Over 75 travel industry professionals representing tour operators, travel agencies, hotel owners, and faculty and students of a travel management institute convened at the 1st Asian Symposium on Gay & Lesbian Tourism, held at the Le Meridien Hotel in New Delhi on 28 November.
The programme was organised by San Francisco-based Community Marketing, Inc. (CMI), the global market research and consultancy firm focused on gay and lesbian communications. Attendees heard from Thomas Roth, president of Community Marketing, Abhinav Goel, co-founder of New Delhi-based tour operator Out Journeys, LGBT community leaders, and a panel of travel industry experts. Each shared insights on LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) tourism from their own perspectives.
The Tourism Authority of Thailand’s New York Office, a co-sponsor of the symposium, announced that it has embarked on a project to “crystalise” its approach to LGBT travellers. The pilot “Go Thai, be free” campaign is targeted at LGBT travellers living on the east coast of the US and is expected to launch in the first quarter next year.
The agenda focused on helping tourism and hospitality leaders understand the opportunities presented by increasing LGBT visitors, getting to know their potential customers better, as well as the challenges and best practices associated with LGBT travel. Ankit Rajvanshi, co-founder of Out Journeys, says they want to share the dynamic, exciting, LGBT-welcoming nature of India with the world. “As a boutique agency, we customise each tour, incorporating must-see India highlights with off the beaten path experiences, and visits to LGBT events and venues wherever available. We can also plan a wedding or honeymoon,” said Rajvanshi.
“Our guests are matched up with LGBT-friendly hotels, drivers and guides to ensure that their needs will be well taken care of.” “Gay travellers are interested to learn not only about India’s rich national heritage, but also about our ancient art, texts and temple carvings from as early as the 1500s that depict same-sex interaction between women and between men. India is also proud of our own gay prince – Manvendra Singh Gohil of Rajpipla who made the headlines internationally when he came out in 2006,” added Rajvanshi. As a ‘best practice,’ Out Journeys donates 5% of profits to an NGO, Mission for Indian Gay & Lesbian Empowerment (MINGLE).
According to CMI’s 16th Annual LGBT Tourism Report, which attracted over 30,000 respondents worldwide, gays and lesbians are “recession-resistant:” More gays and lesbians increased their travel over the past year than decreased travel. They also love to explore new destinations, and have an affinity for culture, arts, music and cuisine, making Asia a natural match. More gays and lesbians have and use their passports, and take far more trips per year compared to general market consumers. Roth acknowledged that while LGBTs are a highly desirable demographic, there are areas that tour operators and their vendors may need to address. “LGBT travellers need to feel genuinely welcomed, and their preferences and sensitivities must be met while travelling,” Roth said. He also highlighted that companies that consider themselves ‘gay-friendly’ are expected to implement non-discriminatory employment policies and support LGBT community groups.
At least half a dozen tour operators such as Cox & Kings, Go India Journeys, Sita Travel and adventure travel specialist Holiday Moods Adventures, and travel agency giant Thomas Cook, say they are already engaging in, or interested in reaching out to gay travellers. Amit Prasad, Chief Operating Officer of Go India Journeys, a division of La Passage to India, told attendees that his company had recently set up a team of staff members to research and meet the needs of LGBT travellers. Tour operators say a challenge they face is to provide sensitivity training to their vendors including drivers, tour guides and hotel staff, but that the expected return will be worth the time and investment.