Gay getaways' go-to guy

Times Staff Writer

The gig: Founder and chief executive of West Hollywood-based Atlantis Events Inc., the world's largest travel company specializing in all-gay vacations and cruises. Acquired competitor RSVP Vacations last October. It charters entire cruise ships and resorts for gay and lesbian travelers. It annually books about 10 cruises, two riverboats and three resorts, totaling 20,000 passengers and guests.

Background: Grew up in Lake Forest, Ill., a suburb of Chicago that was the backdrop for Robert Redford's Academy Award-winning film "Ordinary People," in which Campbell made a very brief appearance as a high school student with "very long hair."

Personal: Campbell, 46, lives in Los Feliz with his partner, Marino Maranion.

Education: Bachelor's degree in economics from University of Pennsylvania. Attended USC film school but dropped out to work for consulting firm McKinsey & Co.

Hobby: Collecting wine. Campbell has 1,500 bottles and counting. Some bottles are now worth nearly $2,000, up from $200 when he bought them a few years ago. "They've turned out to be better investments than stocks."

Favorite destination: Sydney, Australia, because it's "the best of my favorite cities rolled into one. It's got the energy of New York, the weather of Los Angeles, Miami's beaches and San Francisco's topography and food."

How it started: A trip to Key West in 1985, when a gay friend said, "Wouldn't it be great to have a resort of our own like Club Med?" The idea "stayed in my head," Campbell said, and five years later -- on a whim and without any experience -- he approached Club Med about renting out one of the resorts in Mexico for 300 gay guests. Campbell turned what "I thought would be a week on the beach with friends" into a business.

Biggest challenge: Chartering cruise ships. It was much riskier than renting resorts. Ships are substantially more expensive, and the company would have to book thousands of cruise passengers compared with a few hundred guests for a resort. "My business partners thought I was completely insane and tried to take the company away from me." The first cruise, in 1998, sold out in a month with no advertising.

Shipboard life: Contrary to some stereotypes involving open sex and wild behavior, these cruises are more focused on socializing, entertainment and activities. A team of 20 volunteers hang out with guests, put on skits, help with pool games and basically facilitate socializing and interaction. "We bring virtually all our own entertainment: gay comics, Broadway singers, well-known DJs, hypnotists, the occasional drag act and pretty much anyone we think is interesting to the community."

A little secret: A growing collection of straight people "who keep coming back and having a blast. My mother came on the last cruise, celebrated her 75th birthday on the ship."



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