New Delhi: The romance between India and gay tourists is growing and cashing in on the interest, many Indian and international gay travel agencies are keenly pursuing the market by organising packages and special deals to cater to this niche segment.
In the same context, the national capital Monday hosted the first Asian symposium on gay and lesbian tourism, attended by travel agents, agencies, hotels and airlines.
“India is slowly but surely catching up on the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) travel radar as a preferred destination due to its culture, spirituality, awesome destinations and history,” Abhinav Goel, founder of OutJourneys.com, a travel agency dedicated to gay travel, told.
According to Goel, the growth potential for gay tourists is so high that it has attracted even established players like Sita, Thomas Cook and Cox & Kings to the emerging travel segment.
“Today there are around 10 travel players which are providing services to the sector, including established names and boutique operations,” said Goel, who is also one of the organisers of the event.
The symposium is being partnered by the likes of American Airlines, Tourism Thailand, International Gay and Lesbian Travel Association (IGLTA) and attendees like Taj and Oberoi hotels.
“We have a good representation at the summit. All this is because the companies today want to know how to market a particular product to this new kind of tourists,” Goel said.
Goel said the symposium would be attended by 11 international journalists who write on LGBT issues and will travel to Indian tourist locations.
“They will visit Delhi-Jaipur and Udaipur to see for themselves the friendly tourist environment here. It is important for international customers to know what India is offering,” Goel said.
Meanwhile, IGLTA, which is an UN-accredited body to look after the travel trade industry of this niche segment, said that with an improving environment in India regarding the gay issue the country will surely attract more LGBT customers.
“With the political climate changing in India it makes it more viable for travel agencies to expand,” said IGLTA president John Tanzella.
Currently, three dedicated gay travel boutique agencies and 10 general tour operators, including travel trade majors like Sita Tours and Travels, are also members with IGLTA.
As many as five gay travel agencies in India offer customised packages, including surrogacy tours, spiritual camps, weddings and honeymoon packages and a promise of an experience sans negative incidents that they face in conservative cultures.
“Customised packages which provide tours related to activities such as yoga, spirituality, weddings, honeymoon or even surrogacy are the attractions for gay tourists”’ Goel said.
While weddings do not carry any legal status in India, gay visitors do it anyway to experience the traditional Indian wedding.
The niche sector provides services such as gay-friendly lodging, transfer and guides in a protected environment, in which they impart specific training to hotel staff, drivers and guides to act in the same courteous manner as they would to any other customer.
Though there is no specific data on the actual numbers of gay overseas tourists, the numbers would be huge even if one percent of all tourists are from the queer community. In 2010, India welcomed 5.58 million foreign tourists, up 9.3 percent over 2009.
The average travel packages to India starts at $200-$600 per night per person or couple depending on the package.