OUTstanding Travel

Peretz organizes private and group tours of countries around the Mediterranean, all in the service of providing an experience that is comfortable and supportive for gay tourists.

By REBECCA ARATEN
July 25, 2019 14:03
OUTstanding Travel

Nadav Peretz crouches in front of an OUTstanding tour group, as they bring pride to the Dead Sea. (photo credit: THOMAS WEISS)

While Knesset members argue how to empower the LGBT community and wonder how to forge strong international relations, Nadav Peretz has already figured out how to do both at once. As founder of OUTstanding Travel, a specialty tour company that arranges trips to the Middle East for gay people, Peretz has not only shown his clients a Jerusalem of gold – he has shown them a country painted in vibrant rainbow hues.
Peretz organizes private and group tours of countries around the Mediterranean, all in the service of providing an experience that is comfortable and supportive for gay tourists. He pointed out that members of the gay community tend to be avid travelers and journey across the globe at higher rates than straight people – according to the 2009 Annual Gay and Lesbian Tourism Study, 83% of US lesbians and gay men own updated passports, as opposed to 34% of adult citizens.
However, Peretz noticed that some travelers were apprehensive about visiting Israel and the Middle East as a whole. “When I go abroad, I’ve learned that so many people are so ignorant about Israel and they are afraid to come,” he said. He decided to break through that shell of fear by bringing people to see “the beautiful places of Israel: the people, the culture, the history.”
Peretz’s passion for welcoming travelers to Israel is one that has followed him throughout his life – he was involved in Birthright planning during its early days, and for his military service, he oversaw the IDF’s relationship with the Jewish Federation. The trips that he led for Federation members fed his desire to build bridges between Israel and the rest of the globe. “This is something that always was with me, to connect American Jews and Jews in general to Israel,” he said.
Peretz linked his gay identity to his love for promoting travel by founding OUTstanding Travel and tailoring the travel experience to the gay community. Now in its sixth year, the company services hundreds of new clients each year, most of them coming from North America. The travelers have a whole range of identities and affiliations: Jews, LGBT church groups, straight allies and celebrities have all had journeyed through Israel with OUTstanding travel.
Israel is only one stop on some of these tours, though, as OUTstanding Travel organizes gay-friendly trips to Jordan, Egypt, Italy, Greece and Spain. The company has strung together a web of partnerships in all these different countries, to ensure that wherever the travelers go, they meet support and not homophobia. When the couples return to their hotel rooms after a long day, television screens emblazoned with “Welcome Mr. and Mr.” greet them.
“Every driver that takes them around Israel, or tour guides – they’re all very gay friendly, open-minded,” Peretz said. “Not even one second do they feel uncomfortable or don’t belong.” He referred to this as the “OUTstanding bubble.”
Martin Gould, who traveled through Israel with OUTstanding Travel’s tours, emphasized that OUTstanding and Peretz provided real support during his travels, going “far above and beyond the call of duty.” When Gould lost track of one of his medications while traveling, Peretz found a doctor who could help him and even went to the hospital himself to pick up the medication. Gould found that he did not experience any sort of discrimination whatsoever during his time in Israel, and he added that he has never faced any during his travels to Israel.

PERETZ EXPLAINED that many people in the travel industry embrace gay visitors, as gay tourists are usually willing to spend more than their straight counterparts. The clients he’s worked with expect more from a hotel – impeccable service and decadent dinners – but they will also be more generous with expenses. “It’s a client that every hotel, every supplier wants to have,” Peretz said.
But OUTstanding Travel knows that its clients are looking to get more than just a high-end hotel experience out of their travels. “The gay client, like any client, he wants to see the highlights of Israel,” according to Peretz. “It doesn’t have to do with being gay or seeing gay sights.”
The company brings clients to classic tourist destinations such as the Dead Sea and the Western Wall, although it also points them towards hot spots for LGBT nightlife in different cities, particularly in Tel Aviv.
It had been 30 years since Gould had last been to Israel when he planned his trip through OUTstanding, and he had heard that “the gay scene had exploded in Tel Aviv.” With OUTstanding’s guidance, he was able to see how “positive and celebrated” gay culture really was there.
“OUTstanding presents a very positive, upbeat and encouraging outlook of the gay side of Israel with their specialized tour programs, exceptional gay guides and thorough knowledge of local gay establishments to recommend,” according to Gould.
Travelers live it up in the night clubs, while also learning from their tour guides about the history and politics of LGBT rights in the State of Israel. Tourists are interested in learning “how it is to be gay in Israel” and ask questions about the relationship between the laws and the open-mindedness of the state. According to Peretz, travelers often notice a tension between Tel Aviv’s gay scene and the country’s lack of legal recognition for same-sex marriages. Some of Peretz’s past clients felt a strong bond to the gay rights organizations in Israel and continued to support them financially from afar.
Other clients experienced a connection to the history of the state, and particularly to its role in the historic Jewish struggle against persecution. “They see [Jews] as a persecuted people that suffered for hundreds and hundreds of years all around the world,” Peretz said. “I think they feel really connected to us.”
Some of the travelers continue to spread support for Israel in their hometowns, because of the experiences that they had while visiting. “They really go back home with a very positive feeling about Israel, and they feel like they made friends here,” Peretz said, calling his clients “the best ambassadors for Israel.” For many of them, he explained, Israel support is rare in their circles.
“They come and go back, and they tell their friends and family... It’s really an amazing thing,” he said. ■

For more information: outstandingtravel.com.


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