By Rohit Vaid, New Delhi, Feb 23 IANS | 10 months ago

A recent Supreme Court ruling that criminalises homosexuality has had a negative impact on the sentiment of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community, but the business catering to it remains strong, say entrepreneurs.

"The matter has sent out a negative image of the country, especially to foreign tourists, as they have expressed apprehensions in travelling to India. Foreign LGBT travellers are cautious about their security and legal status in India," said Sanjay Malhotra, founder of Indjapink, India's first dedicated online gay travel boutique.

"However, Indjapink will start India's first ever all men's bed and breakfast-- Pink House in Delhi from March 1," he said.

The Supreme Court last month upheld the validity of Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code ruling that consensual gay sex between adults is illegal.

Malhotra, whose travel agency caters to about 150-200 foreign tourist per year, said that though bookings have not been affected the number of enquiries have gone down and that Indian destinations might loose out to other countries like Thialand and Malaysia in attracting LGBT tourists.

"We might loose out on the substantial LGBT tourist business that could have been generated to other countries like Thailand and Malaysia," Malhotra told IANS

On an average, Malhotra's clientele might spend upwards of USD 500-USD 600 per night per person for their stay in India.

Several global estimates have pegged international LGBT travel segment to be be growing and worth upwards of USD 60-USD 100 billion annually. Several international destinations, hotel chains, airlines and travel agencies seeking to leverage the niche segment.

Marketing and consultancy firms have placed people in LGBT groups under the double income no kids (DINK) community, thanks to more spending capacity with less obligations like children to take care of.

"People belonging from this segment have shown higher spending capacity when it comes to travel, shopping and eating-out. Lately several marketing campaigns targeting this community members could have been seen in India," said media consultant and documentary film maker Ranjit Monga.

According to Monga, niche market segments spanning clothing and fashion accessories, tourism and media targeted at the LGBT community is fast growing in India, with entrepreneurs wanting to cash in on its purchasing power.

"The industry segment like tourism might be effected due to concerns over security and stay here. Other segments offering customized products to young LGBT people are set to grow."

"The community members do not seem to be much affected by the recent happenings. They have been coming out and meeting at parties that have been oraginsed at highend clubs and hotels.

Mumbai-based publisher Queer-Ink's Shobhna S. Kumar feels that though the recent events have been negative in nature, it has brought back the topic of LGBT rights and education in the mainstream.

"Books sales have gone up in the past several months. Especially for books written in Hindi and Marathi. People are coming out and buying books on the topic that have been written by Indian authors and based on Indian characters."

"Overall interest in the LGBT community has gone up. The recent developments might be negative, but it will not have major impact on the niche publishing industry as such. As people will buy the books that interest them," said Singh, whose company will be coming out with the second edition set of stories written by Indian writers this year.

Nonprofit Mission for Indian Gay and Lesbian Empowerment (Mingle) which conducted the first ever leadership summit for LGBT youth in Mumbai from Feb 15-16, said that new enterpruners may be discourged to start out their LGBT-based business due to the court order.

"Enterpruners who want to start LGBT business might be discourged. However, there will not be much of an impact on the businesses in niche segments like travel and publishing," said Udayan Dhar, chief diversity consultant, Mingle.

"The recent developments has cast doubts in human resources managers over the legality of initiatives such such as equal opportunity and employee resources group," said Dhar.

"Thus there is a need for NGOs and legal experts to come in and set aside the doubts over the legality of the issues, as only sexual act have been criminalized," he added.

(Rohit Vaid can be contacted at rohit.v@ians.in)

(Posted on 23-02-2014)

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