Tours for “Discerning Gentlemen”
2022 marks 50 years since HE Travel’s founder Hanns Ebensten put a small ad in New York’s After Dark arts magazine. Hanns’ future tour director Cal Culver (aka gay adult film star Casey Donovan) appeared on their cover. Hanns invited “discerning gentlemen” to join him for a week in the Grand Canyon the following year, thus initiating a half-century of gay travel.
Hanns was ridiculed about how unlikely it was for “homosexuals” who camped it up in cowboy hats and bandanas in Manhattan to camp for real in the rugged outdoors.
However, Hanns was right – the trip quickly sold out and the world of Gay Travel was born! The IGLTA (International LGBTQ+ Travel Association) recognized Hanns’ vision when they named their top award the Hanns Ebensten Hall of Fame Award.
Evolution of HE Travel
I bought Hanns Ebensten Travel in 2001 after leading tours for Hanns to China, Egypt, Greece, Thailand, Morocco, Tahiti, and Easter Island. I also helped him design tours and saw the meticulous care that he took for each tour.
We have changed many things during my 21 years of ownership. Gone are the teletype machine and the black rotary telephone. Gone are the heavy safe with unused airline tickets, and the metal plates with the names of every airline embossed on them. Gone is Hanns’ tray of index cards with client information.
But what has not changed is our commitment to quality. We still strive to take care of every detail to ensure a fun, meaningful, and memorable experience on every tour. We survived many crises by maintaining our high standards.
Overcoming Crises with Confidence
9/11 was my first crisis, nine months after I bought the company. I wondered how we would keep the doors open. Happily, Dr. Don Butterfield so enjoyed his Egypt tour with Hanns and me that he chartered the ss Karim for February 2002. He spent an unforgettable birthday week with 20 of his closest friends.
Later in 2002, I purchased Alyson Adventures from Sasha Alyson, another gay travel pioneer. Travelers wanting to cycle, hike, raft, kayak, and go Scuba diving weren’t worried about getting on a plane after 9/11. The Alyson Adventures tours kept us going until high-end travel resumed.
2008 brought the Great Recession and 2020 brought us all the effects of COVID-19. In both cases, we reduced staff and downsized our office. But even with these crises impacting travel we have maintained our tour standards.
Maintaining Quality and Value despite Challenges
Other companies respond to financial challenges by quietly reducing value while keeping the same prices. (Can you actually still buy a “half-gallon” of milk or ice cream?) HE Travel’s commitment is to go in the opposite direction. Even in hard times, I ask our tour directors to find unique opportunities to enhance the tour, even if it costs us some money.
My favorite bakery as a kid always gave us a “baker’s dozen” 13 doughnuts or pastries. In New Orleans, I learned the concept of “lagniappe” (pronounced “lanny-yap”). Merchants give a little something extra in gratitude for a purchase. (The term originated in the Quechua language of the Incas, brought to Louisiana by the Spanish.) My “greengrocer” (vegetable seller) in Tokyo always added a surprise vegetable or two that I would discover when I got home.
My HE Travel colleagues and I feel that same gratitude to all of you who read our newsletters and blogs, whether you have traveled with us yet or not. As our Lagniappe for helping us prepare for the next half-century of gay travel, we are offering special discounts for all new reservations during January 2022, our Customer Appreciation Month. We hope you will accept our lagniappe and reserve a 2022 tour. The world is waiting for us!