We spoke to Raj Singla who organises gay-friendly trips in India
Since this interview was published, homosexuality has been decriminalised in India, liberating a fifth of the world’s gay population. You can read more about the repeal of Section 377 here.
What is it like for LGBT couples in India right now, both tourists and residents?
First let’s start with the term LGBT – it’s very alien to the masses, not many people are even aware of the word gay. The term only really exists in the metropolitan cities like Delhi, Bangalore & Mumbai.
About Out Of Office
Out Of Office is a luxury tailor-made travel company with a focus on delivering exclusivity and inclusivity. Our passion for global adventure is matched only by our deep commitment to delivering exceptional five-star service.
Everything we do is customised and designed especially for you – our valued customer – based on your exact personal requirements. Each member of our team is widely travelled. This means you get access to first-rate travel insights and the best possible advice from our team of luxury travel experts.
LGBT couples – both tourists and residents – keep a low profile and organise underground parties; the scene is always on but remains closeted. Also, as of recently, no crime has been recorded against LGBT couples, so things are running smoothly.
How safe is it to be an LGBT couple travelling in India in 2018?
India seems so exotic to many travellers. When we talk to niche markets like LGBT travellers, they are always interested in history, culture, colours; in the forts and Palaces in the north and Ayurveda in the South. Their main focus is always on travelling and exploring the big cities and towns. So far, 2017 and 2018 have been good years, and we have recorded around 250 to 280 guests in this calendar year so far. If we talk about acceptance, Indian hoteliers are slowly understanding the potential of this market, and they’ve come up with different marketing approaches just for LGBT travellers. Particularly the big names like Hyatt, Hilton, Radisson, Starwood, Marriott; also the local ones like Taj and Oberoi are slowly starting to understand the commercial potential of gay travellers. So, all in all I can say LGBT people are welcome in India. After all, we had gay gods which can be seen in the erotic temple art of Khajuraho, where the term Kamasutra originated.
In 2018 the Supreme Court is set to decide whether same-sex relations should be made legal. Are you optimistic about their decision?
There is a lot going on, and the good part is that the big names in Bollywood are coming out, and also helping many LGBT organisations which protect their rights and freedom. Many Bollywood directors now showcase gay components in their movies, which in general is accepted by the masses. So I am sure the movement is gaining its pace and soon the Supreme Court will make it legal and official.
Which places in India would you recommend the most for tourists?
India has a lot to offer and because of its geography, one can actually travel for a year and still find more. However, the tourists we cater for come for a minimum of two weeks – sometimes a month – and most of them are gay couples or solo travellers. The best selling itineraries are for the North (Imperial Rajasthan with forts and Palaces) and the South of India (Tamil Nadu and Kerala). The North is famous for its glorious castles, forts and palaces – some which are now converted into Heritage Hotels and restaurants. The South is more common among those who are looking for peace, Ayurveda and bit of culture.
How do you ensure that your guests have the best time possible whilst travelling in India?
We make sure we hand pick gay-friendly guides and gay-friendly accommodation. We plan our guest’s itineraries in advance so you won’t hear unnecessary questions like, “”Do you wish to have twin beds or a double bed?”” Even our drivers are educated about LGBT issues, so they know how to behave and to take our guests to safe destinations. We also have gay representatives who meet and greet the clients upon arrival, brief them about the tour, and explain the do’s and don’ts. We sometimes organise special dinners next to the lake with a gay representative who explains what it’s like being Gay in India. So all these ingredients help us to win the hearts of travellers and make their travel experience wonderful and memorable.
Where do you see India in 20 years from now in regards to attitudes towards the LGBT community?
Hmm, I guess all I can say is that it’s the second most populated country in the world, and in 20 years time may be the most populated country. I am sure we will have the biggest gay population in the world, and by then Gay marriages, Gay hotels, gay bars and gay parties will all be made legal.