At the India Tourism Mart (ITM 2018) press conference of K J Alphons, Union Minister of State (I/C) for Tourism, I asked him about the government’s view on LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender) Tourism, now that Section 377 has been done away with by the Supreme Court. “It is an irrelevant question,” he shot back.
I persisted, “Why would you say that Minister? Neighbouring Thailand enacted a law in 2015 and has been aggressively promoting the country as a welcome and safe destination for LGBT Tourism.” The minister dismissed me saying, “Next question please.”
LGBT travel is one of the fastest growing tourism sectors estimated at around €178 billion. LGBT travellers generally have high spending power and travel relatively often. There are an estimated 23 million openly LGBT people in Europe alone.
According to CBI, the Centre for the Promotion of Imports from developing countries, funded by the Netherlands Ministry of Foreign Affairs, British gay men travel twice as often as heterosexual men. Popular LGBT destination Brazil reports that LGBT travellers spend 30 per cent more than other travellers. This makes them an interesting market.
Just like heterosexual travellers, LGBT travellers have diverse travel preferences. Beach holidays are a traditionally popular segment. Specialising in LGBT travel can give any destination a competitive advantage. An impressive 82 per cent of LGBT travellers are interested in cultural holidays.
Although demographics are changing, LGBT couples often have a dual and above average income but no children. This allows them to travel more often, off-season and spend more on travel. As the options for LGBT parents to have children expand, the popularity of LGBT family travel is also set to increase. Choice of stay will be determined by family-friendliness as well as LGBT-friendliness.
LGBT-friendliness should reflect in our products, people and policies. Authentic marketing campaigns that feature real LGBT people, their life and events in our destinations are critical.
LGBT travellers are likely to see through a marketing ploy or so-called ‘pinkwashing’, where holidays are presented as more LGBT-friendly than they really are. Working with the local LGBT community is key.
As our Ministry of Tourism (MoT) is targeting doubling FTAs and receipts in the next three years, focusing on LGBT travel could be a good bet. Though the minister came back to me at the end of the press conference to address the issue again, he stated the obvious by saying, “India is an open country that does not discriminate against any kind of travellers.”
That was not the question anyway. I was not enquiring about the Government of India’s approach to targeting sex tourism. Sadly, the sub-conscious prejudices and misconceptions that many of us have towards the LGBT community were evident in the minister’s response. The fact is the MoT has not even thought about LGBT travel or whether it should have an approach or policy. Let us not be late risers. LGBT travel is here to stay.