Time Out talk to Ricky Wang, the man behind GLOWtravel, about the rewards and risks of catering to China's newly emerging queer demographic
So, how did GLOWtravel get
I was born and raised in Beijing,
and after graduation I worked here
as an accountant. I came out to my
parents four years ago. They are very
supportive and I feel like one of the
more blessed [gay people] in China.
At the time, I didn’t like my job at
all, so I took an MBA in Beijing and
Paris, and when I got back I started
GLOWtravel right away.
All by yourself?
With my [straight] business partner,
who’s also my best friend. We’ve
known each other for 15 years.
He’s in charge of handling other
travel agencies, logistics and other
Does he find it challenging,
serving an all-gay client base?
He doesn’t see GLOWtravel as
anything but an ordinary business.
But sometimes, when he’s been
working the hotline, a caller has
asked him straight away: ‘So, are
you gay?’ When he replies that he
isn’t, it seems that their level of trust
suddenly drops. That happens a lot.
Was there an experience you
had as a tourist that inspired
you to establish a travel agency specifically serving an LGBT
I was on a tour of South Korea with
my ex-boyfriend. There were a lot
of old ladies on the tour who kept
asking us what our
‘relationship’ was. We
had to pretend we were
cousins. That gave me
the idea for organising
all-gay group trips.
I want to help other
people experience how
open other countries
can be, to help them feel
good about themselves.
Bali, Thailand, South
Korea – that’s just the start. I want
to take people to Barcelona, to San
Francisco, to LA.
Are you mainly focusing on
Asia-based travel at the
It’s not necessarily the
most gay-friendly of regions.
Yes, there are some risks, but
we’re not going to Singapore to get
spanked! [Singapore retains antigay
statutes that mandate corporal
punishment for offenders.] We are
also currently avoiding destinations
in mainland China, because we
don’t want to get too involved with
local tourism. Maybe Taipei. We also want to do more events-based tours – Songkran, for example.
I really want to do something
for Sydney Mardi Gras, or Pride
Barcelona. I also want to introduce
Chinese people to gay cruises,
especially in the US.
Is your focus on
That was the idea
to start with, but
actually there are
lots of gay people
who want to travel
we’ve started to
offer bespoke travel
services. It’s funny, I thought I
knew the customer, because
I’m gay. Now I don’t really feel I
understand the customer at all!
A lot of people are nothing like
me, and it’s these people whose
needs I have to understand. I
just came back from Bangkok.
A lot of people – especially
50-plus gay guys, often married
with kids – want to go there for
sex. That’s something I didn’t
You didn’t think people
went to Bangkok for sex?
I mean as the main focus of
a trip. Just like shopping at outlet stores, or cosmetic surgery
– there are all kinds of reasons
Chinese people travel. I only used
to think about the ‘fun’ part – river
rafting, cooking classes and other
interesting activities, but there are
other needs that LGBT travellers
need fulfilled. That’s what I’ve been
Would you want to get involved
in those areas? Sex tourism and
Not sex tourism, no. We won’t take
customers to these places, but we
can help them in terms of general
information. There is only a certain
number of gay people, it’s a very
niche market, and we can’t choose
who we want to serve. But in the
learning process I’ve got to know so
many different people. For example,
Bali has a clothing-optional gay
resort, called Spartacus. I met the
owners, an Australian couple, and
they’re really friendly. It was such an
honour to get to know about them
and their story – we shared a lot.
Right now your company seems
mainly focused on gay men. Do
you want to offer services to
more female customers?
I really, really do. I’m so keen to
attract bi and lesbian travellers, but
I feel that to do that, I need a lesbian
partner. None of our current staff
understand that particular market.
We do have girls who come along
on our tours, it’s just a holiday, after
all. The only people we’re not really
catering to are straight customers.
There’s demand for gay package
holidays from straight people?
Oh, yes! A lot are straight allies, who
are very supportive, but we have to
protect the privacy of our customers.
That’s my top priority.
GLOWtravel organises tours and
individual packages from around
8,000RMB to destinations across
Asia and the Pacific. For more
details, go to glowtravel.com.cn.