Zoom Vacations co-founder Bryan Herb opens up about the transformative power of travel, the current state of LGBT travel and more!
As regular readers may know, I have a love/hate relationship with gay travel.
On the one hand, I want to support it and take part in it. I’m a big believer in gay guys supporting each other, including in business endeavours. And if I’m travelling, why not do it in a way that supports gay businesses, and in an environment where I can meet other gay guys?
On the other hand, the limited experiences I’ve had so far have been, well, mixed to say the least. I love and fully support the fact that there are clothing optional places for gay guys. I love and support the fact that many gay guys want to party, have sex, and do all sorts of fun stuff. Like I said, I’m a big believer in gay guys supporting each other – including the choices we make, even if I don’t agree or align with them all myself.
And that’s been my biggest thing. I’ve found it hard to find gay travel places (whether it’s tours, hotels, cruises or events) that cater for gay guys who are in long-term, monogamous relationships, and whose idea of fun involves being physically active, exploring new cultures and cuisines and overall, taking what could be described as a more spiritually-based approach to travel.
So, for the past few months, I’ve been receiving a monthly newsletter from a gay travel group called Zoom Vacations. What struck me most about Zoom Vacations is that they seem to cater for a wide variety of gay guys (as well as all gay-friendly folk) in a way that seems to appeal to me.
Their ethos and approach seems more aligned with the the things I mentioned above, that I’ve been looking for. So, I reached out to them and was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to ask the super-lovely co-founder Bryan Herb, a few questions.
Zoom Vacations Co-Founder Bryan Herb
Bryan has many years of experience within the LGBT travel industry. He’s served on the Board of the Directors of the IGLTA (International Gay and Lesbian Travel Association) for four years, and as Board Chair for two. Plus, he’s been travelling the world with Zoom Vacations for close to two decades now!
I’m really grateful to Bryan for taking time out of his super-busy schedule to talk with me. I was curious to hear his take on the current state of LGBT travel, I’m always curious to know what inspires people (and what inspired him to start Zoom Vacations specifically), and a few more things as well.
Check out our chat below. Enjoy!
Zoom Vacations Interview
Little Gay Blog – You’ve had an extensive career in the LGBt travel industry. In 2019, what’s your take on the state of LGBT travel in general?
Bryan – Ever since we started Zoom Vacations almost 17 years ago, certain countries have been more welcoming of LGBTQ travelers than others. What I am seeing now, however, is that this different level of acceptance is more extreme and more pronounced.
As I travel, I see a positive riff of love and acceptance of all walks of life, that is washing across the world. At hotels around the world, I more often conduct myself in manner that assumes those with whom I am interacting are gay-friendly.
However I also see an opposing riff of oppression, control, and narrow-mindedness. This is most evident with the transgender community. Japan’s supreme court just ruled in favour of forced sterilisation of trans people, which is mind-boggling, and Trump’s base-pleasing ban on transgender people serving in the military is going into affect.
In this way, it is a particularly interesting time to travel as a gay person, and acceptance differs even more by city and community than by country. I am finding more and more often that an individual hotel, restaurant, etc. can be very gay-positive, even if it is located in a country that is heavily anti-gay. This is especially true in the luxury market.
This I know for sure: pay attention to what is happening to the transgender community home and abroad, how they are treated, and how their rights are protected. There are major things happening globally, which deserve our attention as they directly affect our brothers and sisters— and they are also and indication of and dangerous weed that needs to be plucked before it spreads.
Why did you (and your co-founders) start Zoom Vacations?
The tragedy of September 11th was a wakeup call for many people, ourselves included. I was living in New York City during the attack, and as anyone can tell you who lived in the city during that time, it remained on our minds essentially nonstop for months after.
The fact that life can be ripped away from you at any moment was embedded in my thoughts, which turned into dreams of what I wanted for my life. Life is too short to spend it not doing what you love.
Instead of focusing on a job, Joel and started focusing on what we loved, and how we could make an income doing it. For us, it was travel. We did not set out to make money. If fact, if I am to be completely honest, I didn’t really know if we would. I just wanted to focus on doing what we loved, and I trusted that with this as the focus, we would be successful.
What surprised me, however, was what ended up being my favorite part of what we do: meeting new people.
I love the people who take our tours, many of whom have become some of my best friends. I look at Zoom Vacations as a family. Families love and support each other, and I see this with my travelers constantly, from assisting each other in various ways during the tour, to being sources of love and support back home. It makes me immensely proud, inspired, and hopeful.
On your website, you talk about appealing to travellers who want something more than just an organised tour, you talk about people who want to be inspired. How do you inspire people on your trips?
We do this in specific ways, as well as general.
Generally speaking, we strive to create camaraderie, and a sense of brotherhood. I can’t give away our secret sauce here, but we do a lot of things on our tours to facilitate this happening. People truly make lifelong friendships on our tours.
Personally, I really get a thrill out of encouraging people, and in softly challenge them to expand their comfort zones and get the most out of life both on the trip and back home. I strive to live a limitless life personally, and helping others do this as well is the biggest gift I can give.
Now, specifically, one thing I love doing is providing a time on the tour at a special place for silence. I remember hearing Ellen Degeneres say one time that it is in silence where our answers lie, and she is so right.
So, for instance, when we visit Angkor Wat in Cambodia, we take a moment to leave the most touristed parts of the complex to visit a lesser known temple few visit. I invite people to take 15 minutes, simply enjoying the surroundings in silence, however they choose, whether it be taking photos, meditating, or simply appreciating the architectural beauty. Past guests have all really loved and appreciated this.
Oh, and I have a VERY special spot at Machu Picchu in Peru, where we pause in silence, to listen to the abundant nature around us. It may sound simple and basic, and I guess it is… but sometimes the simple things are the most powerful.
From my own experience, I know that travel is transformative. What are some of the common changes you see in your guests during your trips?
Probably my favorite thing to see is someone “coming out of his shell” and feeling comfortable to be themselves. It’s completely energising.
Also, on our tours, you are of course in a foreign destination, but you are also traveling with new people, some of whom you may not have ever met out of this context. The tour provides an opportunity to open your mind and transform your beliefs into something even more loving and accepting than they were before.
As our minds become more open, and our thoughts become more broad and inclusive, the bigger our world and the avenues for happiness and fulfillment become as well. Our goal at Zoom is that our guests leave the tour in some way better than they arrived.
What’s the ‘average’ Zoom trip group like? Where do most of your guest come from? Do guys know each other before hand?
The average Zoom Vacations group is a mix of ages and ethnicities, and we always for some reason, have a pretty even mix of couples and singles. Most are from the USA, followed by Canada, Australia, and other countries worldwide.
Sometimes groups of friends join a tour, so in that case they know each other. Some travelers come on a tour, knowing no one at first, but that quickly ends after the welcome event. By the way, our welcome events are the shit!
For someone on the fence about doing a ‘gay tour’, what would you say to them?
Like everything in life, so much of your experience depends on your attitude and what you make of it. With our trips, the same tour will differ from one year to the next based on the unique interests, desires, and personalities of our travelers.
I love our groups: people are so helpful, and ready to share their own knowledge and sometimes even their own research of the destination. All of this makes trips even better, and what happens a lot, is that when you travel within a group, you are more encouraged to try something that you otherwise would not have, and so often a newly discovered passion is born.
Also, there is no reason to fear feeling chained to a group the whole time, as there is always time provided for you to do your own thing as well. And, a Zoom concierge is there to help our guests get the experience they want.
Oh, and I would be remiss if I did not mention this: WE LAUGH ALL THE TIME on these tours.
Honestly, 2019 has started in a bit of a rough fashion for me, and as I gear up to lead our tour to Thailand, I am so ready to just laugh with my group, and engage in the fun shenanigans that are always a part of our tours. A few of us are already planning a little “who wore it better” photo shoot in Bangkok.
I’m sure researching some of the world’s most beautiful destinations must be as terrible as it sounds. How do you find new places to explore?
I love this question, as it comes about in so many different ways.
For starters, one of the biggest ways is just through casual conversations with people at cocktail parties, on social media, etc. We are always paying attention.
Secondly, sometimes, a tour may come about because of our own individual interest and passion, and we design a tour accordingly.
The third big way is that tourist boards, or various hotels reach out to us to show what they can offer our travelers that is new, different and special. We visit the destination first, and see how we can add our own Zoom Vacations signature touches to make it very special, and something that someone couldn’t do on their own.
Correct me if I’m wrong, but I don’t see any trips planned to Australia anytime soon? When are you going to come down here?
I am crazy about Australia, especially the people who live there. We have actually conducted several tours to Australia, in which we visited Sydney, the Great Barrier Reef, and Uluru.
We are organising our next tour to Australia which will hit more destinations within the country, and an add-on trip to New Zealand as well. Stay tuned!