Skift Take

As the world comes together to celebrate International Women's Day this week, news coming in from India highlights the country's struggle to provide a safe space for women.

A Brazilian tourist has accused seven men of gang rape in the Indian state of Jharkhand, once again raising questions about the safety of travel in India for women.

For the Indian travel industry, it’s a critical moment: The incident has sparked widespread criticism of India as a destination across social media platforms.

“Our claim to ‘Incredible India’ stands in ruins today,” said Rajeev Kohli, joint managing director of Creative Travel. “All we can do is apologize.”

Kohli told Skift he has been fielding calls from his international network of sales representatives.

“The news is spreading fast in the Latin world. And yes, this will have negative consequences on our reputation as a destination. It will stop fresh bookings. Brazil is a strong market for women groups. But now, they will look at us with a great deal of suspicion now. This has set us back severely in our marketing efforts,” he said.

Travelers to India Are Concerned

Himangshu Baruah, founder and CEO of Finderbridge, who recently launched backpacking trips catering to mostly solo female travelers in Indian northeastern areas like Mizoram, Meghalaya and Arunachal Pradesh, said it will take years to repair the reputation of these destinations.

Finderbridge has been catering to many foreign female travelers and prides itself on providing well secured and guided trips. Baruah said, the incident will disrupt bookings, especially those booked by solo female backpackers.

Chirag Gupta, CEO and founder of Deyor, an online platform providing curated holiday experiences, said that 30% of his clients are female.

He said he hasn’t received any cancellations yet but has been receiving calls from international guests concerned about upcoming trips.

“Our top priority is to ensure the safety and well-being of our clients, and we are closely monitoring the situation to update them with information and guidance. However, in spite of all our reassurances, should an international client still be unsure about their travel plans, we will provide them with 100% refund,” said Gupta.

What’s Needed Right Now?

At a time like this, destinations can respond by taking coordinated actions across various levels, according to Aashish Gupta, Consulting CEO of Federation of Associations in Indian Tourism and Hospitality (FAITH).

“At the local government and destination level, it’s crucial to apprehend and prosecute all those responsible,” Gupta said. “At a national level, an effective crisis management response is essential to reassure travelers that comprehensive safety measures are being implemented.”

Kohli wants the Prime Minister and his government to come out with a strong statement.

“We have no crisis management policy, no voice to counter or address the news. We as the private sector do not have an official stance to say anything.”

He’s also not happy that travel trade associations are quiet. “The primary rule of crisis management is to be present, forward facing and honest. Unfortunately, we have none of those characteristics in those who govern or lead our industry. We just sit twiddling our thumbs hoping this will go away. But it won’t.”

Advocating for a Safer, Inclusive Society

Nilesh Shah, president of Travel and Tourism Association of Goa, highlighted the need for tour operators to educate tourists about the destinations they are visiting. He also stressed the significance of providing tourists with helpline numbers and reassuring them that assistance is readily available.

Shah further emphasized the role of schools in fostering cultural awareness from an early age. “As India aims for development, it’s essential for schools to educate students about diverse cultural sensitivities.”

While condemning the act and calling it shameful, Rama Mahendru, country general manager — India for Intrepid Travel, said empowering women and advocating for a safer, inclusive society are essential.

“India has taken steps like increasing police patrols, launching awareness campaigns, and expediting legal processes for sexual assault cases. It’s also crucial to foster respect, equality, and zero tolerance for violence against women,” she said.

Kohli concluded with strong words: “I think it’s time for the private sector to band together and start thinking afresh. Ignore what the government does or does not do. Ignore the associations. We have to fend for ourselves. Enough is enough.”


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Tags: asia monthly, crisis management, destination marketing, india, safety, women travelers

Photo credit: Single female traveler in India. Rachel Claire / Pexels

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