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Tuesday, 29 October, 2013, 15 : 00 PM [IST]

Motorcycle Tourism: Leaving a Blazing Trail in India

Due to the rise in experiential travel and Adventure Tourism, many niche segments have taken advantage of the opportunities to expand and establish a foothold in the Indian market. Motorcycle Tourism is one such segment that many Indian travellers are opting for. Shruti Sunderraman traces the trend and its scope in India
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The geographical terrain of India is a diverse one. Its vast and varied nature holds great appeal to motorcycle enthusiasts. The past few years have witnessed a rise in Motorcycle Tourism in the country. As more and more travellers have started preferring experience over simply covering destinations, niche segments of Adventure Tourism have emerged to fulfill these needs. India has slowly carved a name for itself as an adventure destination along with being a cultural one. The Incredible India campaign promoted Adventure Tourism in the country quite extensively. Motorcycling being a part of adventure has also gained its fair share of popularity over the past few years. Also, the government’s efforts to improve road infrastructure in the country has aided the cause of Motorcycle Tourism. Here is a look at what the road looks like and what lies ahead.

atul_bhardwaj.jpgWhy is this Trending?
According to Atul Bhardwaj, Founder, Aborginal Tours, the increase in awareness and exposure has led to the popularity of niche segments. “People now realise that there is more to travelling than just flying from point to point. Sightseeing takes on a very different meaning with motorbiking. The awareness and exposure to destinations only opens up more opportunities to explore them through a medium not used before. Experiential travel is what appeals to travellers, especially the youth; and motorcycling is a great form of experience,” said Bhardwaj.

Sadhoo Chakkar, a motorcycle tour operator based in New Delhi, credits this development to financial freedom. Bobbee Singh, Partner, Sadhoo Chakkar, said, “The whole concept of motorcycling is an appealing one to the youth. They also have a lot of financial freedom and more disposable income nowadays. They spend this on experiential travel and adventure.”

The growth in Adventure Tourism in the country has also led to growth in its sub-segments. Akshay Kumar, Director, Adventure Tour Operators Association of India (ADTOI), is of the opinion that the extensive promotion of Adventure Tourism over the past few years by most state tourism boards had brought attention to the scope of the segment. “Motorcycle Tourism is picking up pace steadily, year-on-year. Its growth rate has been 30 per cent per year for the past five years,” he said.

vir_nakai.jpgHelmet Stories, a motorcycling tour operator, believes that the concept of biking for pleasure and not just to commute has taken root in the market, which has subsequently led to the popularity of Motorcycle Tourism in the country. Vir Nakai, Partner, Helmet Stories, said, “People believe that since they are investing so much in a motorbike, they might as well make more use of it than to just get through from one traffic signal to the other.”

Perhaps the entry of the international motorcycle brands in the market has led to the trend? “Definitely,” said Nakai adding, “Royal Enfield has now become synonymous with motorbiking. Almost all motorcycle tour operators use Enfield bikes. Harley Davidson has also recently entered the Indian market. This move will be great for the motorbiking segment!”

The Roads Travelled
Almost all tour operators unanimously agree that Leh-Ladakh is the Mecca of motorbikers in the country. It is a small wonder that features greatly on every biker's travel destination list. Tour operators also promote motorbiking trips to Leh-Ladakh and come up with innovative itineraries for the same. While most operators focus on pure biking and camping tours, some operators also concentrate on providing additional activities like white-water rafting, culinary tours and local village stays along with motorcycle journeys. All this only adds more leverage to the fact that Leh-Ladakh is every motorcycling tourist's dream. Helmet Stories has gained popularity for its motorcycling trips to the destination. Nakai said, “The geographical terrain of Leh-Ladakh is very challenging for motorcycling. This challenge is what makes the entire travel to the destination attractive and enticing. Mountain biking is far more difficult than biking on the plains. Only seasoned bikers decide to take up Leh-Ladakh for their biking adventures. Despite of this, it is the most popular destination for bikers. The scenery and the thrill make up for every hurdle faced on the way.”

leh_ladakh_is_the_mecca_for_bikers.jpgWhen one speaks of mountain biking, one can’t leave Himachal Pradesh and Sikkim behind. The roads in the interiors of the two states can only capacitate four- and two-wheeler vehicles, making these destinations perfect for mountain biking. Destinations like Yuksom, Pelling and Lachung in Sikkim already witness a decent number of independent bikers, although organised Motorbiking Tourism is yet to pick up pace in this state. According to Kumar, the Spiti Valley in Himachal Pradesh has been gaining popularity over the past two years for Motorbiking Tourism. “The picturesque location along with the challenging terrain has brought a good amount of attention to the Spiti Valley from bikers.”

While mountain biking has a thrill of its own, motorbiking through deserts is another experience altogether. Rajasthan is fast emerging as a destination for desert biking and is setting a trend even in a niche segment like Motorbiking Tourism. But it is not just biking through the challenging, barren terrain that makes Rajasthan a biking destination. It is also the opportunity to combine the thrill of biking along with opportunities to explore the cultural offerings of Rajasthan during the journey that ticks for the destination. Aboriginal Tours is one of the few companies that extensively cover Rajasthan as a destination for motorcycling. Bhardwaj said, “After everyone has motorcycled through Leh-Ladakh, they look for a new destination to explore. Although Rajasthan does not bear the challenge of the mountains, the journey through the sandy deserts is an experience on its own. Also, it is the melting pot of culture in the country. So people like to combine visiting cultural destinations in Rajasthan in their motorbiking packages.”

the_ecr_in_tamil_nadu_is_a_haven_for_leisure_bikers.jpgSouth India does not lag far behind in the biker’s travel list either. The East Coast Road (ECR) in Tamil Nadu stretching between Chennai and Cuddalore via Puducherry is a destination for leisure bikers looking to unwind rather than to challenge. Motorcycling tour operators like Bike Escape and Enfield Point offer biking packages to destinations like Chennai, Rameshwaram, Ooty, Kodaikanal and Madurai, via ECR. The tropical roads of Kerala are also a leisure biker’s delight. It encompasses combinations of beaches, backwaters and hill stations in its itineraries. Royal Bike Riders offers a 13-day motorcycle tour through parts of Kerala and neighbouring Tamil Nadu.

shahwar_hussain.jpgAlthough the North-East states of India are geographically apt for Motorbiking Tourism, they are yet to pick up pace in this region. This is partly due to the shortage of infrastructural facilities required for biking and the lack of proper tourism packages to the destinations in this region. However, a handful of tour operators have noticed the potential and have started selling motorcycling packages to the destinations in North-East India. Delhi-based Chain Reaction is one such company that specialises in biking trips exclusively for the North East. Shahwar Hussain, Co-Founder, Chain Reaction, said, “States like Assam, Nagaland, Arunachal Pradesh and Meghalaya are beautiful destinations for Motorbiking Tourism. These are relatively unexplored destinations and are perfectly suited for experiential travellers. There is a lot of scope for development of Motorcycling Tourism in these regions. While riding through these destinations, travellers get to interact with local tribes and experience their culture too. In the Motorcycle Tourism segment, Ladakh is a tourist’s destination while the North East is a traveller’s paradise.”

Hurdles on the Road
While motorcycling may look like an easy ride to paradise for travellers, a lot goes into making it look so attractive by tour operators. Like any activity involving adventure, Motorcycle Tourism brings its set of challenges too.

Safety is one of the prime concerns for all tour operators. Safety challenges can be both man-made and natural. Singh said, “Some roads in Leh can be very treacherous. There is always a chance of landslides and this can create major problems while biking. While you bike through hilly regions, you are at nature’s mercy. One needs to be very careful about the locations they choose and must look into the geography of a region before booking a biking tour to the destination. Also, if there are women in a group, we preferably place them in larger groups. This ensures further safety for them.”

biking_through_muddy_roads.jpgThe fluctuating cost of petrol is another such problem. Tour operators face the problem of maintaining a steady price for all their tours as the fluctuating price of petrol adds to their back end costs. The friction causes a lot of confusion in maintaining prices of packages.

Back up and shortage of proper infrastructure can also cause trouble for independent motorists, especially in the hilly regions of Himachal Pradesh and the North East. Hussain said, “If you are an independent traveller and your bike breaks down, finding a mechanic will be a hell of a job in remote regions. Hence, it is better to make bookings through tour operators who provide you with a mechanic throughout the tour. The back-up equipment is something we have to always carry around with us from the main cities. Due to the infrastructure in many states, there is no proper local back-up available.”

Bhardwaj believes that the initial investment required to enter into the segment can be a bit of a challenge. He said, “Motorbiking Tourism requires you to invest slightly higher than other niche segments. Since this is a niche segment, you do not really have an idea as to how well it will be received initially in the market. If one compares expectations to the investment required, it may be discouraging at the start. The entire concept of hiring versus buying bikes is a big hurdle to pass. Initially when we had launched our company, we were renting bikes and outsourcing it, but later as the business picked up, we realised that we could cut costs by investing a little more and owning our own fleet of bikes. That leap of faith was a challenging thing to do, but it has paid off.”

india_bike_week_witnessesThe Window of Opportunity   
Now that the segment has shown potential, how is it being tapped? Motorcycle rallies and biking events have cropped up in the past few years, thereby providing a great platform for tour operators to participate and tap their target consumers. India Bike Week (IBW) is a biking festival organised by the Seventy Event Media Group and was flagged off last year to a great response. Next year, the festival will be held in Goa on January 17 and 18. The festival witnesses participation from various motorcycle tour operators and individual bikers. In fact, the focus of IBW 2014 is promoting motorcycling as a Leisure Tourism activity. Thanush Joseph, Director – Marketing, Seventy Event Media Group, said, “We witness over 3,000 bikers and have loads of flag-off events during IBW. Tour companies participate with us and this benefits us both. IBW combines biking trips with music, food and stunt performances, making it a complete package of excitement and entertainment. We are especially promoting leisure motorbiking from a tourism perspective through IBW 2014 as we believe leisure biking has a lot of potential as a segment. Many tour operators are riding to the venue in Goa from different places in the country along with the participants registered with them. This generates great opportunity for growth for motorbiking tour operators throughout the country.”

Motorcycling clubs are another aspect that the industry could explore. Tying up with biking clubs for tours is one way of doing it. India Bull Riders is a biking club for Royal Enfield riders. The club has participated in many rallies and organised various trips together. If you thought biking was for men only, think again. “Many people feel that biking is only for boys and are surprised to see a large group of women bikers," said Urvashi Patole, who along with Firdaus Shaikh, founded the first pan-India all-women biking association, The Bikerni. It is not only Indians who have started motorcycling associations in India, but also foreign nationals. Vintage Rides is one such club started by French nationals Alexander Le Beunanad and Alexander Zurcher. It has conducted various trips for both domestic and inbound travellers.

Speaking of inbound travellers, Bhardwaj believes that it is the main target market for Motorcycle Tourism. “Most inbound travellers have motorcycled extensively in other countries, and hence, have an idea about what motorcycling offers. But they are unaware of Indian conditions while motorcycling. As a tour operator, it is an opportunity for me to direct them in the right way through our trips,” he said.

Joseph, on the other hand, believes that domestic motorcycling has increased and is a great market to tap. He said, “No doubt that the inbound segment is a very lucrative one, but the domestic segment has a lot of opportunity for growth if marketed to in the right way.”

Vrooming Ahead
Motorcycle Tourism offers a mix of adventure, better connectivity to remote areas, and the experience of feeling independent. All this makes it an attractive package for travellers.

There are opportunities to work in tandem with Online Travel Agents (OTAs), given that the segment will grow steadily in the next few years. Hussain said, “We would like to work with OTAs and other players in the industry, if the commission rate is reasonable and the right opportunity is provided.”

Kumar believes that the Motorcycling Tourism will further witness a growth of 35 per cent every year. Singh said that Motorcycle Tourism has brought a new era of adventure in India. The near- unanimous agreement is that the trend is here to stay.
 
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