PHUKET, Thailand, Nov 6 (AFP) -
Thousands of people filled a sprawling resort compound on
Thailand's holiday isle of Phuket on Sunday, the final day of an
international gay festival banned by Singapore but welcomed
The Nation party attracted some 2,000
revellers, about one-quarter as many people as the event last
year in Singapore, for three days of music and dancing.
Billed as an event "empowering gay
Asia," the party attracted people from across the continent, as
well from Australia, Europe and the United States -- all welcome
arrivals at beachfront hotels still working to finish rebuilding
from the December 26 tsunami which killed more than 2,400
tourists last year.
"It's for a good cause. It supports
gay Asian pride," said Adrian Ho, 32, a travel agent from Los
Angeles who flew here specifically for the party where revellers
in bathing suits have spent their days under the sun at the pool
or the beach before dancing the night away.
"It's still more conservative here,"
he said. "I think that people here are not as vocal as they are
in the States."
"Given that it's only the fifth year
here, maybe it takes time to build," he said, referring to the
relatively small crowd compared to similar events in Europe or
The Nation party, organized by the gay
website Fridae.com, began five years ago in Singapore. But in
June, police in the city-state said they had turned down an
application for this year's event, saying it was "contrary to
Organizers found a new home for it in
Thailand, which was keen to lure tourists back to Phuket after
the tsunami, and where authorities have become increasingly
aware of the value of gay tourists.
"We have an extremely good working
relationship with the businesses in Phuket and the local
municipal government of Kata-Karon," Fridae.com's chief
executive Stuart Koe said.
"At all times, we have been told that
gay people are treated no differently from anyone else, and we
deeply feel welcome by the people of Thailand," he said.
Peter Semone, vice president of the
Pacific Asia Travel Association, said the party had filled
several hotels in Phuket on the first weekend of high season,
and that gay tourists have become an increasingly attractive
niche market for Thailand.
"The gay sector is just another market
segment that fits in well in Thailand because Thais have a
reputation for being broad-minded, tolerant and fun-loving. In
addition, the gay sector is relatively high-yield," he said.
Organizers declined to say exactly how
high-yield the party was, but the Tourism Authority of Thailand
(TAT) said that generally, gay tourists are a growing segment of
the country's tourism market.
"TAT considers gays and lesbians as
the new marketing target which increases in number year by year.
Most of them come from the US," spokesman Tanes Petsuwan said.
Jojo Toraz, 39, a flight attendant
from Hong Kong who came to Phuket for the party, said Thailand
seemed more relaxed in its attitudes than other countries in the
region, even if gays remain on the fringes of society.
"They still have this homophobia thing
in Singapore. Hong Kong is the same way. They harass us, they
have frequent raids" on gay bars, he said.
Rhett Pickering, 38, of Hong Kong,
said he thought the hotels and restaurants at Phuket were
pleased with the influx of gay tourism business, even if many
people here were somewhat wide-eyed.
"They're learning about the value of
the gay dollar this weekend," he said.