Where is the pink rupee being spent in transit? The wealthier among India’s gay community are thinking “exotic” these days and making a beeline for the Caribbean, the Maldives and Zanzibar, pop icon Freddie Mercury’s birthplace. Ashok Row Kavi, gay activist and chairperson of Humsafar Trust, says St Petersburg has emerged as a hot destination across the community, because “it is cheap and exotic”. Then there is old favourite Amsterdam, and newly popular Dusseldorf and Morocco.
Travel trade analysts say that there is no quantifiable data on gay travel, but, in the domestic circuit, there are at least three destinations that are popular with the community: Goa, Pondicherry and Manali. “There is still a ‘foreign’ connect attached to Goa and Pondicherry, which makes them less judgmental and intrusive,” says an analyst who collects data on outbound and domestic travel trade, who requested anonymity as his work involves confidentiality. Goa, in fact, has an “open gay pub” in Panjim, something not too many “straight travellers” are aware of. Nor are too many people aware that Chandigarh is another emerging destination for gays.
There are websites for all Indian metros to help gay travellers with information and FAQs. In Mumbai, for instance, there is gaybombay.org, which claims to help with travel itinerary; it also has a ‘gbcalender’ that lists all gay events being held in and around Mumbai. “Delhi has at least three five-star hotels that give special schemes to gay tourists, but business is conducted strictly via word-of-mouth,” says London-based Arvind Gupte, a frequent traveller to New Delhi. “We usually go to the bigger cities for the fun and the partying. For a vacation we go to Goa or Pondicherry.”
According to Dinesh S, fashion coordinator, there are gays who earn less than Rs 15,000 a month, but who manage to go abroad at least twice a year - usually Bangkok and Pattaya in Thailand, and Sri Lanka, as both these countries are cheap and accessible.
"When the Dolce Gabbana came out with its hoarding showing Domenico Dolce posing with designer partner (and former lover) Stefano Gabbana, many people in India were curious why the ad was targeting the 'niche' gay community," says Dinesh. "The question was: is there a niche gay community that would spend so much? The answer is yes; even if we don't qualify as being SEC A, we spend substantial amounts on grooming and the feel-good factor."
And feel-good, he feels, is what travel is all about for the gay community.