A chance meeting of a former colleague at a train station is the event Philip Sheldon attributes to inspiring his career of leading travel groups. The encounter led him to attend ITMI and later meet Hanns Ebensten, the founder of the first gay tour company.

Since 2001, Sheldon has been the owner and president of HE Travel, a merger of Ebensten’s company with Alyson Adventures and OutWest Global Adventures. Using Ebensten’s initials, HE Travel pays tribute to the gay travel pioneer.

Philip Sheldon President and Owner, HE Travel Credit: HE Travel

HE Travel, headquartered in Salt Lake City, Utah, specializes in LGBTQ+ small-group travel and adventure travel, especially cycling, hiking and Grand Canyon rafting tours. Travelers have come to trust HE Travel for planning tours that are different from the experience a gay traveler or couple would have on a mainstream tour. Sheldon credits his company’s hospitable and gracious attitude to building lasting relationships with travelers.

Q. What are you most proud about your organization?

A. As the oldest gay tour company, we’re proud to have maintained a tradition of carefully planned, deluxe tours for over 46 years. Our goal is to offer authentic experiences in each locale that we visit. Each tour includes the iconic sites of the locale that most first-time visitors would see, such as the Forbidden City and Great Wall near Beijing, or the Pyramids. But equally important, we also include unique “ambiance” activities that, if we do our job well, will be experiences that our clients first tell their friends about when they get home.

Q: What industry trends are you noticing?

A. We currently see three major trends developing:

• The Exotic: After a hiatus of five years after Arab Spring, this year we are running our Egypt tour— and it has almost sold out! We charter one of only two paddle wheel steamers on the Nile, the 15-cabin SS Karim, which was built in 1917. The small size of the ship keeps our groups intimate, and our travelers get a special thrill from sailing on a vessel that was the private yacht of Egyptian kings and prime ministers.

• The Closer-to-Home highlights: The first couple who visited all seven continents with HE Travel realized they had never really explored their own country together. They have inspired us to plan more small-group tours closer to home to include destinations such as South Florida, northern New Mexico, southern Colorado and Oregon/Northern California.

• We are also getting more and more requests from both gay and straight couples, families and individuals for customized tours. The “Netflix Generation” wants their travel on-demand and fitting to their style and taste, just as they now watch TV.

Q. What is one activity you enjoy when traveling?

A. I always enjoy experiences that feel authentic and intimate. I like walking through a city or trudging through snow on foot. Many of these moments have inspired tours HE Travel offers.

Q. What travel destinations are on your bucket list?

A. East Africa – especially Tanzania and Kenya. I’d like to explore more remote areas than when I had previously visited the continent. And now, with HE Travel headquartered in Salt Lake City, I am looking forward to seeing the national and state parks in Utah.

Contact HE Travel at 800-825-9766 or hetravel.com