Foreign firms eye Indian lesbian, gay travel pie

January 31st, 2011 - 12:11 pm ICT by IANS  

By Rohit Vaid
New Delhi, Jan 31 (IANS) With India becoming a favoured destination among gay travellers, many international gay travel agencies are keen to open shop in India to cater to this niche travel segment.”There is a lot of interest by LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) travel agencies and related services to start operations in India, as the country has such a rich culture and history,” product manager (south Asia and Pacific region) for ITB Berlin, one of the world’s leading travel trade shows, Rika Jean-Francois, told IANS.

Rika was in the city to attend the 18th South Asia Travel and Tour Expo (SATTE), organised under the banner of ITB Berlin.

She said as India is opening up the niche travel segment, more and more international players would be interested in joining the bandwagon.

“After the court judgment here (on de-criminalising homosexuality), many players like TomonTour from Germany have shown interest and are in negotiations with their Indian partners,” Rika said.

According to an international study conducted by an international community service based in San Francisco, the American LGBT community alone spent $60 billion on travel and tourism related services in 2009-10.

Other studies have shown that the LGBT travel segment accounts for around six percent of the world’s total tourism travel.

“There is a huge market potential in this country for such type of travel. And even internationally, while the industry was hit by recession, this segment kept on growing,” Rika said.

The growth for the niche segment, according to Rika, is due to high levels of disposable incomes and awareness about travel in the LGBT community.

“They have high levels of disposable income and a desire to travel. Earlier, they used to visit countries like Thailand, Malaysia and all, but now as India opens up to this new phenomenon, they want to travel here,” Rika added.

Many international cities like London, Antwerp and Vienna are trying hard to woo “the pink dollar, Euro and Yen” travellers, as the niche market is known.

Surprising as it may sound, the country’s very-own gay travel agency will turn three later this year and its founder Sanjay Malhotra plans further expansion of operations to include lesbian travellers.

“I find a huge market potential. We started out in October 2008 and since then, our business has grown by leaps and bounds with over 100 percent growth,” said Malhotra, who is also a fashion designer.

His company IndjaPink has catered to about 250-300 foreign clients from the US and western Europe, while the agency has been constantly getting queries from as far away places as Latin America.

“Our customer base is in the US and western European markets, but we do get queries from many places. The travellers like India and especially the culture and the gay community here,” Malhotra said.

The agency charges anywhere between $250-$350 per night for a couple, which includes customised tours with gay-friendly staff.

“We have many tours to Khujaraho, Varanasi, Goa, Kerala and other places and the business is just growing,” Malhotra said.

“Gay men usually come in groups from Western Europe, the United States and Canada and their favourite destination is Kerala, Rajasthan and Varanasi,” Malhotra said.

He also intends to expand his presence in other South Asian markets like Nepal and Sri Lanka.

Recently, Nepal’s first openly gay MP Sunil Babu Pant launched his country’s first travel agency for the LGBT group. The travel package included a spectacular wedding ceremony, complete with bridal finery and dancing troupes in the lap of Mt. Everest.

However, the first group bookings of Pink Mountain Travels and Tours that have come in are not from bridal pairs or honeymooning couples but surprisingly, from gay Buddhists who want to follow the Buddha’s footsteps and meditate in his birthplace.

“We already have three groups from Britain, France and the Netherlands, and there are queries from the US,” said Pant, the founder of the gay rights movement in Nepal.

Pant is hoping there would be around 200,000 tourists from the sexual minorities.

“The whole region of South Asia in particular, which was earlier closed to these travellers due to law and prejudice, is opening up and will not only attract more tourists but also generate employment in the region,” Rika added.

(Rohit Vaid can be contacted at rohit.v@ians.in)

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