Friday, June 4, 2010

This research is a part of the final year study of 3 year B.Sc in H&HA, IHMCTAN Goa.

Before telling you what this research is all about, let me mention what this research is definitely NOT.
  • This is NOT a study of sexual preferences of people.
  • This research does NOT make an attempt to ignore Indian government and laws. Every world citizen should obey the laws of host country.
  • This research does NOT propose pink rupee concept , which is officially not identified in India yet
A brief introduction

'Gay Tourism in India' is a very contentious, extremely interesting and relevant topic because of the impending changes in Indian Law. Also known as LGBT Tourism, Gay Tourism is a form of niche tourism marketed to LGBT (Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgenders) people to meet their specific needs. Several researches have proved that approximately 10% of any population is gay and when talking about world's second most populated country i.e. India, the proportion of gay people goes shockingly high. There were approximately 113996493 gay people in India in the year of 2008. All these people have one thing in common, which is immense economic potential, especially in case of DINK couples(Double Income No Kids couples). Though, Gay Tourism is struggling to evolve in India, it is a multi -million dollar Industry worldwide with $ 2 trillion turnover expected by 2012.In UK itself, Gay tourism is a 600 million pound Industry. But all this money does not come easy. It has been noticed that with high disposable income, LGBT people are exceptionally demanding when it comes to traveling and thus, globally high level of attention is given to quality of products, high class services, bigger and nicer accommodations etc. while catering to LGBT people.

This research focuses on capturing the current position of Gay Tourism in India and studying it's potential to form a growth model for the same in order to tap pink money (Pink money refers to the purchasing power of gay community and it is valued at 350 billion pounds worldwide). In order to do so 60 gay and bisexual men were surveyed (20 domestic and 30 international travelers in India were selected for the final analysis) and the operations of gay-friendly hotels, gay restaurants & pubs, NGO's , gay travel agencies, gay-event organizers, gay stores etc. were studied.

Current position of Gay Tourism in India

Famous but holds a bad image
Almost all the International respondents recognized India as a popular travel destination but 45% respondents still had 'very low' expectations from India before arriving, which means that India portrays a very bad Image amongst International gay community.

Unfriendly towards gay people
Most of the respondents found India very unfriendly towards them. Some of them also shared their personal experiences. One domestic gay traveler was slapped by a cop while holidaying in a city he knew very little about and an International gay traveler was directly or indirectly continuously asked if he was gay during his holiday in India. Receptionists in most of the hotels do question about choice over the type of bed ( twin or double) when one room is shared by two people of the same sex without realizing that this may embarrass gay people. Similarly, drivers, vendors,waiters etc. question about wife and family when they come across a single male traveler, who may be gay. And in case of those who are open about their sexuality while traveling, the situation gets even worst. In most of the cases,they are seen as disgusting, absurd, funny or sick human beings.

Special packages by regular travel agencies
In order to tap pink money, some regular travel agencies like, have started offering special packages for LGBT people. These special packages make sure that there is no room for unwanted situations of embarrassments to the guests because of their sexuality and there is a friendly and comfortable environment all around. But these special packages usually come at a high price and since they are still in their infant stage in India and there are not many business players, they do not have a lucrative market yet.

Indian Gay Travel Company
Indjapink is the only full fledged gay travel company in India, which offers 'expensive' packages to rich gay men traveling within India. Indjapink takes care of even the minute travel needs of the guests. But it was also revealed in the research that a bad connectivity with the network of LGBT Tourism in India, can be the biggest drawback of any business targeting gay clientele.

High demand, but minimal supply
Though many respondents were inclined towards a holiday package by a Gay travel company, none of them had ever experienced one in India.

Gay friendly hotels
Most of the top-end hotels are gay friendly. On no occasion, any of the top-end American hotel chains like Marriott, can afford to be unfriendly towards LGBT people as being gay friendly is one of their primary policies and abolition of the same may face some serious penalties.
But most of the respondents did not prefer top-end hotels and it has also been observed that there are just a very few mid range gay friendly hotels in India and many of them are run by gay owners. Expecting friendliness towards gay people from a budget hotel in India, is quite difficult.

Gay event organizers
Organizing events, particularly gay parties, is a high profitability affair. From Boyzone in Delhi, to Salvation star with it's classy parties and Gaybombay with it's comparatively more informal parties in Mumbai, have a huge clientele showing up every weekend willing to spend and party. All the major cities in India have companies/people organizing gay theme parties very frequently. Apart from parties, other events like film screenings, rainbow kite-flying events, etc are also organized by several NGO's like Humsafar Trust in Mumbai, Naz foundation in India but here the purpose is not making money and the entry is generally free.

Potential of Gay Tourism in India

High- Income & frequently traveling clientele
Most of the respondents earned a very high annual income and they loved traveling. 60% of the International respondents had an annual income of more than $20,000. 40% International sample said that they travel 4-6 times a year. This re-assures the high income generating potential of gay tourism in India.

Long holidays
70% of the International travelers in India said that they stayed in the country for at least a month and 80% of International respondents had visited India more than once. This indicates that the Indian tourism industry can get an extended opportunity to get more out of it's businesses if they are focused on gay clientele as well.

Big scope
If results of the research are to be believed, it can be concluded that with more and more domestic travelers, preferring to travel within India for a variety of reasons, and a high number of inbound international travelers genuinely interested in India, the scope of gay tourism appears to be extremely satisfactory in this country.

High purchasing power
To understand the real potential of LGBT Tourism in India, it is very crucial to figure out whether the targeted group, which reportedly has a high income, is willing to spend money or not. The outcome of the research proves that gay people are very generous in spending money while holidaying. Most of the respondents spent even up to $200 per day while on a vacation. Many international respondents even said that they tend to spend even more when they visit India and this is partially because they find prices in India are either cheap or reasonable.

Impact of India
India influenced 70% of the International respondents so strongly that they found themselves completely satisfied in terms of what they had been expecting out of her.

Interest in gay travel companies
70% respondents showed a keen interest towards gay travel companies and this inclination is an indication of money generating business opportunities waiting to be undertaken.

70% of the domestic respondents responded positively when they were asked whether they would like to travel in a gay cruise-liner. It has also been noted that the gay parties organized on static ships in Mumbai have been very successful in recent past.

Gay establishments
80% sample showed a positive response towards gay accommodations (including both-gay only hotels and gay friendly hotels). Most of the respondents also preferred gay bars but with high standards of quality.

Vital facts for implementation of a successful growth process

There were various useful and relevant facts, which came out during the research. And seeing that there are so many new players entering the golden market of gay tourism in India, it becomes very necessary for them to consider the following before starting there respective businesses.

Means to connect
Most of the respondents said that they relied solely on internet, books, guides, magazines etc for traveling and thus all these modes can be very effective if they are aimed at LGBT people for travel purposes. Internet, being the source of any information required, can fetch a large number of customers and perhaps this is the reason that even the party organizers like SalvationStar in Mumbai chose to invest in a fancy website which gives a tag of 'classy' to their parties. The tag of being affiliated by ILGTA and this very fact being published on internet, gives many more clients to Indian online gay magazines like The Queer Chronicle, Pink-pages and comparatively new one Gaylaxy have understood the capacity and power of Internet and they are continuously working towards their development. Bombay Dost, being the only Indian gay magazine available in print version in a few stores of Mumbai and in People Tree in Delhi, is gaining a lot of popularity day by day. Online shopping websites aimed at LGBT people are also showing an upsurge. But all this is definitely not enough. One can hardly find any gay friendly hotels being publicized openly in India and the concept of gay-only hotels is out of question. Many existing companies catering to LGBT people in India have been unsuccessful in reaching out to the masses. Bangalore-rooms, offering quality accommodations at reasonable prices in Bangalore, decided not to invest in it's development perhaps because of the absence of sufficient support. There is a need to create a strong business environment that facilitates the ability of taking a stand especially when such a huge lucrative market is waiting out there for products and services focused on them. The biggest task is to enhance the image of India as a friendly travel destination. The openly gay MP of Nepal, is trying to enhance the Nepal's image by publicizing it's natural beauty(Himalayas) through Pinkmountains Travels and Tours so that people divert their attention from seeing Nepal as a chaotic place to focusing on the mountaineering, rafting, elephant safari and even the gay marriage options at foothills of Himalayas.

Demand for gay travel companies
Most of the respondents showed a disinterest in regular packaged tour and when asked about the reason for the same, it was found that CONVENIENCE was the cause. A regular package may bring a lot of circumstances of discomfort and embarrassment to LGBT people. For e.g, being accompanied by families comprising of husbands, wives and children in a group and being questioned about personal life like husband/wife by the group members is something very unpleasant especially when one is on a holiday. And this is the reason that the respondents showed a keen interest in special packages. The world is waiting for India to come up with more specialized travel services for LGBT people.

Quality can't be compromised
During the research, one thing which was continuously noticed is that there is a high need for quality and standards when catering to LGBT customers. LGBT people demand nicer designs, bigger accommodations, better services and exceptionally good products.

At one look, it seems that it's too early for India to come up with gay only cruise liners but a positive reaction from 70% domestic respondents says a different story. However, International respondents did not seem to be very impressed by the idea. But special cruise liners can still fetch a lot of income when particularly aimed at domestic gay travelers.

Other important considerations
The tourism industry in India can flourish with increased income even if most of the hotels become gay friendly and being gay friendly may only require a hotel to just respect all the guests as individuals with various personal choices. Many respondents also demanded special themed bars for them in India and this indicates a new business opportunity for Indian tourism industry. It has also been observed that most of the respondents preferred flying when commuting for a holiday and trains seemed to be equally popular amongst international respondents.