As someone who spent over two decades in the inbound tourism business, it always amused me when India continued to promote itself by saying : “we have everything – sun, sea, sand, shopping, monuments, cuisine, mountains, snow, wild life, desert………….” And I always thought that if we had “everything” as the pundits claimed, why did we not have foreign tourists? The question we then must ask ourselves is – how long will we continue to flaunt the obvious? Like every industry, should tourism also not have a closer look at market segmentation?
It was sometime in the late 90s that I was at a meeting with the officials in the Ministry of Tourism and had suggested that India should start looking at the Gay and Lesbian segment. A highly placed official looked at me in disgust and said “ Himmat, I have a few months left for retirement. Let me leave in peace and you bring up your silly ideas after that.” With due respect Sir, you would have certainly left by now and I bring up my silly idea once again..
Let us look at some basic facts about the G&L (Gay and Lesbian) segment. In recent surveys done, their priority for a holiday is – Sun, Sea, Sand, Sex, Culture, City Trips. How different is this priority from that of any other type of traveller? How is it that Travelocity and Orbitz have a whole section devoted to this travel? How is it that Gay Day is celebrated at Walt Disney World, Orlando with over 1.50 lac participants? And how is that in America, a name like Wal-Mart is a member of the National Gay & Lesbian Chamber of Commerce?
Their economic potential is equally impressive. According to Tourism Intelligence International, over 90 million travellers world-wide are from this segment. In the United States, which is the biggest source market, they generate revenue worth some USD 75 Billion. 75% of gays and lesbians belong to a Frequent Flyer Programme against the 27% National Average; 72% are college/ university graduates against the National Average of 29%; 84% of them have a passport as against the 27% National Average and 87% take at least one long leisure trip annually.
Their positioning in the United Kingdom is equally strong. It is a 700 Million Pound travel industry;7 in 10 gay people have credit cards and internet access compared to 1 in 5 for the rest of the people and average wage of gay people is 15% higher than the general population.
Lonely Planet, the ‘must have’ of every traveller recommends the following cities for G&L travel – Amsterdam, San Francisco, Berlin, New York, Prague, Rio, Sydney – amongst others. Each of these cities make sure that efforts are made to let gays and lesbians be themselves and try and ensure that they are not discriminated against or ghettoized. Many of them have local G&L Associations and Clubs and many cities are now having ‘G&L friendly hotels’.
India naturally cannot fully go the route these cities are going. Our law and cultural standing will not allow its total open acceptance. Having said that, our society is increasingly open to talking about this subject, which is now frequently discussed and debated in the Press and on TV. Gay rights are being recognised by our courts and their legally and social standing is being slowly accepted. Films like Deepa Mehta’s Fire or then Girlfriend have addresses this issue openly. Mumbai, the often compared ‘New York of India’ holds monthly Gaybombay or GB parties which have been going on for the last decade and Larzish, India’s first public gay and lesbian film festival was held in Mumbai in 2003.
But that is not where I am coming from. All I am advocating is that we look at this high spending, eager to travel target market to promote India as a tourist destination. Those of us who travel to ITB and WTM will know of the large size and high quality of the Gay & Lesbian Travel booth. A quarter of the visitors at these fairs can be seeing carrying the trade mark ‘pink bag’. To me, it is really no different than targeting wild life enthusiasts who want to visit our National Parks, or then those who belong to the adventure segment and are interested in trekking in our mountains and want to raft down our rapids. In reality, G&L (Gay and Lesbian) travel is no different from any other type of speciality travel.
But then business does not come in just by becoming a member of the Gay & Lesbian Travel Association or then advocating that we are interested in this segment. Are we strong enough to have a campaign – Go Pink in Gods Own Country where the ‘Kerala Green’ goes pink? This is just one example. The challenge in today’s world is that you have to be dramatically different to attract attention. And you if cannot take that dramatic step, well then stay with the ‘white turning cream’ Taj Mahal !
The column is written by Himmat Anand, Founder, Tree of Life Resorts & Hotels.