Atlantis Events acquires RSVP Vacations

Combination creates formidable presence in gay travel market

By Kenneth Kiesnoski

Gay cruise and vacation purveyor Atlantis Events has acquired RSVP Vacations, its longtime main competitor in the fast-growing LGBT, or lesbian-gay-bisexual-transgender, travel sector.

Officials at West Hollywood, Calif.-based Atlantis Events said the company plans to maintain RSVP Vacations -- which, founded in 1985, is credited with originating the modern all-gay cruise concept -- as a distinct brand. RSVP, which will maintain its separate headquarters in Minneapolis, will be headed by new president Charlie Rounds, a former co-owner of the company.

"The two companies are stronger together than they are apart, and taken together demonstrate the strength and vitality of the gay travel market," said Rich Campbell, CEO of Atlantis Events.

Atlantis charters entire cruise ships and al-inclusive resorts for the use of its LGBT clientele. This year, the company hosted some 20,000 clients on 11 "events," meaning chartered cruises or packaged resort stays.

Once-strong RSVP, meanwhile, has seen both its offerings and market share dwindle. While destinations offered in 2007 included the Caribbean, the Mediterranean, central Europe and even an all-gay transatlantic crossing on Cunard's Queen Mary 2, the company's trip roster for 2008 consists of just three sailings, to Barbados, the western Caribbean and Tahiti. However, Atlantis officials said RSVP will roll out more new product in "the very near future."

RSVP had been acquired just last year for a reported $10 million by San Francisco-based media firm PlanetOut Inc., publisher of Web site Gay.com and LGBT magazines the Advocate, Out and The OutTraveler.

For his part, Rounds in a statement described the acquisition as "a great opportunity for RSVP to truly differentiate our vacations from Atlantis vacations and to better serve our very distinct customers."

While both firms offered similar cruise and vacation product, in gay travel circles Atlantis has often been thought to appeal to a more upscale, single and "party-oriented" all-gay-male demographic. RSVP, meanwhile -- tagged with a stodgier image that PlanetOut was working hard to update -- was held to attract a greater number of older, partnered and/or more diverse vacationers.

To contact Destinations editor Kenneth Kiesnoski, send e-mail to kkiesnoski@travelweekly.com.

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