Amigos Tours aims for gay market By Mark Chesnut / June 26, 2001 Share 1 -- ormer travel agent Ray Modesto is on a mission to promote gay and lesbian travel to the Dominican Republic. The sales and marketing director of New York-based Amigos Tours said he is confident the island is ripe for this niche market."We really want to change the image of the Dominican Republic with the gay community," Modesto said, adding that his firm relies on gay and lesbian clients for about 65% of its business.Modesto, a native Dominican, said his motivation to promote the destination to gay and lesbian travelers came from personal experience as well as his background as an agent."Four years ago, my boyfriend and I wanted to go somewhere to celebrate our anniversary," he said. "And I thought, what better than to take him to my country and meet my family?"After searching the Internet, Modesto found that "nobody knew anything about gay-friendly accommodations [on the island]. But I was sure I wasn't the only person interested in gay travel to the Dominican Republic."When Amigos Tours began operations in February 2000, Modesto used his agent skills to put together gay-specific tour packages and build a roster of gay-friendly hotels.There are no openly gay-owned hotels in the Dominican Republic, he said, but "right now, we represent over 65 hotels, from bed-and-breakfasts to inclusives."Modesto said that Amigos Tours' gay-specific plans differ from "mainstream" packages."We offer our clients a gay-friendly environment," he said. "In a way we have trained [suppliers], made them more sensitive about dealing with gay and lesbian travelers."In addition, packages include the services of a gay tour guide and visits to gay-friendly businesses in the capital of Santo Domingo. Complimentary passes to local nightclubs also are often included.Still, Modesto said many of the main selling points for this destination are attractions that appeal to any traveler regardless of sexual orientation."There are beaches as well as white-water rafting, camping and scuba diving," he said.And experiencing such attractions in a gay-friendly environment, Modesto said, can make the trip especially enjoyable.To promote his firm, Modesto attends gay and lesbian travel expos as well as mainstream events like the Dominican Annual Tourism Exchange.Plans call for developing a section of the company's Web site, at www.amigostours.com, to offer more information to gay and lesbian travelers, including listings of gay-friendly properties, attractions and events.