Gay vacation companies consolidate, as Atlantis buys RSVP

By Kenneth Kiesnoski

Gay cruise and vacation purveyor Atlantis Events acquired RSVP Vacations, a longtime competitor. Financial terms were not disclosed.

Officials at West Hollywood, Calif.-based Atlantis Events said the company planned to maintain RSVP Vacations as a distinct brand. RSVP will maintain separate headquarters in Minneapolis and 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 all-inclusive resorts. This year, the company hosted 11 events and about 20,000 clients.

Once-strong RSVP, meanwhile, has seen its products and market share dwindle. While RSVP's destinations in 2007 included the Caribbean, the Mediterranean, central Europe and an all-gay transatlantic crossing on Cunard's Queen Mary 2, the company is offering just three sailings in 2008: to Barbados, the western Caribbean and Tahiti.

However, Atlantis officials said RSVP would roll out more all-gay cruises in "the very near future." At least one new destination for 2008 should be announced by Oct. 31, according to Campbell.

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

Rounds 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 companies offer similar products, in gay travel circles Atlantis has been considered more appealing to young, single, gay men who spend money on upscale vacations.

RSVP, tagged with a somewhat stodgier image that PlanetOut was working hard to update, was known to attract a greater number of older, partnered and more diverse vacationers, including more women.

While Atlantis and RSVP will at times compete for a share of the same demographic -- gay men in their 30s looking for a chartered winter cruise to the Caribbean, for example -- the brands will work to differentiate products and source markets. For example, Atlantis will probably retain a monopoly on all-inclusive stays at beach resorts, while RSVP will specialize in European river cruises.

Each brand will also continue to charter different cruise lines. Atlantis works mainly with Royal Caribbean and Celebrity, while RSVP sails with Star Clipper, Holland America and Princess.

Rounds, a former travel agent, said RSVP -- whose founder, Kevin Mossier, was also an agent -- would turn to retailers to rebuild market share under the new ownership. "On our Web site it's going to say quite prominently, 'Call your agent,' " he said.

Many prospective clients trying to book directly with RSVP will be redirected to agents where and when possible, Rounds added.

"We have to be in the direct-booking business, but our No. 1 sales focus will always be the travel agent -- and that's not a line," said Rounds. "We were built out of an agency and the agencies built this business. We need them to grow this business back. We can't do it without them."

RSVP, which was founded in 1985, is credited by many with originating today's all-gay cruise concept.

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

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