Mumbai: Marriage hit the rocks? Considering a divorce? An Indian tour operator wants warring couples to hold off consulting lawyers and go on holiday instead—with a relationship counsellor in tow.
Mumbai-based KV Tours and Travels has launched divorce tourism packages, designed to get spouses who have fallen out of love to bury the hatchet. “With divorce tourism, what we’re trying to do is to bring together couples who are heading towards divorce to stop them,” chief executive Vijesh Thakker said.
India, where marriage is still viewed as the bedrock of society, has traditionally had one of the world’s lowest divorce rates. Only about one in 100 marriages fail, compared with one in two in the US. But the divorce rate is rising, particularly in India’s big cities.
“In metropolitan areas like New Delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore and Chennai, where higher income people are residing, divorce is becoming quite common,” said Hasan Anzar, a partner at New Delhi firm ANZ Lawz. “You can definitely say that cases of family law are rising and it’s happening with all lawyers.” Reasons for the rise include the greater empowerment of women in urban India through better education and employment, which has changed their aspirations in life and given them financial independence, said Anzar.
Others are interference from in-laws, or imported ideas of love marriages, as opposed to the ones arranged by families along social, religious or caste lines. In a sign of the phenomenon, ANZ Lawz runs an Internet-based subsidiary called Divorcelawyers.co.in, which bills itself as “India’s first exclusive divorce law firm”.
Elsewhere, websites such as Secondshaadi.com offer online dating services to divorcees and widows, who until recently were widely ostracized by conservative society.
Thakker said couples at loggerheads may not be ready to spend cash on each other, so family members who want to save a failing marriage, foot the bill. He said he had had half a dozen enquiries shortly after launching last month and was hoping for more.
Different packages are available, from week-long stays in hill station resorts costing about Rs35,000 to more expensive foreign destinations.
“We are trying to send them where they have not been before, where there are not many people and no relatives,” said Thakker.
Experienced marriage counsellors, whose costs are paid through deals made with hoteliers and travel agents, will accompany the couples, encouraging them to patch up and make a fresh start.
Thakker, a 40-year-old father of two sons and “happily married for 18 years,” reckons a seven-day trip is enough to determine a couple’s future.
Anzar suggested that the concept might work because of the continuing stigma of divorce in certain sections of the society and the wider significance of marriage as a union of families, not just individuals.
Rhea Pravin Tembhekar, a clinical psychologist and psychotherapist who runs a counselling centre in Mumbai, said she was intrigued by the concept. “If you’re fighting about trivial things, like time management or in-laws issues— ‘my mother, your mother, my money, your money, etc.—maybe a holiday might work,” she said. “But sometimes the issues are very critical, like domestic violence. You can’t go on holiday and resolve that.” The package comes as the tourism sector suffers a downturn due to the effects of the global slowdown.
Thakker, who hit on the concept after seeing a friend go through a divorce, said innovation was the key to helping boost tourist numbers. “Nowadays divorce rates are rising, so we need to sort it out. It’s a good thing we’re doing. And we’re helping domestic and international governments by promoting tourism.” “We’re not destiny changers,” he admitted, but added: “We want them to treat the trip like a second honeymoon.”