LGBT Tourism: One step forward, two steps backwards…

The Supreme Court ruling on Section 377 has become the talk of the nation. Newspapers and television channels are filled with LGBT activists, legal experts and representatives of political parties discussing and debating (often very heated debates) on this contentious subject.

In this blog, I wanted to share the thoughts we had expressed during the HICSA Summit in Mumbai in April 2013. It was Mr Manav Thadani of HVS who had initiated the exercise of getting me to speak on LGBT Tourism and whether the hospitality industry was ready for it. With the December 2013 ruling, there will now need to be re-think on this burning subject-of-the-day.

In my speech, I said, “Let’s begin by putting the LGBT Tourism Subject in its legal perspective in India as advised by legal experts. I quote ‘that Gay tourism in India is a very contentious, extremely interesting and relevant topic because of the impending changes in Indian Law’. The laws prevalent in India until 2009 on LGBT were an inheritance of the ‘Colonial Hangover’ from the British Raj and totally against homosexuality of any kind and including it as a criminal offence.”

“The Hon’ble Delhi High Court’s ruling on Article 377 in the year 2009 de-criminalized homosexuality on matters filed before them by Gay Right activists… What is of extreme significance is that the Hon’ble Apex Court observed and I quote once again ‘that homosexuality should be seen in the light of changing times where phenomena of live in relationship , ‘single parents’ and ‘artificial fertilization’ have become normal. They also pointed out that many things which were considered immoral 20 years ago have become acceptable to society now….’”

“This observation falling from the Highest Court of the Land is not only considered progressive but lays down unequivocally the direction forward for the Country by factoring in the changed environment. Surely this is the corner stone of the foundation for future laws to be acted upon. Ignoring this type of backing would have been very counter-productive on the part of our industry not to recognize the opportunity presented. The time is now to open our doors to LGBT tourism in India.”

“These developments may be viewed as a process of irreversible liberalization and ‘opening up’of our society and economy. Globally LGBT tourism has most definitely carved out a significant niche as a impactful segment for our Industry.”

“Being a Dynamic Industry we have always opened our doors to newer segments such as – Mice Markets – Weddings- Spas- film shoots etc to increase our revenue. I recall adding of all these new segments was considered ‘radical’. Our industry is used to innovating all the time. What is so different to what I am proposing today when it comes to LGBT tourism? Why not embrace this new development in the same vein as well. In order to address LGBT tourism we need to understand the nuances of this emerging segment as an ‘Affinity Group’ or call it ‘a Special Interest Group’. Like any segment a significant percentage are High End Travellers where cost is no bar. Equally the demand for mid-range hotels is also colossal. Comparatively more frequent travellers…Duration of stay is much longer. They bring more money into the economy of a destination as a group –and are big spenders. They have the urge to ‘give back’ to the under-privileged or support cultural causes in the country they are visiting. Like every new additional segment what needs to be borne in mind is that in order to develop this segment of business successfully we need to prepare the ground rules very clearly and train staff carefully. Not to sit in judgment but show full respect as one would to any guest. Respect their privacy and exclusivity. Only the other day in our leading national daily we came across a report that due to abuse of women in Delhi 25% business has gone out of the window this year.”

As we go through the thoughts and ideas expressed during the HICSA Summit, we realize that there will be now more challenges in India. LGBT Tourism will go through a phase of turmoil. We hope that in the months to come these conflicting situations would be resolved.