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Gay Neo-tribes: An Exploration of Space and Travel Behaviour
In literature neo-tribes have been defined as fluid groupings of people who come together from different walks of life. The four aspects that characterise a neo-tribe are: a) shared sentiment, b) religiosity (rituals and symbols), c) fluidity in membership, and d) space. While the neo-tribal theory gained its popularity in sociological studies, it has been less extensively applied in tourism and leisure research. Arguably, the neo-tribal theory offers an opportunity to explore the social aspects of travel. Hence, this research aimed to explore whether neo-tribalism could contribute towards an extant knowledge of gay travellers, particularly in terms of their behaviour, motivations and experiences. Additionally, this study sought to understand the role of space as a point of coherence around which neo-tribes form. This is especially pertinent as the existing body of literature in regard to gay travel research has acknowledged the critical importance of gay space to the gay community.
This study took place in an exclusively gay and lesbian resort in Far North Queensland, Australia in September and October 2014. Using ethnographic methods including semi-structured interviews and participant observation, the study explored resort visitors, predominantly gay men, and whether they possessed the four aforementioned aspects characterising neo-tribal behaviour.
The ‘shared sentiment’ aspect of this particular neo-tribe was found to be twofold. Firstly, a shared sentiment was their sexuality; gay resort visitors discussed and shared issues including the processes and effects of their ‘coming-out’ experience, and (first) sexual encounters with same-sex partners. Secondly, shared sentiment was apparent in regard to visitors’ practical and emotional attachment to the resort and their eagerness to preserve its integrity as an exclusively gay venue which continued to attract the same clientele and maintain its ambience. For example, practical attachment was determined through the possibility to walk around the resort naked and emotional attachment was evident through guests sharing memories of previous stays at the resort. The ‘religiosity’ aspects of this neo-tribe were observed through rituals and symbols such as having dinner at the communal ‘Turtle’ table and skinny dipping into the hot-tub afterwards. The latter often evolved into sexual experiences; which, for some, became a ritual. ‘Fluidity in membership’ was evident in the behaviour of the resort visitors, who came from different walks of life and temporarily stayed at the resort. This reflected the notion that neo-tribes are inherently ephemeral, as they exist as long as there is enough drive – puissance. However this research challenged common conceptualisations of a neo-tribe being made up of loyal members. In this case the resort provided the performance space around which a flow of different members coalesced.
Drawing upon the findings, this paper determines that neo-tribal theory adds new and valuable insights into our understanding of gay travellers, their behaviour, motivations and experiences. Furthermore, the findings suggest that space acts as a performance site where the collective neotribal identity can be manifested, but in addition it also illustrates that space can act as a point of coherence around which neo-tribes form.
Place of publicationCroatia
Event titleCritical Tourism Studies Conference VI
Event VenueOpatija, Croatia
Date of Event (Start Date)2015-06-26
Date of Event (End Date)2015-06-30