With the participation of numerous leaders of the Indian travel, tourism and hospitality industry, the second LGBTQ+ Travel Symposium was successfully organised recently in New Delhi by the IGLTA Foundation as a large number of stakeholders from the industry turned up for the symposium that seeks to promote LGBTQ+ travel in India.
Among the notable speakers at the symposium were Keshav Suri, Executive Director of the Lalit Suri Hospitality Group, Aditya Ghosh, Co-Founder of Akasa Airlines, India’s latest airline that began operations two years ago, and Ribu Chaudhary, Head of Communication and Brand at Amadeus.
LoAnn Halden, Vice President-Communications of IGLTA, which is the leading global association of LGBTQ+ travel trade, was delighted by the response of the Indian market to the symposium.
‘‘The response this year was actually overwhelmingly positive and we had a significantly more participation this year than we did last year, which was very, very encouraging. We are really committed to promoting and advancing LGBTQ+ tourism in emerging markets which don’t have existing infrastructure or governmental support for the LGBTQ+ community. So this is one of the major initiatives of our IGLTA Foundation that is to be a support system and resource for LGBTQ+ tourism in India,’’ Halden told India Outbound, which was the media partner for the symposium.
It is not just the attendance at the symposium that was bigger but its composition was also different this year, according to Halden.
‘‘Last year we actually had a little bit more outbound travel in the programme. And I feel like this year we have struck a better balance of having all sectors of the industry here. We had airlines, hoteliers inbound and outbound tour operators and travel agents represented this year. So it was a much better reflection of the diversity of India’s travel industry,’’ added Halden, who attributed the shift in the response to the evolution of IGLTA’s relationship with Suri of Lalit Hospitality Group.
‘‘A year ago, we were just forming this relationship and getting to know each other, and he is hugely connected and influential in driving LGBTQ+ progress throughout India. So we were in, say, the courtship phase. But over this past year, he has become the chair of our Indian initiative, he has gotten all of his India properties accredited and he has been to our global convention in Puerto Rico, where he was honoured with the Pioneer Award. This collaboration has developed and blossomed a lot in the past few months,’’ added Halden.
Despite the success of the second symposium, IGLTA Foundation knows that there is still an uphill task of creating adequate awareness and an atmosphere in India where the LGBTQ+ travel can truly develop and not just in Delhi, but also in other parts of the country.
‘‘It is really a matter of education and generating greater understanding, and that is exactly why we are doing this symposium and that is why we are committed to doing this symposium year over year in Delhi in February. We will be back next year. But we are also looking at bringing it to other cities as well so we can expand the dialogue because awareness and the ability to have these conversations and educate is actually the greatest hurdle. What I have found is that many of the Indian tourism professionals that I have spoken to are not necessarily opposed to the concept. They just don’t really understand it or know where to begin. And that means we have to have a lot of one on one conversations and symposiums like this to help and expand that more quickly,’’ said Halden.
Thomas “TJ” Chernick, IGLTA Foundation Partnership Engagement Director, is also excited about the prospects of IGLTA Foundation and the LGBTQ+ travel in India, contrary to what he had expected. Unlike Halden, this was the first time in India for Chernick and the response he saw dispelled many of his notions, he said.
‘‘In my mind, India was a very tough market which would take time to become more and more receptive. But the conversations today have just been amazing. People have been so curious, so receptive and so inclusive, even though they don’t know everything about the community and what the LGBTQ travel is, they still want to know about it. And this has been the takeaway from the day,’’ Chernick told India Outbound.
Chernick added that he was also pleasantly surprised to see the turnout at the event, which far exceeded his expectations. ‘‘It was far beyond anything I could imagine. I had an idea of what it was going to be, but it was so much more. And to see so many participants from different corporations and industries, airlines, corporations, technology companies, local non-profits, community associations. It was really incredible to see them all coming around. The response of the Indian travel trade was excitement and curiosity, which I think is really great. So many people want to know how to cater to the community, how to engage with the community in a way that is respectful and safe,’’ Chernick added.
In order to continue this work of education and awareness in a more systematic and continuous manner, IGLTA recently hired Parth Patnaik as its membership development manager in India. Halden added that IGLTA Foundation was looking to expand the symposium model across to other cities to allow more people in the travel and tourism industry to participate.
Like Halden, Patnaik also found the response from the Indian travel trade to be extremely positive. “The response has been massively positive. I did not even know that people were so curious to know more about the community and also welcoming them into their space. So the conversations today went around like, how can we know more about the LGBT community, how can we actually hire someone from the community?’’ Patnaik told India Outbound.
But it is still early days as IGLTA would need time to make its presence felt in the market, starting with understanding the market and how to expand the IGLTA membership in the country.
‘‘Right now, it is more a process of understanding how the market is and also identifying in the process where I can actually pitch in IGLTA and make an inclusive network in the Indian market. So far in the last five months I have been with IGLTA, the the response has been awesome. People want to know more about it and I have been able to get members from places I never thought that they will join. So that has been really amazing journey so far and I am still learning in the process and I want to make India a destination which is actually inclusive and I think we will get there,’’ Patnaik added.