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Saturday, 03 September, 2011, 17 : 00 PM [IST]

India on an ‘Adventure High’

India is equal to a continent with respect to diversity of terrain and offers immense scope to satiate the enthusiasm of any adventure lover. However, lack of proper infrastructure, self-imposed restrictions etc are major roadblocks for promoting Adventure Tourism in the country. Imran Khan unravels the opportunities and challenges of India as an adventure destination.
The news of an American mountaineer being rescued by the Indian Air Force from an altitude of 23,000 ft in Ladakh region of Jammu & Kashmir flashed through my mind as I started writing this piece on the potential and challenges to develop India as an adventure tourism destination. While, hard or extreme adventure activities are still niche and largely pursued by foreigners, the segment of soft adventure activities  has been overrun by domestic tourists ranging from youngsters to Silvers segment.

Adventure Tourism is still a niche segment but one that is fast evolving in India and recording double digit growth and has the potential to turn into mainstay for tourism in India in near future. This is the result of growing interest among domestic tourists to indulge in adventure activity and the corporate sector to incorporate it in their training programmes and incentives. White water river rafting, trekking, wildlife safaris, skiing are the most popular activities. Paragliding, deep sea diving, bungy jumping, kayaking etc are also picking up. As a result India, which has been promoted as destination for culture, monuments, and festivals so far, now has a product which, if developed and promoted well, can truly make India a 365-day destination.

030911_cs_2.jpgStates such as Himachal Pradesh, Jammu & Kashmir, Madhya Pradesh, Uttarakhand and Goa have shown keen interest in developing and promoting adventure activities and they have invested in creating specific policies to boost this segment, for developing required infrastructure and destinations etc. Even the highly successful Incredible India campaign  showcased India as an Adventure Tourism destination.

Globally the trend is for experential holidays and India is no  exception. Indian tourists   are more aware and educated and are more enthusiastic about niche products. Activity based holidays, even on weekend and short breaks are finding favour with Indians  and while large number of Indian outbound visitors are likely to indulge in adventure activities, in the past five years there has been a quantum leap of Indian opting for a similar holiday at home.  

030911_cs_8.jpgWhat was earlier considered as niche segment has now emerged as as a preferred and affordable holiday option. The emerging niche adventure activities in India include Scuba Diving, Sailing, Paragliding etc. Although these activities are generally targeted towards the high-end leisure segment, they are attracting tourism stakeholders to foray into the such ventures. “Cash rich, time poor,” category of Indian tourists are also willing to pay top ‘dollar’ for their thrill ‘fix’ but accompanied by luxury trappings for all other things except the activity. Corporate world also falls in a similar bracket rasing the Adventure Tourism business from the backpacker or budget profile to high-end experential offering making it lucrative business.

030911_cs_3.jpgThe new trend seen among tourists is a willingness to step away from traditional tour packages and explore other options wherein they can get a unique experience which they can take back with them. Captain Swadesh Kumar, Managing Director, Shikhar Travels averred, “Adventure Tourism is the fastest growing segment of the tourism industry. In fact, during the last few years if any segment of the tourism industry has seen growth, it is Adventure Tourism. There has been a 20 per cent growth in the domestic sector. Corporates are more attracted towards soft adventure than any other segment of adventure tourism. Corporates are also seen to prefer travelling in groups than individually. That said, in general, the trends of tourism have changed and the Indian domestic traveller wants to experience the destination which is not feasible while travelling in a group. When you travel alone, you get to assert your individuality and get time for yourself. You travel with the freedom of changing and tuning the programme to suit your mood.  Hence we are seeing more individual travel than group travel.”

Speaking about the type of tourist attracted by adventure activities Anees Adenwala, Founder, Orca Dive Club, explained that the segment attracts domestic tourists with disposable income and time on their hands. “Young entrepreneurs, youth, corporates, etc. are nowadays increasingly inclined towards adventure activities. Currently, white-water rafting and scuba diving are the preferred adventure activities in India as these feel intensely personal, and offer a thrilling experience,” he informed.

People in the travel industry feel that Adventure Tourism as a niche segment has a lot of potential if necessary infrastructure is put in place. Speaking about the potential of the adventure tourism in India, Rajesh Mudgill, Managing Director, Planet India Travels, and an active member of ATOAI, said, “Although the current share of Adventure Tourism in India is comparatively small, it holds huge potential for growth. Adventure Tourism is a very niche segment, but attracts tourists from all sections, be it group travellers, FITs or even corporates. To cater to such tourists, trainings activities first need to be undertaken for the grassroot-level staff. Tour operators, on their part, promote the adventure destinations and activities by announcing timely packages, but to give a boost to this segment, the government should develop infrastructure - the prime necessity for every tourism activity - besides creating awareness about the segment through advertising and marketing. Also setting up special schools for training will further attract the attention of consumers.”

“I feel that interest in adventure activities will grow as awareness about the products increases. Unfortunately, there are no government policies for scuba diving in India as it is still at a nascent stage. However, scuba diving is expected to grow about 20 per cent to 30 per cent year–on–year. It is still untapped, however as there is a large segment of people unaware of the magic it creates ,” stated Adenwala.

The development of any niche tourism product and service in India is prone to a number of challenges and Adventure Tourism is no exception. Much needs to be done to improve the segment to meet the standards set by Alpine countries. Agreeing, Mandip Singh Soin, Managing Director, Ibex Expeditions, stated, “Of course, Adventure Tourism has started getting attention in terms of policy framework in the last couple of years, but there is need for improvement. Safety issues, especially related to communication, continue to be an issue. For instance, we cannot use GPS systems owing to security concerns. Such matters are very important while dealing with foreign operators. They want everything in black and white.”

030911_cs_6.jpgThe stakeholders of the industry working in different states have their own specific issues related to the environment  they work in.  Commander Samuel T Sam, Managing Director, Kalypso Adventures, Kerala, lamented, “The government has made little or no sincere effort to improve infrastructure pertaining to Adventure Tourism in Kerala. We want the government to at least improve basic infrastructure for travellers, such as the roads. Further, there is no local demand for these products - most of our clients are from abroad and even those are seasonal. Operating in this segment, we have an off-season of about five months including the monsoon season and the summer season.”

030911_cs_5.jpgSpeaking about the challenges faced in the Eastern region, Supratim Basu, Director, Help Tourism, said, “The government has the Tourism, Forest, Youth, Sports and Tribal Welfare Departments, all working in isolation with no results and no convergence of resources.” Suggesting solutions, he added that the government should use locally available resources and expertise to help develop at least one adventure centre in every district and at least three each in Darjeeling and the Jalpaiguri districts. “They should also develop popular adventure products and organise online facilities for promotion and permits. ATOAI could be made a nodal agency for adventure tourism product development. Additionally, Siliguri could be declared as a ‘Mountaineers’ Base’ for the Himalayas as this is the entry and exit point to Nepal, West Bengal, Sikkim and Arunachal Pradesh,” he said

Lack of manpower, training and other Human Resource issues seem to be one of the major challenges in this segment, explained Captain Kumar. “One of the major challenges faced is the shortage of qualified manpower due to lack of training institutions. There is need for specialised courses in the region. The Himalayan Mountaineering Institute and Nehru Institute of Mountaineering can help in contributing to the growth of specialised manpower. Safety of our clients is paramount and so, it’s of utmost importance that we have good quality products and equipment,” he observed.  

030911_cs_7.jpgGovt & Stakeholders coming together
The Union Ministry of Tourism, with an objective to diversify the product offerings of India Tourism, had identified Adventure Tourism as an important tourism activity and started formulating various guidelines for the same. Recently, registration of adventure tour operators was made compulsory and basic minimum standards for Adventure Tourism activity were formulated in consultation with the stakeholders. Unlike any other segment of travel, there has been lot of synergy between the government and the stakeholders of the adventure tourism, especially the ATOAI, to chalk out plans to promote India as an adventure tourist destination and formulating rules and regulations for safe adventure activity at destinations. The ministry also involves associations like Indian Mountaineering Federation (IMF), as well as activated other agencies like Indian Institute of Skiing and Mountaineering, National Institute of Water Sports, etc. to monitor specific adventure activities and to train people in these areas.

The government initiative to involve IMF in issuing licences to tour operators has been welcomed by many tour operators. “We used to face various hurdles while promoting mountaineering. But after the IMF set up their office, it has become much easier for tour operators to obtain a permit for mountaineering,” informs Tundup Dorjey, Proprietor, Overland Escape. Dorjey sees a very good growth for adventure tourism in the country in the coming years.

On their part, several State Tourism Boards have come forward to promote adventure activities in their states. For instance, the Kerala cabinet in February this year approved formation of Kerala Adventure Tourism Promotion Society. In Maharashtra, a group of tour operators formed Adventure Travel Operators of Maharashtra association (ATOM). The Andhra Pradesh Tourism Development Corporation’s (APTDC) newly released tourism policy put Adventure Tourism high on its list of priorities by introducing special concessions for people who want to venture into the adventure segment. The Madhya Pradesh State Tourism Development Corporation (MPSTDC) in association with district authorities has initiated a ‘Go Camping’ campaign, an annual event to explore adventure activities in the state. Beside this, MTDC also set-up a Eco-Tourism & Adventure (ETA) Wing to monitor adventure activities in the state and has earmarked Rs 25 lakh for the promotion of Adventure & Youth Tourism in the state.

The proactiveness of the J&K government in declaring 2011 as the year of adventure tourism is something to be appreciated and is a mark of recognition that this travel segment has gained over the years. The way adventure tourism as a travel product is gaining momentum, is something that would go a long way in transforming the tourism landscape of the country.

2011 will also see India hosting the first Formula 1 race. Altogether, the signals are loud and clear, India is coming out of its shell to become the happening centre for adventure of the world!
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