How Kent Taylor is Reshaping the Future of Palm Springs Gay Resorts

by Dan Allen

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Sunday January 8, 2023
Originally published on January 3, 2023

Outside at the Descanso Resort.
Outside at the Descanso Resort.  

A decade ago, the gay resort scene in Palm Springs was absolutely booming. More than two dozen resorts of varied styles and price points were spread across the greater Palm Springs area, nearly all catering to a global community of gay men looking for clothing-optional fun in the sun.

Today, less than 10 gay resorts remain open in Palm Springs, with several closing in just the past year. While part of this shrinkage is clearly fallout from the pandemic, it's also evident that as the LGBTQ+ travel industry has boomed, gay tastes have become more expansive and discerning, leaving the longtime gay resort status quo in need of a revolution.

Enter a trio of upstart hoteliers, who in 2015 purchased the two-decade-old Santiago Resort and set out to "redefine what a premier gay resort can be," according to Kent Taylor, who oversaw the property's transition and managed it for the next five years. With an elevated new focus on style and service, it didn't take long for the 23-room, modern ranchero-style Santiago — located in the heart of the city's traditional gay resort neighborhood of Warm Sands and the largest pool of any gay resort in Palm Springs — to become a new favorite for many gay travelers.

Kent Taylor
Kent Taylor  

Last year, Taylor left Santiago to manage the renovation and opening of the brand new Descanso Resort, the second property from the same forward-looking owners. With 14 rooms and an A-gay "Hollywood Moderne" vibe, Descanso is set on the north end of town — interestingly on the same site as the onetime East Canyon Hotel and Spa, which when it opened in 2005, became the first gay resort to completely buck the clothing-optional model for "a level of sophistication you won't find anywhere else."

Since its opening last December, Descanso has — like Santiago before it — proven that there's a strong, eager and loyal market for polished Palm Springs properties that infuse the old gay resort model with new style and standards. The hotel family has just welcomed its third member, a complete renovation of the 20-room Twin Palms Resort, a mid-century beauty set among the modernism paradise that is the city's Twin Palms neighborhood.

We spoke to Taylor about how Descanso and its sister properties are thriving by redefining what a gay resort can be.

An interior from the Descanso Resort.
An interior from the Descanso Resort.  

EDGE: Descanso opened in the middle of the pandemic, at a time when gay resorts were closing left and right in Palm Springs. Why did Santiago's owners think it was the right time to open a second property?

Kent Taylor: The biggest complaint we were getting at Santiago is that people couldn't get in there — which you know, as a business owner, you think that's a great problem to have, right? But the truth is, we have a lot of very loyal guests who feel like family to us. And if your family keeps calling you and saying, "Hey, we want to come visit," and you're constantly saying, "Sorry, you can't," it's not fun. So [the owners] looked for a long time to find a property that felt right, to make sense with Santiago. Energetically this feels like the cousin of Santiago in many, many ways, and a lot of familiarity is very intentional — whereas Twin Palms is going to be its own thing. And it'll be very cool in its own thing, but Descanso was created to make sense to Santiago guests to be able to bounce back and forth.

EDGE: Do some Santiago fans now prefer it over here?

Kent Taylor: You know, I'm hearing all kinds of different things. There's a reason why there's chocolate and vanilla ice cream. I've had quite a few guests say, "Descanso is definitely my sweet spot. This will be my first choice." They like having things a little more chill, just a little more relaxing. I've had other guests who said, "I kind of miss the activities and the social extras of Santiago, but I'm fine here." I've had others who have said, "Team Santiago, period." And that's all okay. It's all good. But then the majority are saying, "Let availability decide, I'm fine either way." And that's perfect.

Outside at the Descanso Resort.
Outside at the Descanso Resort.  

EDGE: It's nice that people can mix it up and have options.

Kent Taylor: Exactly. And Charles [Santiago's new manager] and I are not like divorced parents, where like you have to choose. We don't want you to choose. We want you to enjoy it all. We want you to go check out the third property too. We're just happy people keep coming back.

EDGE: Why do you think there's been such a steep decline in the number of gay resorts in Palm Springs?

Kent Taylor: I think it's a combination of several different things. I think a lot of properties in town had had the same owners for a very long time. I think COVID and being totally shut down for five months gave people a minute to be like, "Oh, maybe this is actually the life that I want — no running around and cleaning toilets and making beds all day long." I think it gave a lot of people in many different industries a moment of pause, to really reevaluate. The [real estate] market here right now is super hot, so if you've ever thought about cashing out, it's a good time, because it's easy. With most commercial properties, people can sell and be done and relax forever. So I think that was part of it.

I also think that gay travelers are becoming much more sophisticated, much more demanding — in a good way — and their expectations are higher. Just being a gay hotel is not enough anymore. And I think a lot of resort owners who have been doing it for a long time don't really know how to pivot into that experience.

EDGE: With the worst of the pandemic hopefully behind us, do you think more resorts will come back?

Kent Taylor: We're the only ones I know that are doing it.

An interior from the Descanso Resort.
An interior from the Descanso Resort.  

EDGE: So what separates you guys from the other gay resort properties in Palm Springs?

Kent Taylor: We're not really like a sex-positive play-space property, and a lot of people feel more comfortable being here because it's not so cruisy. Which is not to say our guests are all angels, but it doesn't ever feel like harassment. No judgment, by the way — I'm glad those other properties are there, and I think there's a real need for them.

A lot of it is also the service. We try to keep the property super, super clean, and we're beyond attentive to anyone's needs, and I think that's critical. We all kind of love being here, I think that makes a big difference. I think it's just a perfect storm of multiple things and treating people the right way. I mean, I literally see every guest who walks through the doors as a guest in my home. They're in my guest bedroom, and I treat them like that. If you had a guest in your home sitting at your table having breakfast, wouldn't you say "Good morning" to them? That seems so basic to me. But there's properties where that doesn't happen, they just walk on by you. It astounds me. I feel like I develop actual relationships here.

EDGE: Back in 2005 when it first opened on this same property, East Canyon attempted to separate itself from the other gay resorts in town by proclaiming that it was not clothing optional. It's great that we've now progressed to a time when it's okay to be clothing optional again.

Kent Taylor: Our position is we don't make a big deal out of it. The pool is bathing suit optional. Be comfortable. If you want a tan line, get a tan line. If you want to swim around naked, swim around naked. It's all good with us. Just feel at home and be comfortable.