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The new pink corner

Sao Paulo in Brazil hosts the world’s largest gay pride parade with a footfall of around 3.5 million every year

Abhishek Chakraborty

Gay tourism may be a big draw abroad,but players on the international circuit are not only sensing India’s potential,they have plans to draw the community here too

Sao Paulo in Brazil hosts the world’s largest gay pride parade with a footfall of around 3.5 million every year; Japan is an old player by hosting the annual Tokyo International Lesbian & Gay Film Festival since 1992,whereas India is a recent peg on the LGBT event circuit,with small events like Kashish: Mumbai International Queer Film Festival,Bangalore’s Queer Pride,Delhi Queer Pride and Mumbai Queer Azadi March.

Kashish,an annual LGBT (Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgenders) event,has been taking place in Mumbai since 2010. In 2012,it received 300 entries from around the world,of which 120 films from 30 countries were shortlisted. Around 25% of the films screened were from India,including four regional ones.

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The city also hosts the Mumbai Queer Azadi March which saw the biggest turnout in 2013 since Mumbai first started gay pride celebrations in 2008. The 2013 Mumbai Queer Azadi March saw about 1,000 participants. The march,which usually takes place in the month of February,kicked off this year from the August Kranti Maidan.

The Delhi Queer Pride,which will turn six this year,takes place in November every year. Last year’s edition saw more than 1,000 participants. Started in 2008 with just 35 people,it has grown over the past five years into an anticipated event,attended not just by the queer community of Delhi,but also family members and people who support them. The month of November also sees the annual Bangalore Queer Pride. Started in 2007,the festival received more than 1,000 LGBT participants last year.

However,things promise to get bigger. For starters,Thomas Bomkes,MD,Diversity Tourism and LGBT consultant,gay and lesbian segment,ITB (Internationale Tourismus-Börse) Berlin,one of the world’s leading travel trade shows,is planning to come up with an ITB academy in Delhi next year to tap the Indian market and educate people about LGBT tourism. “I think India has great potential in the gay tourism market. We are in charge of the gay-lesbian tourism at ITB Berlin,and are trying to have an ITB academy for gay-lesbian tourism in Delhi next year,” Bomkes told FE on the sidelines of the Great Indian Travel Bazaar (GITB) 2013,co-organised by the department of tourism,government of Rajasthan,ministry of tourism,government of India and FICCI. But why Delhi,one wonders? “It’s not because it’s the capital city,it’s because big tour operators are here,so the tourism industry is based in Delhi,” he says. Through the proposed academy,Bomkes says,they are planning to educate people,especially politicians,big hotel chains and tour operators,about LGBT travel.

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Comparing India to a “sleeping giant”,Bomkes feels the country is an emerging destination for gay travellers around the world. However,despite the potential,India seems to be lagging behind in tapping the lucrative market,which saw a turnover of $2 trillion in 2012. According to Bomkes,the reason behind India’s dismal performance is its lethargic tourist boards. “The problem with India is the tourist boards that don’t promote the country as a gay destination. They don’t do anything. So nobody knows what India is all about,” he says,adding,“We are here,especially the ITB,to promote India. It may take some time,but it will surely happen. If I had no belief in India,I would not have been here. They need some guidance and that’s why we are here.”

The absence of infrastructure for gay tourism in India for one,says Bomkes,is a major impediment in the growth of the sector. “Infrastructure for gay tourism,like gay bars,etc,is not so developed in India yet.”

In his endeavour to promote India as one of the favourite gay destinations of the world,Bomkes took two gay-friendly Indian tour operators—Pink India and Pink Vibgyor—to ITB Berlin last year. It was the first time that two gay-friendly Indian tour operators took part in ITB Berlin and they were a huge success. “Most gay Germans and Europeans had no idea about ‘gay India’. They had never travelled to India…” says Bomkes.

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Gay,or LGBT,tourism is a niche form of tourism that is marketed to the LGBT community to suit their specific needs. According to several studies,the number of gay people can be around 10% of any population,and in India,official estimates put the number at about 9.6 crore (in 2011).

The LGBT tourism industry represents an estimated annual $65 billion on gay travel in the US alone. In UK,it is a 600-million pound industry. Bomkes says India,like Europe or the US,can become one of the best gay destinations of the world. “I think India is a big market because there are so many gay people here. The amount of people that we meet in India is huge. It is also a very open-minded and tolerant country. When you compare India to other parts of the globe,you will find that most people in India don’t have a problem with gays.”

First published on: 05-05-2013 at 03:22 IST
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