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Travel agents worry over verdict impact

New Delhi, Dec. 12: The Supreme Court judgment re-criminalising homosexual acts threatens to kill fledgling attempts by Indian tour operators to grab a slice of the world’s estimated $5-billion “gay tourism” market, travel industry sources said.

“This judgment has aborted the gay tourism baby even before it was born,” Sanjay Malhotra of Indjapink told The Telegraph.

Indjapink is the first travel firm in India to exclusively cater to LGBT (Lesbian, Gay Bisexual and Transgender) tourism. It was set up soon after Delhi High Court, in 2009, declared a part of the law that criminalised “carnal intercourse against the order of nature” as unconstitutional, which meant a consensual sexual act between adults in private was no longer an offence. The Supreme Court yesterday overturned that order.

Malhotra said that since yesterday morning, he had been receiving queries from foreign clients who were scheduled to come to India for their Christmas holidays. “We were growing by 100 per cent each year before this judgment came,” he rued.

Malhotra is now scared to openly run his travel agency or have a website detailing the facilities and tour packages for gay travellers.

“I shall have to take legal opinion; and maybe we’ll have to take our website down or redesign it. I don’t want to fork out money to police, who will now start their extortion once again,” he said.

“Gaycation”, as it is called in the travel industry, is in its infancy in India. There are just a handful of firms that offer special tour packages to gay couples. The Union tourism ministry keeps gay tourism at an arm’s length.

“We have no statistics on gay traffic to India. There are no official gay hotels and only a few unofficial gay bars,” a tourism ministry official said.

According to tour operators, India has to aggressively fight for LGBT tourists over the neighbouring markets of China and Thailand, considered more “gay-friendly”.

The destinations are the same for LGBTs but the specialised tour packages for them offer a sensitised atmosphere where the gay tourists’ privacy is protected. They are offered trips to pubs that see more gay traffic, and are supplied with gay magazines in their rooms.

“Our main responsibility is to ensure that hotel staff, guides and the drivers — the three main interfaces for the tourists — are sensitised and tolerant towards them,” said Amit Agarwal of Go India Journeys who started offering special tour packages to gay tourists in 2011.

“If two men ask for a double-bed room, the receptionist should not offer them a twin-bed room (with two separate beds) or two single rooms as an alternative.”

Agarwal said that he had not had a single client who got into trouble because of their behaviour. “They know it’s not acceptable to kiss in public even for a heterosexual couple. I have never had complaints about any untoward behaviour by any of my clients.”

An estimated 10 per cent of international tourists globally fall under the LGBT category. They are said to opt for luxury tourism in larger proportions, bringing in more money.

“Gay tourists usually don’t have many liabilities and generally have large disposable incomes,” Agarwal said.