Kolkata: Thanks to Indian gay-tour operators, the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community across the world is vying for India as the ultimate 'pink' tourist destination. "LGBT tourists want the same things as any traveller: to feel safe and welcome. India is becoming more popular with gay travellers since the high court decriminalized homosexuality in 2009. Feeling welcome is not only a reference to local hospitality, but also to larger issues of governmental rights," said John Tanzella, president and CEO of International Gay and Lesbian Travel Association (IGLTA), which has a presence in 83 countries.
Pink tourism caters exclusively to the LGBT community and the new age pink tour operators are unique in that they try to make gay travellers feel welcome in an unknown land and also bridge the gap between them and the locals. "An LGBT company caters to gay travellers, so their tour packages will often include gay nightlife or interactions with local gay business people," Tanzella told IANS.
The biggest difference between normal and gay-friendly tour operators, according to Bhuvan Mehta of Pink Escapes, is, "Pink tour operators can anticipate the requirements of gay travellers better, compared to normal tour operators." "Being from the community or having LGBT people manage the clients is the main and biggest difference, as they can understand the market and clients better," elaborates Mehta of the Delhi-based company.
The prime concerns of the travellers are safety and a discrimination-free trip, which the operators ensure through extensive networking. "We keep an eye on clients' movement, as we have our offices all across the country, we make sure all the necessary information about what to wear and where to go is provided to the clients/groups from our local representatives," Rajat of Pink Vibgyor, a gay-friendly destination management company, told IANS.
Pink Escapes sends out advisories to their clients about the Indian scenario and also how to manage interactions with new acquaintances. "We use the services of gay or gay-friendly establishments to secure a discrimination- free trip,' said Mehta of Pink Escapes. Apart from the normal sightseeing, the pink tourists get a flavour of the country through multifaceted experiences tailored to meet their cultural curiosities and adventurous escapades.
"Guests can enjoy puppet shows, music and dance based on folklore in a natural setting, cooking from scratch - from tours of spice and vegetable markets to the table - attend a dream Indian wedding ceremony or get an insight into being a gay royal, among other delights," Mehta told IANS. "We also introduce our clients to LGBT-run or managed NGOs and encourage them to contribute by understanding the set-up. Contribution can be in the form of a service or monetary contribution," said Mehta.
The lure of India as a tourist destination lies not only in its gay friendly environment but also as a golden chance to explore. "The travellers are coming to explore India - and that is the main purpose of their visit,'" said Mehta.
According to the tour operators, besides the metros, smaller cities are also on the radar of the pink travellers. "Cities like Udaipur, Jaipur, Jaisalmer, Khajuraho, Varanasi, locations like back waters of Kerala, Marari Beach, Bangalore, foothills of Himalayas are quite popular," says Rajat.
According to Mehta, Udaipur has a number of gay friendly restaurants and cafes, Jaipur has gay friendly neighbourhoods and people, whereas down south, Kerala provides good opportunities for travellers looking for a therapeutic getaway. "There's an added appeal to places that have a developing gay scene, like Delhi. Goa is also popular for its welcoming nightlife," says Tanzella.
Serving clients from countries across the world, the pink tour managers are gearing up to take the Indian pink traveller places. "Right now we have on offer only Nepal, Bhutan and Sri Lanka for the Indian LGBT travellers. We plan to expand," said Mehta. As India opens up to pink travellers, they can expect to see more of the country with rose tinted glasses.