Wednesday, June 2, 2010

India Could Be Next Big Destination for Gay Tourists

When Bryan Herb steps into stores on his trips to India, he says, shopkeepers almost always ask whether he is looking for a souvenir for the woman in his life. A ring for his girlfriend, perhaps? What about a beautiful pink scarf for his wife?

“Every single time this happens, I toy with the idea of saying, ‘I have a boyfriend, not a girlfriend.”’ said Mr. Herb, co-owner of Chicago-based Zoom Vacations, which caters to gay tourists. “But I don’t.”

Homosexuality has long been a hidden facet of Indian life and, until recently, an illegal one. But change is afoot. A Delhi High Court ruling last year decriminalized same-sex intercourse, and sensitivity toward gay people and bisexuals is growing in major cities like Mumbai and New Delhi. The Hindustan Times, one of the country’s largest English-language newspapers, recently began a campaign called, “It is time to open our minds,” encouraging Indians to rethink social issues, including equal rights for gay people.

Now, businesses are beginning to recognize a new and possibly lucrative niche market. Stores aimed at a gay clientele are opening, and same-sex parties and clubs that had been required to stay underground are increasingly making their presence felt.

The customer base is potentially huge: surveys by Forbes India in conjunction with Out Now Consulting, a marketing firm, estimate that 4 percent of Indian adults, or about 30 million people, identify themselves as gay, bisexual or transgender.

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