In an attempt to reach larger markets and target niches, travel agencies are offering tailor made tours and travel packages that cater to the Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender and Queer(or LGBTQ) community, offering queer friendly establishments. Due to the tricky legal position of the community in the country, however, growth in this sector is slow.
ITB Berlin (Internationale tourismusbörse Berlin), a leading annual travel trade show that saw participation of around 10,000 exhibitors from 180 countries, continued its LGBT (Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender)Pavilion this year in its March exhibition. The main focus was on the International Gay & Lesbian Travel Association (IGLTA), but surprisingly there was an Indian participant too Club Holidays Adventures from India. However, things remain complicated in the LGBTQ travel sector as there are legal ambiguities surrounding the status of their rights.
There are a handful of travel agencies and websites in India that cater specifically to the LGBTQ community as a niche market for travel and tourism. One such agency is “Indjapink”, a men only exclusive gay travel company that is “proudly & fully gay owned & operated travel agency” founded by Sanjay Malhotra, a fashion designer from India. Another such agency is “Pink Vibjyor” which is more inclusive in nature and also offers tours for lesbian women and couples.This was formed by Rajat Singhla,coming from a family background in the tourism industry along with another founder, Peter Hoise. Apart from such companies, there are travel and tours agencies that offer special packages to LGBTQ customers but are not completely focused in the service of this community.
In India, any alternative to heterosexuality is still majorly considered a taboo and travelers from across the globe face discrimination and challenges, mainly in terms of personal safety. The main aim of the companies focusing on this niche market is to ensure a pleasant stay for the travelers in queer friendly or queer owned hotels, restaurants, pubs etc. The companies seek to reduce the problems of the discrimination faced by travelers.
Taking a brief look at the legal status of homosexuality, a 2013 legal ruling that undermined a previous ruling by the Delhi High Court has to be considered. In 2009, a ruling by Delhi High Court decriminalised parts of Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code, a provision that deals with sexual intercourse considered “against the law of nature”. These provisions have existed since colonial times under the British. Section 377 applies to acts committed between consenting individuals but the acts mentioned in a part of this section are often associated with the LGBTQ community, such as anal and oral intercourse.
In 2013, the decriminalisation ruling was overturned and thus non-heterosexual individuals were put in a difficult position under the eyes of society and law, criminalised again, so to speak. The decision came as a blow to the acceptance of rights of the LGBTQ community and consequently served as a threat to the LGBTQ tourism sector and the pre-existing queer friendly establishments and companies.
More recently, Indian Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, publicly grieved the loss of lives at the hands of homophobic shooter at a LGBTQ club in Orlando in Florida, America, in June this year but there have been no efforts made by the government in power to bring changes to the archaic provisions of Article 377. India even abstained from voting on a resolution relating to LGBT rights at the Human Rights Council in the United Nations this month.
However, despite such circumstances, commercial activity in general, including the travel and tourism industry, has moved towards exploring new consumer bases and markets. As the social discourse moves ahead in India, the LGBTQ community has become an important part of this new consumer base.