Uwern Jong is the Editor-in-Chief of the world’s leading luxury and experiential travel journal for gay men, OutThere magazine. Here he shares with us his views on the luxury travel world and how his career started and is flourishing in this fast-paced sector.
Tell us a bit about yourself and OutThere Magazine.
Armed with a passion for luxury travel, I co-founded OutThere magazine back in 2013, and have been growing it ever since, in my capacity of Editor-in-Chief. OutThere is now the world’s leading luxury and experiential travel journal for gay men of distinction, in over 20 countries worldwide. We’re proud to be an internationally recognized, award-winning magazine, but more so to deliver sublime travel inspiration to our unique, affluent and discerning community. We specialize in curating opinion-leading content, from in-depth, first person essays on the world’s most amazing experiences – taking our readers on journeys that extend beyond the mainstream – to celebrating global cultural expressions and the people responsible for making the OutThere world so fabulous.
How did you come up with the idea for OutThere magazine?
There was really a gap in the market, one that we recognized very early on. Publications for our community of readers were very mainstream, no one seemed to focus on the fact that our audience was particularly high net worth, had a large disposable income and had a high propensity to travel, particularly at the luxury and designer end of the travel market (and were doing so). Yet LGBTQ consumers worldwide have a spending power greater than that of a country like Germany and it is a travel market that has consistently grown at 8% per year, 4.7% more than that of the mainstream. There wasn’t really anything ‘out there’ that specifically met their needs, or helped to inspire them. Also luxury travel magazines heavily featured straight women at the centre of the decision making process – even today, if you look at the features and ads, you’ll notice that. They also heavily portrayed a hetero-normative concept of romance and honeymoons. We felt that this wasn’t relevant in the 21st century anymore, let alone to what is essentially a very valuable part of the luxury travel market. Plus, the needs of a gay traveller is different to that of a heterosexual one – in that a need for heightened safety, understanding, discretion and sensitivity is required – but it is not always delivered at a product level.
So my business partner and Creative Director, Martin Perry and I set out to create something that appealed to gay luxury travellers, road testing the high-end properties and products across the world that would suit our discerning audience. It has been hard, but rewarding work – and it has proven to be a hit. This year, we have gone from being a bi-annual coffee-table book, to becoming a quarterly publication, effectively doubling our readership – which is testament to our success, particularly in a day and age where print magazines are closing down left, right and centre. Our travel inspiration portal at www.OutThere.travel has also grown in notoriety.
We’re also proud to be a magazine that heterosexual readers are interacting with, from solo female luxe travellers, to professional single parent families. They like the fact that we’ve gone under the skin of luxury travel, to delve deep into destinations and hotels that go beyond to deliver something truly amazing, but have also thought about the more specific needs of their guests.
What attracted you to the luxury travel sector in the first place? Have you always worked in the sector?
I’ve always had a penchant for luxury travel, ever since I was a child. My father is an architect and some of his portfolio of work include luxury hotels and resorts. Whenever he was researching concepts, I’d get to travel with him – mainly throughout Asia, where the luxury goes much further than in most other places around the world. There I experienced, tasted and saw what some of the world’s best places to stay were doing and developed an understanding for the subtle differences that made certain places stand out. Also, in my previous life as a brand marketer, I worked agency-side with luxury brands, high-end properties, private airlines and hotels too and I crafted a career in engaging with those who can afford it. My specialism was getting in touch with hard-to-reach, affluent consumers who were not part of the traditional marketing mix, working to create exposure for brands who had really strict, luxury brand values. It means I truly understand the business of luxury and what one had to do as someone that offers it. Add that to my love for travel and discovering new things, ending up in luxury publishing was a natural evolution.
Luxury can mean different things. How would you define luxury?
The basic definition of luxury is the opportunity to do something that you can’t usually access in your everyday life. And yes, this is relative and it doesn’t have to be expensive. Plus luxury to one person is wholly different to another. Personally, spending time with family and friends is luxury to me, as someone that’s constantly on the go. Eating a meal cooked by my mother tops that list too. However in my work, luxury obviously means something different. It means experiences where you are lavished upon, in beautiful settings or concepts that are way outside the ordinary; accessing rare or once in a lifetime experiences that distinguish themselves from the usual. It means turning left on a plane, or not having to share one with anyone else. It means a brand truly going out of their way to ensure that something has been tailored exactly to an individuals needs and wants. It means having everything done for you so you don’t have to even think about it. It means happiness, self validation, the ultimate treat. It means broadening horizons. It means dreams coming true.
What destination would you recommend for fellow gay travellers looking for the best in luxury?
Thailand springs immediately to mind – it offers up some amazing opportunities. Beyond the mainstream there are some hidden experiences and retreats that are only for those in the know and with rife competition between hotels, the very best are creating some sublime travel experiences. Plus it’s safe and accepting of LGBTQ travellers.
Bhutan is truly amazing and life changing. Parts of India and Sri Lanka have blown my mind, again some of the experiences you get there just blow similar concepts in other countries out of the water. Safaris in South Africa are hotting up. Luxury live-aboards in the Galapagos are once-in-a-lifetime. Yachting in the Indonesian Spice Islands are spectacular. And I have recently developed a deep love for Luang Prabang. There are just so many fabulous places in the world to visit.
Are there any places you haven’t visited yet that are on your bucket list and why?
Yes, so much world, so little me. I want to see more of Latin America – I find it all so fascinating. I also need to get to the Philippines and New Zealand. I also want to see more of the South Pacific. Then there are so many of the truly private destinations and concepts – islands, lodges and hotels, boats, trains that are pushing the boundaries of travel as we know it. I want to see it all. As I write this, I’m enroute to the Turks and Caicos to check this British outpost off my bucket list.
When recommending a hotel or resort, what do you look for?
To me, a resort is only as good as its people, so I’m very service led when it comes to making recommendations. You can have the most beautiful hotel, but if its people aren’t on-point, well trained or naturally welcoming then you have a problem. And you’ll be surprised how many aren’t. As a magazine for gay travellers, there are of course some basics we look for – in a property’s or destination’s welcomeness to the LGBTQ community, their clientele and level of discretion. But at the luxury end of it all, these basics are generally covered, so I do look for things that makes a property stand out, service that goes above and beyond, a unique ethos perhaps, or an experiential offering with a wow-factor beyond the location and the bricks and mortar.
In regards to the luxury/gay travel sector, have you seen any major changes in the past few years? How do you expect the sector to evolve in the coming years?
So much has changed in the sector. With the wider acceptance of LGBTQ people in the world, we are seeing many more gay travellers being comfortable as themselves when they travel, we don’t have to be too discreet anymore, well at least in some places. So we are much more visible than ever before. And as a result, luxury travel marketers are recognizing that these travellers are a very important part of their audience mix. The growth of equal gay marriage worldwide has created a market for destination weddings and luxury honeymoons like never before. And as we mature as a community, LGBTQ family travel has become a very important thing to look at – the destinations and upmarket hotels that provide for the affluent, modern family of two mums or dads.