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 counselor in tow.
KV Tours and Travels, based in India s financial capital of Mumbai, 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, the company s 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 United States.
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, Hasan Anzar, a partner at a New Delhi firm ANZ Lawz, said.
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, many of whom live with married couples in the joint family structure, or imported ideas of love marriages , as opposed to 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 like secondshaadi.com offer online dating services to divorcees and widows, who until recently were widely ostracized by conservative society. Shaadi is the Hindi word for wedding.
Thakker said couples at loggerheads are likely to be unwilling to spend cash on each other, so instead he is targeting family members who want to save a failing marriage – often to save family honor – to foot the bill.
He said he 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 35,000 rupees ($720) to more expensive foreign destinations.
We re trying to send them where they have not been before, where there are not many people – and no relatives, said Thakker.
Experienced marriage counselors, whose costs are paid through deals made with hoteliers and travel agents, will accompany the husbands and wives, encouraging them to patch up their differences and make a fresh start.
A 40-year-old father of two sons and happily married for 18 years, Thakker reckons a seven-day trip is enough to determine a couple s future.
Anzar suggested that the concept might work because of the continuing social stigma of divorce in certain sections of Indian society and the wider significance here of marriage as a union of families, not just individuals.
Rhea Pravin Tembhekar, a clinical psychologist and psychotherapist who runs a counseling 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, etcetera – 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 unusual package comes as the Indian tourism sector suffers a downturn due to the continued effects of the global economic crisis. Overseas visitors also fell after last November s militant attacks on Mumbai.
Thakker, who hit on the concept after seeing a friend go through a divorce 18 months ago, said innovation was the key to helping boost tourist numbers.
People are ready to accept new concepts, he said.
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.
He admitted that we re not destiny changers, but added: We want them to treat the trip like a second honeymoon.