05/02/2012 03:43 EDT | Updated 07/02/2012 05:12 EDT

Why I Prefer a Gay Travel Planner

A recent survey said LGBT travelers are 60 per cent more likely to plan their own travel using mainstream travel websites than a gay planner. I once booked a four-star "gay-friendly" resort in Cancun from a major mainstream operator only to find out the hotel was uncomfortable with me throwing a "gay" party with at their resort.

Parades, parties, dancing, costumes. It's here! It's Pride season! And for many LGBT travelers, the next few months mark the highlight of the calendar year.

According to Travel Gay Canada, a leading global authority in the LGBT tourism market, when it comes to planning Pride trips and overall travel, the North American LGBT community spends an estimated $70 billion in travel.

While Pride is all about having fun, fully enjoying your trip is going to require some planning beforehand. The last thing you need is to find that all the hotel rooms in Toronto or Vancouver or New York or Sydney are gone.

"Planning to attend a Pride celebration in a major city should begin five to six months prior, with booking your hotel accommodation. If you're traveling by air, get your chosen flight dates and times confirmed well in advance to get the best deals and ideal accommodations," says Maynard Olson, sales manager at tour operator

But timing aside, if you've settled on your Pride destination, where do you go to begin that planning? Despite readily available advice from travel professionals, we in the LGBT community often prefer to trust our own instincts when navigating through all the booking options, without the help of travel experts, either gay or straight.

In fact, in the latest travel survey done by Community Marketing, LGBT travelers are 60 per cent more likely to plan their own travel using mainstream city-specific travel websites than a gay planner.

Now there's nothing wrong with that, especially these days when the tourism boards of cities and countries around the world are increasingly eager to court LGBT travelers and to add LGBT-specific web pages to their sites. but I prefer dealing with gay travel experts.

The advantages of booking with a gay planner is his/her first had knowledge of how gay-friendly or hostile a destination may be. Gay planners typically experience the destination themselves and receive feedback from their clients. The last thing they want is to is send people to places that are not safe.

I once booked a four-star resort in Cancun from the "gay-friendly" options off a major mainstream tour operator to find out afterwords the hotel was happy to have me but was uncomfortable with having me throw a my own pride themed gay party for myself and other gay hotel guests. In fact, they did not allow it. Needless to say, I went elsewhere, but not without asking a local gay travel expert in the area first.

But while gay travel is moving into the mainstream, you still need to be careful. To optimize your chances of experiencing an ideal gay-friendly holiday, I suggest booking with tourism boards and operators that are members of gay travel associations like Travel Gay Canada or the International Gay and Lesbian Travel Association (IGLTA). Both organizations ensure their mainstream tourism industry partners are trained and prepared to serve the needs of LGBT travelers.

"Nowadays we're lucky to have numerous tourism boards catering to the gay market by highlighting gay-specific travel packages, especially around Pride," says Darrell Schuurman, the executive director of Travel Gay Canada. "To make sure you get the best experience, I suggest checking that the accommodations they offer are associated with a LGBT-friendly accreditation program such as TAG Approved hotels and attractions."

TAG qualifies travel businesses based not only on their desire for gay travel revenues, but on their employment policies, services and support returned to the LGBT community. Once businesses and tourism boards are approved, they post the TAG icon on their websites to let LGBT travelers know of their support. The same goes for IGLTA and Travel Gay Canada who ensure their logos are shown on all their partners' websites.

However, if you're bent on using you're own travel gaydar and want book it alone, I suggest calling the hotel concierge you're considering and grilling them with some basic questions: Where is the nearest gay village? What are some of the gay bars in the area? What gay-friendly restaurants do your recommend? It's their job to have multiple answers for each. If they don't, trust me, keep looking. Happy Pride and safe travels!