restaurants are led by chefs from Michelin starred restaurants. Tons of gay-friendly resorts exist, in addition to Grace Bay beach strip where I was cruised several times.
Just a pitch for the site — we have a last-minute deal to Tel Aviv gay pride, because Tel Aviv is awesome. Costa Rica is another gay-friendly destination and one of my favorites, so we included a great resort gem. We are also working with Classic Harbor for a Gay Pride Fireworks Sail in NYC so those who don’t want to cramp up against the waterfront have a much cooler (and less chaotic) experience to watch the fireworks.
NNN: What’s an interesting travel trend you’ve noticed lately?
Im: I think ‘Ends of the Earth’ journeys have been pretty spot on, and I’ve been noticing more gay travelers heading to off-the-radar destinations, whether in groups or alone. I think it’s brilliant, and I’m glad that travelers are becoming more explorative.
NNN: What’s one trend you’re totally sick of?
Im: New gay-focused flash-sale sites with events platform to boot. [laughs]
NNN: You’ve been a travel writer for over 10 years now, what’s one travel tip you’d like to impart?
Im: Go out of your bubble. You’ll learn more than you would ever believe, and my maxim is that you don’t really visit a destination unless you learn something about yourself. You don’t need the comfort of familiarity every time you travel. That’s part of the fun, just getting lost to find a way out. Some of my favorite places have been completely off the radar, like Marquesa Islands, San Pedro de Atacama in Chile, Beirut, Nevis, Greenland…
Lastly, from our Logo archives, let’s take a look at Im in action — on a trip. Here’s a video piece on Buenos Aires he did for a site that used to be in our family, Trip Out Travel: