Puerto Vallarta: How to Preserve and Promote Gay Paradise
It's a hot, steamy night in the Zona Romantica, the aptly named neighborhood that is ground zero for LGBT life in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico.
The streets, the sidewalks, the clubs and the cabarets are all packed to the rafters with laughing, exuberant people. It's one of those perfect moments that feel like anything is possible -- and in the Romantic Zone, it is. Naked pool parties? Check. A cabaret scene to rival anything found in almost any major city? It's here.
So are gorgeous boutique hotels catering to LGBT travelers -- and even more gorgeous go-go boys doing the same -- plus bars, restaurants and saunas. Meanwhile, there are also LGBT cruises and adventure, food and bar tours all available for the asking in PV, as it's affectionately known -- along with some of the finest gay beaches in the world.
Going Gay in a Big Way
A gay destination for decades, Puerto Vallarta has become the LGBT destination as of late. LGBT tourists now represent as much as 20 percent of the city's international visitors, double that of the country as a whole, which welcomed 2.9 million LGBT travelers in 2016. Officials have debuted a smart set of initiatives this year, designed to make sure the good times keep rolling.
This month the Mexico Tourism Board and Mexico's Ministry of Tourism offered "Certified Member LGBT," a one-day training program for local businesses, including hotel and tour operators. Sponsored by the Puerto Vallarta Tourism Board, the initiative's intent was to strengthen LGBT offerings in the city.
There's also a new Office of Gender Equality now open in the Gayborhood, inaugurated by the city to address LGBT issues and provide a safe space for those in the community. Puerta Vallarta's mayor, Arturo Dávalos Peña, touted it as an example of the city's ongoing commitment to LGBT residents and travelers, which include "the establishment of same-sex marriages that became legal in March of last year."
But as welcoming as PV is, there is room for improvement. To keep up with -- and keep going -- the surging demand from LGBT visitors, some believe Puerta Vallarta is going to need more assistance from big business and local government.
Progress, Not Perfection
"I would like to see more sponsorship and involvement from Mexican corporations," says Tim Wilson, who founded GAYPV Magazine in 2006, about a year after he moved to Puerto Vallarta. "I am referring to brands that are supported by the LGBT community but never give anything in return. Modelo, Absolute, Stoli, Corona, Telmex, Oxxo, Aeromexico, etc. do absolutely nothing to support the LGBT community in Puerto Vallarta. It is time for their support! I don't necessarily want Pride to become a corporate showcase, but personally, I would like to see Mexican corporations give back to the LGBT community for events, community/health issues and funding. Don't be fooled, the Mexican economy is the 12th largest, and one of the richest persons in the world is Mexican."
According to Wilson, back in the day, Puerto Vallarta tourism wasn't exactly open to the presence of gay tourism, much less marketing to it. But after breaking the ice in 2007 by publishing an interview in GAYPV Magazine with the director of tourism, Wilson, along with other business owners, approached officials with the idea of starting a Pride festival in the city.
In 2013, that dream became a reality. The fifth consecutive Vallarta Pride is being held from May 21 to the 28 this year; ACT LGBT A.C., the latest incarnation of the business association Wilson and others in the community founded, is still going strong. But still, Wilson believes, there is more to do.
"On the local level," Wilson adds, "I would like to see more marketing of PV as a gay destination. We have many gay-friendly businesses, but we also have so many gay-owned and -operated businesses, and more recognition of this is needed. The tourism board has done some international promotion outside of PV, like join the International Gay and Lesbian Travel Association (IGLTA) and sponsor gay travel conferences, but our hope is to get more funding for LGBT press trips and involvement in local events. So we are happy progress has definitely been made. We started from silence so now we are getting them slowly involved."
Puerto Vallarta's evolution as Mexico's gay mecca may not be perfect, but with dedicated LGBT advocates and influencers on the ground, it continues to be the "it" spot for fun in the sun.