Monday, 30 September 2013

Gay Safety in Gay India

British tourists need to be careful here in Delhi. What are your tips to being careful in Delhi?
1 – Enquire about the guy, what his occupational background is, if he studies or not. If he’s qualified enough he will be nice to you.
2 – Meet the guy first, you should take care of your belongings. Don’t trust the guy too much.

Be careful who you chat to

Saturday, 28 September 2013

Gay Travel - Interviews with Gay Indians in Delhi

-       Just arrived at the party. We found out through email.
-       This is in Noida, in the far west side on the blue line.
-       Do they mostly happen here?
-       Yes, every Saturday night. In the M Lounge where we are now.
-       Its really got started loads of people here, what time does it go on until?
-       It finishes at 2am
-       And then what do they do?
-       People will walk talk and gossip after, they will have fun because it is Saturday night.

-       You’re not originally from Delhi, how long have you been here?
-       4 months
-       You discovered the gay scene already, if you’re a gay man, what do you do?
-       Come to the centre part in Connaught Place and there are gay people here  on a Sunday where you can interact. If your’e away from home and need friends, it’s a place to socialize for a bit.  Meet people and make friends. Sometimes if I want sex I go to Planet Romeo and it’s very popular here in Delhi. I meet very nice guys here, very classy.
-       You came from Bombay?
-       Yes I was in Mumbai. Mumbai being Bollywood, you get very nice, posh, fashionable guys, models, girls, nightlife is more happening here. Fashion models go here, and I partied a lot on the east side. Many international performances and music. I prefer Bombay to Delhi.
-       You have spent a lot time in Berlin, Now you’re here in Delhi. What is so great about Delhi
-       Well it is very colourful. It’s the capital of India and most of the gay perople are staying Delhi. I am lving a colourful life and I am having lots of fun
-       You’re wearing a beautiful Sari
-       People are really friendly, you can wear what you want.
-       This is one of the best nights out.
-       Yes it is, people give me loads of attention.

-       PlanetRomeo is very popular, it’s the number one cruising app?
-       Yes it is, but this park in Delhi is much better. We just come here to hangout with all our friends and to meet people. Mostly we see a lot of the young queens around here. Some are maybe sexual discriminating but not much. We hardly speak to the strangers though, we also organize parties where we get together and invite new friends and mix.
-       You spend a lot of time in London, how do you compare to Delhi?
-       The thing is, I am in modern life. Its not easy to accept yourself you are gay. I can proudly say I am gay, and I never had a problem. And hopefully you are confident and it will not bother you. In London I can be comfortable fully gay holding hands in the street, kiss someone, and there are so many parties and bars. You can be who you like. Here I have to behave straight, I have many straight friends, we all talk about girls and things, unless someone asks me I don’t show off I am gay.
-       Do you feel it is getting easier here?
-       Yes it is improving. You see more young guys coming out, and this park. Everyone has smartphone using the gay sites, it’s easy to communicate, and therefore not afraid to look at people and talk.
-       There are many groups of guys here in this park who are probably gay?
-       For you as a foreigner, they make eye-contact and they smile, that may not mean they are gay. Just being friendly.

Bisexual - Anon
-       What Is life like?
-       I like nice guys and also honest guys.
-       Is that difficult?
-       If you have friend or contact who can introduce you.
-       How long have you been a bisexual
-       10 years
-       You’re also an escort?
-       Yea
-       And you have your own agency?
-       Yeah
-       When did you set that up?
-       Not confirmed
-       You also use Planet Romeo to meet people
-       It’s not the best place. There are so many fake people there. You can find people in Yahoo, Facebook or Skype
-       Do you have tips for foreigners meeting gay boys in Delhi?
-       Don’t trust anyone easily!

-       What’s’ great about Delhi
-       The gay scene is very open now. We can wear as we wish, I wear clothes which I cannot do in my home town. I can meet with guys, and go anywhere and any places. Here I found myself, which I cannot do back home. I don’t want to live a dual life that I used to live in my home town, I had to pretend to be a straight guy. Here I can do what I like, which I love that.
-       Does your family know you are gay?
-       Not at all. It’s a secret I have to keep from them. Never ever can I tell them
-       In Delhi your straight friends know you are gay?
-       All my straight friends in College know I am gay. They are okay with that .
-       Do you think culture is changing with younger gay people?
-       I can’t comment on the culture. But I guess minds are changing. Gays are ok, just ok. But families and society will never accept us ever. In Delhi we are normally gay, but we can be open. But socialize we are not accepted until now and not in coming years.
-       But you can at least hangout?
-       Yes, I do always, since I have been in Delhi, I have been doing this openly.

Friday, 27 September 2013

Socially Intelligent Travel Buying Data – are we giving enough away?

 I’m looking forward to the next phase of the travel world as the buying process begins to start a little like the Amazon/s, Google’s and eBay’s of this world – when our buying habits become logged, referred to and offered back to us.

One of my favourites is certainly EasyJet – they really know how to give you what you want – even if budget airlines sometimes get a bad reputation. Airlines on the whole are doing very clever things with online digital marketing and is inspiring us to travel, but then again they do have the budget for it – unlike the independent hotels, but what does this mean for our hotel selection and preferences and how we might have better access in the future?

As hotels catch-up with the digital act, they too are compiling the huge sums of data that we, as travelers, are providing to them. Caching our Facebook likes and interests, chasing our tweets, and recording our online purchase journey can only mean we start to see products that we like, that we want.

Yet we will too much be sold the big brands at this point, as they begin to become savvy on how we look for our travel bargains. Afterall, how can a business in the travel industry offer customer centric services and products if they don’t know what we like?

One interesting statement that Bob Barker, consultant from social technology, mentioned is the future of Google Glasses, can you imagine them on all service staff in a hotel. The staff member asks its “GGlasses” to “Recognise” us as we walk in the hotel (soon they will already know we are approaching because of our facebook habits and use of their location-serviced mobile applications). The service would be phenomenol; they know what we look like, they know why I am traveling, they know what I like, and they will know how to go the extra mile.

It would also mean that prior to booking we would have found a full hotel package that is fully tailored to our needs: a double deluxe bedroom, with full body power-shower, English breakfast, vodka and redbull in the mini bar and a map pointing to all the gay venues in the city. They know me, and they are going to give me one hell of a “stay experience”.

Obviously our biggest concern will be over Data Privacy, how will we know our data is being sensitively, that this is no Big Brother? Yet, it will be argued that we are all our own guards of our destiny – how we all look after our own personal data will be paramount. Managing your access settings across social media and with retailers. I personally clear my Cookies every few weeks, and edit my public profiles on an ongoing basis to ensure that I am keeping myself protected.

Therefore, it is important that as consumers we fully know this is the case with companies using our data. Especially that which is provided privately i.e address, credit card, passport details etc.

So watch this space – it looks like socially intelligent travel buying is coming this way.

Thursday, 26 September 2013

Gay India

India is a large country, 1.2 billion people, even taking just the basic 6% that those are gay make a total of 60miillon to 120 million gay people. The culture is religiously diverse with Muslim, Christian, Sikhs, Hindu, Buddhists. It's countrymen made of a wide range of Asians from Middle East, to China to southern, influenced by colonization by British, French, Dutch and Portuguese among others. With travelers from Europe, Australia and USA - it should make it a cauldron mixed of all the best yet orthodox ways and conservatism push homosexuality under the carpet.

In 2009 the Indian government repealed the age-old British law banning homosexuality. A step in the right direction. And some citizens in larger cities try to be recognized in Mumbai, Kolkata and Delhi yet the gay culture remains discreet.

Steps to equality must start somewhere and this repeal of the gay ban is the beginning. The increasing focus on women's rights and equality is going to go hand in hand with the recognition of gay people. Eunuchs (trans-type people) are called to provide good luck at marriages but then banished at all other times to their own world on the edge of societal existence. But where does that leave the gay man and girl?

The lesbian is all but visible. While for gay men there are ways - as visitors we can see them on gay meeting applications like gaydar, grinder and most of all Planet Romeo. To insiders it is a must to be part of special invite lists for local parties - all of which happen in just the major cities and even then limited to Delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore and Kolkata and lucky if they occur weekly. There are also the traditional cruising grounds in existence, but where does that put homosexuality?

It's in the fringes - speaking to gay guys in Delhi they are happy that way . Using applications and cruising grounds keeps their identity safe - some say they live in Delhi because they can be who they want to be, but families and friends are still none the wiser. It simply gives them a way to practise their interests and in no way gives them the full freedoms.

I was lucky to meet Rohit who works for Pinkvibyor a gay travel agency - though from Mumbai where he says the city is vibrant with gay people and lifestyles he is still learning what life is like in Delhi. Gay nights weekly on the outskirts of Delhi - well a different town altogether - Noida - this is the safe kind of party. Its held in a bar - with a dj and alcohol. When i went - M Lounge- about 60 people were there, small number but perfectly filled the small joint. A group of cross dressers/ transsexuals danced the night away. I spoke to Melissa, dressed in a brightly colored sari, she has been living in Delhi for a year but had spent a few years in Berlin, to which she speaks enthusiastically about "Berlin it's amazing, one of the best cities on earth". Berlin is incredibly open and gay life there is one of the most equal in the world, yet she raves about Delhi.

Another meeting place is weekly in the Central Park on Connaught Place gay people meet on Sundays. The place is packed with groups of lads hanging out.

I first meet Mahindra - spends half his time between London and Delhi - he called me to join his group sat chilling out - he must have spotted my British mannerisms. I see the sparkle in the eye as he mentions his life on London and tries to convince me that Delhi is just as exciting.

I move round the park and speak to a group of lads on a bench. They enthusiastically tell me they are all bisexual - all 8 of them! I ask what life is like as a gay person and they say it is good. These men so obviously live double lives - then I discover a darker side, they're all escorts. The main speaker talks of his escort agency - Delhi Boys - which he started 2-3 years ago. It's doing well and saw an opportunity to build a business. 

According to my Delhi contact the city is rife with lads charging for their time: students with bills to pay, uneducated guys with a need to earn and then those simply finding it an easier way to earn money. They charge 1500-3000ruppees per hour barely £40. It's a living.

Even in the gay night there were plenty of escorts - many dressed in black as a signal: keen to sexually exploit themselves - make themselves available. It's hard to distinguish who they are, their English is amazing- better than many working in call centres (which is most of their occupations). So as a single gay man - how does it work?

Some talk of getting married to a woman at some point for the sake of their parents. Yet speaking to some elders during my India visit this is becoming more difficult - the recent rape cases are the result of years of neglect. Families disposing of female offspring in favour for a male heir - men out number women and therefore opportunities to marry significantly decline. Men without a women "go crazy. At the age of 24-25 years old, no woman, no sex. That's why we have so many rape cases. It's not like in Europe where sex is legal from 14-16 years old and frequently had, these men have never had it - so they have to find it.

It's a dark side to India that can only get worse. Men are hiding their sexuality, men are unable to find women. It's a vicious circle that can lead to slow progression in equality and sexual freedom.

Turn on Planet Romeo and its like a machine gun - guys are driving messages begging to meet, not to meet but to get their sexual fulfillment. If this is how the gay men feel with a sexual outlet how are the straight men going to behave?

The gap between rich and poor is growing by the day in India - and the cultural differences between cities and countryside will drive India to cultural despair. If campaigning for women's rights is tough then getting gay rights firm on the agenda is a long way off - especially if gay men are happy to let it slide and remain discreet.

See the Full Transcript of the interviews in the next blog

Top Gay Ski Events Worldwide

The days are getting darker and the warmth of the sun is lowering, while the mountains are preparing to go pink as gay and lesbian travelers look into their winter retreats. New Zealand is just ending it’s winter and has celebrated with the annual Gay Ski Week Queenstown that ran from 31st August to 7th September.

As with most ski weeks the gay guys and gals left feeling bruised and exhausted from a week on the slopes during the day, long afternoons of après-ski and evenings partying Facebook:

The rainbow winter sports in South America - Argentina for Bariloche Gay Ski Week, which is becoming a popular event in San Carlos de Bariloche lying on the banks of Lake Nahuel Huapi, surrounded by mountains and forests and a packed program of events. Regarded as “little Switzerland” – this romantic area of virgin green forests and snow-capped mountains is an ideal location for skiing, snowboarding, horseriding, yaughting and hiking.

So what’s coming up in Europe and North America? The number one Winter Gay Pride event is renowned to be GayWhistler in British Columbia, Canada, 26 January – 2 February 2013: The GayWhistler team has launched its 2014 event and is ready for the onslaught of thousands of gay and lesbian skiers.

In Europe on the other hand, Arosa is preparing for it’s countdown which will take place at the beginning of the year 12 - 19 January 2014

Other mega ski-weeks to keep an eye-on

What others have you been to? Or where have you found a good gay nightlife when skiing?

Hotel Loyalty – is it heading in the right direction?

Attending the Hotel Analyst Distribution Event on 23 September, it was a chance to smooze with some of the biggest hotel channels, shake hands with the big bad boy OTAs, and gossip with service companies on the future of the industry.

Where are hotels going? What are they trying to achieve to make stays a better experience for guests? And their aim – ongoing increases in profit, using loyalty from their guests to spur this growth.

What you might notice when you look for hotels is that pricing will be the same…this is a way that hotels work to try to encourage you to book direct. Yet for many hoteliers, travelers find it much easier to book with the big intermediaries like Expedia and booking…as we know – its easier to search through a selection of hotels, then one hotel by one hotel.

Therefore hotels seek to keep customers coming back time and time again, and they are looking at the following criteria.

-       The modern traveler researches personally
-       Looking for a richer travel experience
-       Cross-brand programmes
-       Point systems
-       Cash-back
-       Easy and simple redemption
-       Emotional attachment to guest
-       What is the loyalty?
-       Brand relevance, relevance to the guest
-       Avoiding customer disappointment

But, do loyalty programmes add value ?!?

Do you sign up to a loyalty programme?

I use Air Miles, earn points on my Credit Card, I subscribe to Nectar (purely because I was forced to by my Gay/Electric company), use Boots card, and the Tesco card…but that’s the extent of my loyalty cards 1) I don’t want a full wallet 2) I want to spend what I have earned easily 3) I need to remember all the loyalty programmes I am in.

Wednesday, 25 September 2013

HOSPA - mobile change in hotels

I’m a mobile man…are you? (sorry “person”)

Well we all know the trials and tribulations as we try to hook up to the Wi-Fi at hotels around the globe. The best places I found for catering to travelers needs are the South Americans, they know how to deliver free Wi-Fi. Hostels also recognize the value of Wi-Fi for guests, but why do hotels still struggle with this concept? Why can I go to the pub on the corner and surf, but not in my hotel room…and we wonder why hotels are struggling?

I attended the HOSPAWorkshop event to look at mobile technologies in hotels, beyond Wi-Fi it’s the strategy that hotels, on the whole, really need to catch up. While their retailing counterparts are outdoing them with online purchases and the buying experience, the hotel industry is still using archaic systems to manage their properties, their people and their guests.

Social media is in full swing as we blog, Tweet and Facebook / G+…and hotels are keen to commercialise this instead of jumping straight into the action.

Software companies at this event talked about the ‘cloud’, you know that place where we store our photos and documents from our mobiles?! And they talk about SaaS (software as a service), like our Gmail accounts, Flickr etc…

See. Several steps behind us right?

Well just imagine what their Reservation management system looks like? You wonder why it is so difficult to book a hotel direct, or a hotel has the right reservation details for you…well wonder no more…!

We are changing the way we book our hotels, where we find where we want to stay, yet we’re continually forced to use the big brands or TripAdvisor, Expedia or booking to research and make these decisions. We want a new experience to our hotel stay, and as the mobile youth generation begin to afford to travel their decisions are going to be on how well a hotel can service them…through our mobile.

And the impact? A big change in the way that the middle hotels 2 – 4* will survive to deliver guests these expectations.

Everyone talks so highly of CitizenM…the concept of community, loyalty and being part of the club, a hotel brand utilizing new technologies like Apple Passbook (you know how frustrating it is to have to find an internet café to print off your boarding pass or hotel reservation receipt).

Speaking to Mike Murray of Tripcraft, an enterprise solution for hotels, has the guest experience and loyalty at the centre of the system to help hotels improve that customer service. Facilitating multilingual conversation between the guest and the hotel staff…and incorporating all existing technologies in the hotel, so that OUR guest data is centralized so we don’t have to repeat ourselves time and time again.

Mobile technology is developing at such a rate, the question is will hotels be able to tap into it and keep up. iRiS Mobile Concierge is another one that is placing all hotel services within an App to help customers search for information, and order services and products themselves, from their room or when they are on their way to the hotel.

Speaking to Paul Lingard-Kay of Old English Inns, technology is moving in a hotel but adoption is not easy. At local property level, expecting staff to handle these technologies consistently is a challenge, and therefore centralizing this management of digital, marketing, content and communications with guests is the trend.

It helps to understand why some communications is more generic than we would expect from unique properties.

What we also have to understand, as travelers, is that on the whole, the industry has “forgotten” that it’s in the ‘people business’. Salaries have changed little, and you will often be confronted by the lowest qualified staff in the most important positions. As a guest this cannot excuse misgivings in the level of service or quality of experience at the hotel.

It is as though the level of trust in staff has diminished in favour of cutting basic operational costs, that include salaries, rather than trying to maintain a higher quality level of service.

We can put this down to one thing – hotels are looking for the quick fix.

Everything is being bolted in, hotels are trying to evolve rather than take a leap of faith and do something different. And travelers are only going to suffer.

Tuesday, 24 September 2013

Agra - make it a small pit stop!

I felt at peace! Was this the Varanasi effect?

I arrived 2 hours early, I wait patiently at Varanasi train

station gently nodding in our of sleep while watching other passengers calmly letting time pass. Trains were delayed - I couldn't tell if it was by minutes or hours. I wasn't too bothered mine was still on time. 

Other than a platform change at the last minute I found my carriage. An upgrade from my last journey. A 4-berth cabin. The carriage was pretty empty. The steward arranged my sheets and pillows then demanded money - I was bewildered - money money!
I fell straight to sleep and only woke at 6am when another passenger boarded my berth. I rolled over and slept further, my alarm rang at 7am to prepare me for my arrival in Agra at 7.30am. 8.30 came and I began to get nervous - were we that delayed? My fellow passenger woke at 9.30am and explained the train had been delayed 2 hours when she boarded - and was delayed by a further hour. We exchanged chitchat (it’s amazing how you pick up this word in India) and she advised me for the next hour until we finally rolled into Agra Fort.
Touts were awaiting me - I knew this beforehand but this would be the start of my dislike for Agra. They knew how to spin tourists. They hassle beyond hassle, walking with you the entire way waiting for you to give in. 

I made a wrong decision - bartered and took a rickshaw driver with a bad personality. Hotel bound we then fixed a day rate deal - big mistake number two! It would have been cheaper for separate rides and more at my own pace! 

First stop - Taj Mahal. 750R entry, no cigarettes nor video cameras allowed! Screwed again on both counts. The sky was hazy, thick with pollution, so the backdrop was not a stunning Rio blue. The Taj is terrific and worth the visit.

Next stop - Agra Fort, this is very impressive and worth spending about 2 hours whiling around. Fantastic architecture, fine design and brilliant views of the Taj. 

Finally I wanted to walk Taj Ganj for sunset, so I found a rooftop terrace enjoyed a Lassie ( a local milkshake type drink) whilst I chatted to a German traveller, then I moved to another rooftop for nighttime photography and dinner while chatting to yet another German traveller.

My night was done and having ended my tour with my rickshaw driver earlier, I negotiated a deal that was half the rate to get to my hotel. Typical

That was my time in Agra done!