HeTravel.com History (as of May 2020)
It was in September of 2010 that Philip Sheldon, the President of our Parent Company Hanns Ebensten Travel Inc., met Zachary Moses, the current CEO of HeTravel.com. They were in Key West, Florida that day. Phil was busy feeding a stray cat in his driveway, when Zach (Phil’s brand-new neighbor) suddenly exploded out the front door of his house across the street. Zach was wearing only a kitchen towel and dragging Mosca, his actively puking Border Collie, out onto the front strip. “Hi, I’m your new neighbor, sorry for the towel, my dog was puking on my new rug,” Zach yelled to Phil. Phil found nothing strange about this situation and the two hit it off, chatting on the front walk. Only in Key West is this sort of chance encounter between neighbors a completely normal, and daily routine. The town’s motto is Close to Perfect, Far from Normal. The rest is history….
Hanns Ebensten led a tour group of parents with children down the Grand Canyon in 1971. Afterward he said, “Oh yes, the Canyon was delightful, but wouldn’t it have been extraordinary to have spent that time with a congenial group of gay men, instead of all these parents who are all clearly miserable trying to keep these children under control?”
BOOM! Our first travel shop was opened in 1972. We originally opened in New York City, when it was still illegal to be openly gay in most of America. Yes, LGBTQ+ rights were not common back then. In-fact, the New Yorker printed a cover of Hanns Ebensten, making fun of him and his silly little company for queers and misfit criminals. New York was just not ready for the gay movement yet, remember the Stonewall Riots? Hanns was there, he sure remembered. He’d had enough of New York, and he moved the company to Key West, which was a total gay Mecca before the aids crisis in the 1980’s. The island is still a little gay hotspot today, and all the old queens remember the grand old days of Hanns and his white linen suits.
Did you know that in 1978 Pan American airlines had the nerve to famously refuse one of our groups access to their planes? They stated, “we won’t transport criminals across international borders.” Hanns went up the street and switched our business to American Airlines. We all know what happened to Pan Am Airlines, right? Totally defunct. Karma. An early taste of the repercussions that comes from refusing service to the gay community.
In 2004, the International LGBTQ+ Travel Association (IGLTA), renamed their Hall of Fame award after Hanns. Each year an altruistic individual or company receives the Hanns Ebensten Hall of Fame Award. It goes to those who did the most to make the world a safer place for LGBTQ+ travelers. Hanns passed away in 2006, however, he lives on in the movement he created and is often referred to as the “Father of Gay Travel.”
Originally all of Hann’s tours were for “Discerning Gentlemen,” Hanns’s code word for gay men. However, in 2003, under the direction of Philip Sheldon, successor to Hanns and current President of Hanns Ebensten Travel Inc., they acquired Alyson Adventures, an LGBTQ+ adventure travel company founded by Sasha Alyson. The brands remained separate, but now offering unique adventure tours for gay men, lesbians and open-minded friends and family to the Hann’s Ebensten customer base. All Alyson tours were open to anyone who enjoyed tours with a gay flair! Over several years, Phil also began opening many of Hanns Ebensten Classic tours to the entire LGBTQ+ spectrum.
Our current CEO, Zachary Moses began merging the brands together publicly in 2011 and relaunched HeTravel.com in 2013 with an entirely new DBA of Hanns Ebensten Travel Inc. The new brand was easier to remember and allowed customers a one stop shop for both Adventure and Cultural tours for the LGBTQ community. This was also when we introduced the Gay Travel Blog, helping HE Travel to come out of its own closet and quit using code words like “Discerning Gay Gentlemen.”
In late 2014 Out Quest Global Adventures (formerly Out West Global Adventures) joined the HE Travel family. HE Travel now carries on the traditions of founders Aaron Kampfe and David Heinzen, and more recently Ron Wilcoxson.
Our Adventure division (previously known as Alyson Adventures) was founded by Sasha Alyson in 1995, after he sold his pioneering publishing company, Alyson Publications. Alyson sought to break stereotypes while enhancing travel experiences for his friends and their loved ones.
In 2016 we began the relocation process and moved the company headquarters to Salt Lake City, Utah. The goal of this? To take HeTravel.com to the heart of one of the most conservative states in the union. Zachary grew up in Salt Lake City, home to the youngest openly LGBTQ+ workforce in the country. Zach felt that by bringing the company to his home state, HeTravel.com could be a beacon of hope for this huge population of LGBTQ youth, who need opportunities to see the world and have workplaces without discrimination.
In 2017, we introduced the concept of stepping back into your travel memories with our Virtual Reality 360 Travel Galleries, and in 2020, trapped in a Corona Virus Quarantine we’ve finally launched our latest and greatest website. Codenamed CatCity, this colorful new version of our site will add just the right amount of pizzazz to your daydreaming while at the office, at leisure or in general quarantine. Aren’t you ready for a vacation or holiday?
A note on our adventure tours: Our adventure itineraries are active vacations, full of options and opportunities. On our biking trips, for example, you can follow our suggested route with the group; take the same path at your own pace; or venture off on your own to explore uncharted territory. The active nature of our trips makes it easy to get to know others in the group — and to make new friends in the areas we pass through.
If you want a well-organized group tour to enjoy the history and culture of a destination without having to work too hard, we recommend our HE Travel Classic tours. And if you find it invigorating to bike along a country road, to stop and soak your feet in a stream, or to hike along a mountain trail with a friend, not knowing what’s just around the corner, then give our adventure tours a try. Find out why Out & About, the widely respected online gay travel newsletter, gave us their Editor’s Choice award for Adventure Travel, and why OutTraveler Magazine named us Gay Tour Operator of the Year.