Advocating for safe and equitable travel for the 2SLGBTQ+ community has been Dean Nelson’s passion for 20 years.
A travel curator and consultant who founded Pride House at the Vancouver 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Games, Nelson is the go-to local consultant for 2SLGBTQ+ travel and tourism queries. This sentiment is demonstrated by his inclusion in the Canadian Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce (CGLCC) 2021 Business Case for LGBT+ inclusion in the Canadian tourism industry report, and the CGLCC LGBT+ Travel Market Guide & Tourism Development Toolkit.
Nelson has also been a diversity and inclusion facilitator for the CGLCC in BC, Yukon, and the Northwest Territories and sat on the board of directors with Travel Gay Canada helping to shape a more inclusive and 2SLGBTQ+-welcoming tourism industry in the country. He was also honoured with the Travel Gay Canada Tourism Leader of the Year award in 2017.
He is a regular media contributor known for his thirst for 2SLGBTQ+ activism, a calling that was ignited by a “terrifying” experience in Budapest in July 2008 when he and fellow Mr Gay World judges and contestants were subjected to violent protests and attacks during a Pride march.
“We were assaulted with rocks and feces — I’ve never been so terrified in my life,” Nelson tells Daily Hive. “But at the same time, I was so inspired as I was marching. It was at that point that it really solidified why activists are needed to ensure safe travel for the 2SLGBTQ+ community.
With 30 years of experience in various hospitality management roles, event management, and producing festivals and special events, Nelson decided to utilize his global connections by rebranding to Departures by Dean, a curated travel consultancy for the 2SLGBTQ+ community, as an independent agent with Personal Travel Management.
Formed in 2006, Departures by Dean aims to curate sun, ski, and cruise holidays for the 2SLGBTQ+ community and their allies.
“I navigate the 2SLGBTQ+ climate of the different destinations, making sure that [the guests] feel safe and secure,” Nelson explains. “If they’re going to a destination that is going to be hostile towards the 2SLGBTQ+ community, like Uganda, Rwanda, and Saudi Arabia, where being homosexual is punishable by death, I work with my contacts in each destination to ensure they are helping to navigate a safe experience for the guests.”
If Nelson’s clients are travelling to the Middle East, for example, he will make them aware of the decency laws that do not allow public displays of affection. He will also ensure their accommodation has two beds per couple to avoid unwanted attention or questions from accommodation providers. In non-hostile countries, Nelson will work with accommodation providers to ensure the correct pronouns are used for clients to ensure they have as comfortable a stay as possible and that, upon arrival, it is not simply assumed that they are a heterosexual couple.
Currently recovering after the COVID-19 pandemic, Departures by Dean was bolstered by Canadian Government funding which allowed Nelson and colleagues to “really foster some exceptional learning opportunities with our travel suppliers.” They also focused more on local travel within BC — a queer kayaking trip to Desolation Sound was one particular highlight, according to Nelson.
Prior to the global shutdown, the company had relied on its travel partners to provide the revenue and they would provide consultancy options.
“Not having any of the revenue from the clients was a big wake-up call and we realized the need to start charging for our professional services,” said Nelson.
“Cash flow is really, really important for us as a business,” says Nelson. “We want to receive funds almost instantaneously and then send out those funds to secure those products and services.”
“We use Interac e-Transfer and that’s so, so important for us. It just helps us manage our budgets and cash flow. We absolutely love it and I can’t imagine not having it,” he adds.
Looking to the future, Nelson is keen to mentor a new generation of 2SLGBTQ+ travel experts who he can “pass the torch onto.”
“I am heading into the final years of this career and I think the next opportunity is to reach out as an educator and mentor for future generations of travel advisors to keep the business going — that’s what I’m most excited about,” says Nelson.
To learn more about Departures by Dean and Nelson’s business journey, visit his website. If you are a 2SLGBTQ+ business or simply want to hear more about CGLCC, head to their website. To stay on top of news, products, and technology at Interac Corp., check out the Interac® newsroom.