Internationally, the search results for LGBT-friendly hotels, either for individuals or couples, are in abundance. Websites like Expedia, Worldrainbowhotels.com, feature a list of LGBT-friendly hotels spread all across the globe. But why is it that despite the decriminalization of section 377 in India and the ad-campaign by StayUncle, companies like OYO, Trivago, Booking.com, have kept mum on their stance of providing Queer friendly hotels, especially for same-sex couples in India?
In September 2018, the Supreme Court of India decriminalized section 377 that penalized consensual gay sex. The landmark judgement from the apex court was welcomed by the queer community after a long history of denial of their freedom to love. A month later, StayUncle, a leading hotel booking website in India launched a unique marketing campaign to address the difficulties faced by same-sex couples while booking hotels. The ad showed a gay couple walking into a hotel to book a room and ended with the message – “Couples need a Room, Not a Judgement.”
StayUncle’s ad campaign raised questions to big brands about their stance on the rights of the LGBTQ+ community. Twitteratis too picked up this new initiative and also raised questions to different brands on similar lines. The campaign was a huge success in terms of 15,000 conversations that floated all over twitter. However, no responses from big brands came to light with regard to their efforts to bring LGBTQ+ community to the mainstream.
How long will the Queer Community have to wait for LGBT-friendly Hotels in India?
If one were to search hotels for LGBT-friendly hotels in the country on google or via the major online booking platforms like OYO, Trivago, Makemytrip, etc., the search results are likely to be either irrelevant or include luxury hotels in India that claim to be LGBT-friendly. The situation cannot be grimmer when there is a glaring absence of a LGBT-friendly filter on these major platforms that have a huge customer market in India.
What is even more shocking is that the top-notch companies like OYO Rooms, Trivago, Goibibo that claim to offer the best-in-class hotel services at unmatched prices, have failed massively to promote their brand as same-sex friendly.
While searching extensively on the web for LGBT-friendly hotels in India, one can come across Mister and Art House in Delhi, India’s first boutique hotel for ‘Men Only’ or international websites like Purple Roofs, letsbookhotel.com that list LGBT-friendly accommodations and travel agencies in the country. However, even these hotels and agencies are not affordable by many, considering their aim is to provide luxury stay and encourage tourists from abroad to spend a vacation in the country. Another concern is that even though Mister and Art House welcomes gay men as couples, one isn’t sure whether websites that claim to be LGBT-friendly are also queer couple-friendly or not. In this light, StayUncle proves to be a better option for not only providing a list of budget-friendly hotels that feature in the starting range of 1200 and above, but for also claiming that it welcomes same-sex couples.
A Couple-Friendly Experience that Negates the Stigma Faced by Same-Sex Couples
Even though some travel agencies or packages have emerged in the tourism industry to provide LGBT-friendly travel experience, however, options for Indian queer community are limited when it comes to searching hotels for a single night stay or a getaway. What is even more shocking is that the top-notch companies like OYO Rooms, Trivago, Goibibo that claim to offer the best-in-class hotel services at unmatched prices, have failed massively to promote their brand as same-sex friendly.
In 2017, OYO Rooms launched the “Relationship mode” on its platform, enabling unmarried couples to find couple-friendly hotels on OYO. The “Relationship mode” feature came after StayUncle launched hotels for unmarried couples. Now that the latter has stepped up post-decriminalization of section 377 by providing same-sex couple friendly filter on its platform, OYO’s stand on the provision of same has been silent. It is disappointing to see how on one hand, major companies like OYO, Goibibo, etc. boast of a couple-friendly experience and on the other hand, negate the presence of same-sex couples and the stigma and harassment that they are more likely to face while booking other hotels.
Another concern is that even though Mister and Art House welcomes gay men as couples, one isn’t sure whether websites that claim to be LGBT-friendly are also queer couple-friendly or not.
Why Queer Friendly hotels?
The stigma towards LGBTQ+ community still exists. The cultural mindset in the country is probably changing past the decriminalization of section 377, but the stigma and prejudices towards the community continue to contribute to the oppression of the queer community. Any cultural change is a slow process, however, structurally, the onus rests on the state and the private sector to put efforts into bringing the community to the mainstream by inclusive marketing campaigns and strategies. Since many continue to be closeted because of the stigma attached to sexual minorities, thus, safe spaces, such as queer friendly hotels become extremely crucial to undo the years of ostracism and ignorance towards the queer community.
Provision of safe spaces, in the form of queer friendly hotels for both individuals and couples would be a structural recognition of sexual identities. These hotels would attract more and more people from the community, a customer market that largely remains untapped. Reaching out to them would work both ways: bringing in more profits for brands and simultaneously boosting the gradual inclusion of the community in the mainstream.
By featuring a pride flag or a pride heart (like on StayUncle’s website) against the hotels that claim to be LGBT-friendly, it can be a real win for the community by seeing spaces becoming more inclusive. It also shifts the burden from the idea that only through a cultural change that the queer community can reclaim their space in society. When queer friendly hotels emerge in public spaces to promise an inclusive stay experience, the tedious task of messaging hotel staff to check if they are LGBT-friendly will wither away.
A couple of things that these LGBT-friendly hotels can do to make the travel experience for the community more inclusive is by telling their queer guests and couples about places that are queer-friendly. These could be restaurants, pubs, etc, or the pride events in a particular city. Providing such information is taking hospitality one step ahead by being sensitive to the customer’s social position and the stigma that comes with it.
In addition to this, sensitization of the hotel staff is extremely important in ensuring that queer couples do not feel judged entering a space that claims to be safe for their identity. It is time that these woke brands should step up in becoming the much-needed structural allies for the community and shoulder the task of bringing the acceptance that the community deserves.
Featured Image Source: StayUncle