INDIA - Sep 9, 2009
Thursday nights at Mirage, a pub in the Crowne Plaza hotel in south Delhi, look like Friday night. Maybe even Saturday night. There's a crowd, and a buzz. Pegs 'N' Pints, another south Delhi pub, sees weekend-like scenes on Tuesdays. The secret of their midweek success is the clientele: on these days: gay people.
With homosexuality winning legal sanction, and a degree of social sanction, bars and discos are now opening their doors to a new gay market. A Tuesday night party rakes in a total of at least Rs 2 lakh every time with as many as 175 men shaking their booties on the dance floor. Mirage, suggest some, makes a bit more even though the weekend is hardly a night away.
According to Manish Sharma, who organises parties for the gay community in Delhi through his firm, Boyzone, "on weekends, the numbers grow to around 300 and the entry fee is anywhere between Rs 300 and Rs 1000 depending on the venue". Then there's food and drinks. Realising this desire among the gay and lesbian community for places to hang out, and their ability to spend, night clubs and bars such as Elevate, 24X7 at The Lalit, Taman Gang at the DLF Promenade, and Liquid Kitchen have all marked out at least one night as 'gay night' in the past six-eight weeks.
What topped this list was the presence of Absolut (vodka) as the sponsor of a party hosted by the Ramola Bachchan-owned Manre celebrating 'diversity'.
"We have seen this happen in various markets across the world and it is often the case that legal reform (reading down of section 377 by the Delhi High Court) makes the corporate world more comfortable about marketing their brands to the gay consumer market," observes Ian Johnson, founder and CEO of Out Now, one of the largest gay marketing firms internationally.
It would be misleading to believe, however, that this market is embracing gay men for who they are. It is all about spending capacity, and Sharma admits as much.
"Some of the spots we have picked opened up only when we discussed the money potential," he says.
According to DJ and model Ignatius Camilio (better known as Iggy), who handles the music at some gay parties, "gay men do spend more because they don't have children", making them easier targets for a night out, with more or less certain returns. In the US, the gay and lesbian group are part of the DINK (double income no kids) community. Hilol Dutta, a fitness trainer, is one half of a DINK couple. He has been in a relationship for nine years, runs a home with his partner, and has their ageing mothers and two dogs to look after.
"Not much has changed. We spend a lot and party regularly. We also travel abroad once or twice a year," he says.
People like Dutta are ideal targets for businesses in this category. As a segment, DINK men are homogeneous and socially mobile. With money in their pockets and no children to support (in most cases), they are a marketer's delight. Even brands like Levi's and General Motors appear to target them in some of their advertisements.
Wayne Waterson, who owns and runs Telephone Bar, Bangkok's oldest gay bar, says, "Airlines, the travel industry, liquor and shoe companies are all in it for money."
Others add that the health and well being segment is another big market. There are shades of this in India, too. A travel agency is up and running and so is a salon. NYC, the Hair and Body, focuses on the homosexual world so gay men are not embarrassed to get themselves waxed or their eyebrows done. The salon, apparently a year in the business, kept a low profile until the Delhi High Court ruling.
InjaPink - perhaps India's first gay travel agency - organises weekend trips as well as longer tours. A 15-day India trip covering most of the north and Goa costs US $ 3,450 (Rs 1.67 lakh). A trip to Rishikesh and its surroundings over the recent Independence Day weekend cost Rs 8,000 per head, but 50 to 75 people apparently went along.
-- by Rohit Sharma and Sharif D Rangnekar for Hindustan Times (reprinted by permission of the author)