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Experiencing the Edge

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India, a country as vast and varied in its geographic offerings offers itself as a perfect adventure destination to test a traveller’s mental and physical endurance to its extreme limit. The urge to indulge in this activity based tourism is gaining prominence worldwide, and increasingly travellers are deciding what activities they want to do and choosing their destinations accordingly. The ‘push’ (personal motivation) factor is getting stronger than the ‘pull’ (destination attraction) factor. Adventure tourism is a profitable option for these tour operators as clients are willing to live under the most basic conditions but end up paying top dollar for the tour operator’s expertise and the activity.

Mandip Singh Soin

Mandip Singh Soin, founder and managing director, Ibex Expeditions opines, “The adventure tourism segment has been being growing at 10-15 per cent year-on-year combining both inbound and domestic travellers. And with more states opening up to adventure activities the growth potential is huge in the future. The northeastern frontier is a potential state for this segment and we are looking forward to the government’s support for the same.”

Agreeing to the same, Major S K Yadav, managing director, Wanderlust Travels opines, “The segment has been growing rapidly. Apart from leisure, corporate clients are also opting for adventure activities as part of incentive travel which they use for team building exercises. In the Asian region, Nepal has been attracting a lot of adventure travellers. The segment also saw a growth of 22 per cent in 2011 and has been growing since then. India receives nearly 1.5 million inbound tourists for adventure activities.”

Riding high

Major S K Yadav

Seeing this potential a number of northern states like Himachal Pradesh, Jammu and Kashmir, Uttarakhand have been active in marketing adventure tourism. These states have managed to carve a market share with destinations offering adventure activities.

Himachal Pradesh has emerged as a destination synonymous with adventure tourism in the country. Himachal Pradesh Tourism Development Corporation (HPTDC) organises the pre-World Cup for paragliding at the Bir and Billing area in Kangra district. The Himalayan range cutting through the state offers numerous trekking trails of various grades and peaks for mountaineering enthusiasts. The renowned Western Himalayan Mountaineering and Allied Sports Institute, located in Manali, works under the direct guidance and supervision of the Department of Tourism and Sports. HPTDC also promotes white water rafting, trekking, horse riding, and water sports at the Maharana Ranjit Sagar Dam and the Pong Dam. The department also supports motor sports as well as the event ‘Raid de Himalaya.’ Apart from this it has set up and promotes biking trails along the state. Religious tourism and adventure tourism is the mainstay of Uttarakhand and Jammu and Kashmir.

Similarly states like Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh and even Goa (adventure water sports) are focusing on this segment. Madhya Pradesh is also focusing on promoting adventure water sports in the state. northeastern states and Jharkhand also offer great potential for adventure tourism. Rajasthan is also tapping into the niche adventure tourism segment to add to its product portfolio and is promoting wildlife sanctuaries, desert camel and jeep safaris, hot air ballooning, etc. Rajasthan has taken various adventure tourism initiatives to further consolidate its position as the leading state for tourism.

Adventure tourism is not new to Rajasthan as the state already has facilities existing for various activities like camel safaris, jeep safaris, horse and elephant polo, etc. But now the state is looking at establishing itself as a hub for hot air ballooning. The state has received many enquiries from various quarters and people have shown a keen interest in promoting desert sports and water sports in various places across the state. Bikaner and Churu has been proposed to be hubs for desert sports while the lakes in Bundi and Udaipur would be used for water sports. The state has also been actively considering the idea of promoting river cruises and water sports in Chambal.

Colonel H S Chauhan

Colonel H S Chauhan, president, Indian Mountaineering Foundation adds, “Along the Himalayas, Kashmir is still a popular destination for adventure, followed by Ladakh, Manali, Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand. But due to certain restrictions from the state governments- Uttarakhand and Sikkim, the potential is not fully explored. In the future, Arunachal Pradesh and northeastern states which have huge potential for adventure activities would also become popular.”

Traditionally a leisure and pilgrim destination for Indian visitors, there is a fast emerging segment of young Indian travellers, who are opting for Nepal as a destination for adventure tourism. “We see an increasing number of university and college going Indians going for adventure activities like trekking. That is a big opportunity for Nepal. Adventure tourism is a new trend seen amongst Indians. I

Exploring the unexplored

These activities also give tourists an opportunity to explore lesser known or visited places. There is a growing set of tourists who wish to visit secluded places to add to the ‘unique list’ in their vacation diaries. For example, ballooning over the dunes is proving as a good product. Short distances can be travelled, provided good sailing weather prevails, which mostly happen over popular fairs like Pushkar, Beneshwar or Nagaur.

If certain sports are waiting to be explored, others have made their debut last year. Like rappelling at Mehrangarh Fort followed by zip tours. After Neemrana, Jodhpur has developed its share of adventure products through Flying Fox and Mehrangarh Museum Trust which launched a brand new Flying Fox zip tour at Mehrangarh Fort, Jodhpur in February 2010. Flying Fox also created India’s first zip tour at Neemrana Fort Palace in January 2009. Here, one is attached by safety harness and pulley that takes one off on an aerial journey between hill forts and ridge tops, during which one flies down a series of ultra-strong cables or ‘zip lines’. This offers a great opportunity as it can be replicated on any area providing two cliffs are joined by cables.

Not many presume Rajasthan to offer opportunities for trekking and mountain sports. However, the entire Mewar belt is supposed to offer good trekking options. The stretch of Alwar-Sariska-Deeg-Bharatpur-Karauli-Ranthambore add to the wild expectations whereas the Mewar Circuit comprising Udaipur-Khumbalgarh-Nathdwara-Chittaurgarh has its own charm.

State tourism although upbeat about creating new avenues of tourism is yet to bring forth adventure tour opportunities in the main frame of their promotional plans. In India, the first surfing festival was held in February 2012 wherein as many as 30 stand up paddle (SUP) boards were provided to the different boatmen’s associations in the Chilika lagoon by the Odisha government as flat water surfing. This festival was organised by the Surfing Yogis in association with Orissa Tourism Department. The three-day first of its kind surf festival of the country started with as many as 31 surfers from nine countries and 44 counterparts from six states of India. The festival was used as a platform to bring surfers across the country under one umbrella and introduces standarisations, safety guidelines and unified training methodology.

The stakeholders

If state tourism boards have been busy promoting this segment, the travel agents have also not been late in developing new products for discerning travellers. To capitalise on the youth segment, Thomas Cook (India) recently launched a youth-centric travel product range – ‘Rock-On Holidays’. As per their customer analysis, an emerging trend that was highlighted was that almost 45 per cent of its individual holiday travellers are youth and the segment is poised to grow at a rate of 25-30 per cent. The analysis also revealed that for a young traveller travel is a voyage of discovering new places, and importantly – different, exciting non-traditional experiences. The product team of Rock-On Holidays has designed itineraries to destinations for young travellers starting from Rs 35,000. This includes bike tours, scuba diving, elephant trekking and rafting, high adventure activities, mountain biking, para gliding and alpine trekking, beach tripping, Kilimanjaro climb in Tanzania, Northern Lights tour, horse trails, I-fly, fissure snorkelling, ice-climbing, kayaking, zip-trekking, snow-mobiling, glacier hiking and touring via horseback, Segway or bicycling.

According to Akshay Kumar, general manager, operations, Mercury Himalayan Explorations (MHE), while Indians are slowly taking to adventure activities, the segment has a huge potential in inbound travel too. Though seasonal and not high volume, it is a segment with high yield.

Sandeep Khandelwal

Another example of a tour operator cashing in on offering mountain biking is O-Six Travel & Hospitality Group, through its niche brand 360 Degree Himalaya. Apart from this, they also have LeapFrog Holidays, AQ Active Travel and Back Country Caravan Safaris. Talking about the company’s brands, Sandeep Khandelwal, CEO, O-Six Travel & Hospitality Group informs, “The brands are designed to cater to the specific needs of guests. Each brand has been established keeping in mind the different types of travellers, because there is a huge gap when it comes to classifying guests, whether domestic or outbound. Keeping this diverse target group satisfied is what we aim to achieve by setting up the different, well carved brands offering customised services for each sub group. Our group departure products include the basic land package, air fare, taxes, sightseeing, meals, etc.”

The challenges

As per the policy for the diversification of tourism product of India, special attention is being given for the development of adventure tourism in the country. The ministry of tourism (MoT) has issued Guidelines for Approval of Adventure Tour Operators, which is a voluntary scheme, open to all bonafide adventure tour operators. The MoT has also formulated a set guideline on safety and quality norms on adventure tourism as basic minimum standards for adventure tourism activities. These guidelines cover land, air and water based activities which include mountaineering, trekking, hand gliding, paragliding, bungee jumping and river rafting. Central Financial Assistance is being extended to various state governments/Union Territory Administrations for development of tourism infrastructure in destinations including adventure tourism destinations. These include facilities for trekking, rock climbing, mountaineering, aero-sports, winter and water related sports, trekker huts, wildlife viewing facilities, etc. Financial assistance for purchase of water sports equipment consisting of kayaks, canoes, paddle boats, fibre glass boats, hovercrafts, water scooters, etc, is also provided to state governments. Special efforts are made by the MoT to promote inland water tourism by providing necessary infrastructural facilities. Financial assistance was extended for construction of double hull boats, construction of jetties, cruise vessels, boats, etc. The National Institute of Water Sports, another organisation of MoT based in Goa, was also to get a new building and facilities upgraded for training in water sports activities. Apart from this, the ministry has also been working with the Indian Mountaineering Federation and Adventure Tour Operators Association of India to explore positioning India as an adventure destination. In order to enhance the quality of adventure tourism experience in the country, MoT has given ‘in principle’ approval to Indian Mountaineering Federation to organise training programmes for adventure and mountain guides under the Capacity Building for Service Providers (CBSP) scheme of MoT.

Not only this, it has also been following up with concerned central ministries with regard to facilitation for development of adventure tourism. As an outcome, the Government of India has given security clearance for opening of 104 additional peaks in Jammu & Kashmir (Leh area) subject to stipulations and clearances from state government, home ministry and other concerned agencies. The opening of additional peaks has also been looked at in helping in positioning the Indian Himalayas as adventure tourism destination. Similarly, MoT had also taken the issue regarding use of GPS and satellite phone by the bonefide adventure tour operators so as to ensure that the safety standards are of international standards.

The first edition of Alpine Premier League (APL) held in February 2012 in the Solang Valley with over 300 participants opened a new window for positioning it as a hub for winter sports activities. The event was organised by Ski Himalayas Ropeway and Ski Centre with local ski clubs of surrounding Palchan, Kothi, Ruar and Solang villages and supported by the Atal Bihari Vajpayee Institute of Mountaineering and Allied Sports (ABVIMAS), Manali and Himachal Pradesh Tourism. Prem Kumar Dhumal, the then chief minister of Himachal Pradesh had assured that the state government will extend all possible help to promote winter games and adventure sports in association with different organisations. Dhumal had also dedicated the ropeway-cum-ski-centre at Solang valley in district Kullu, connecting the ski-slopes at Mount Phatru, which was constructed through private sector by Ski-Himalayas Ropeway in association with the Department of Tourism and Civil Aviation, at a cost of Rs 36 crore on BOT basis under PPP mode.

Arun Sharma, chairman, Ski Himalayas Ropeway says, “Indians would have never imagined telling their friends that they have come back from a ski holiday from the Himalayas. Thanks to Adventure Himalayas, this is now a reality at Solang, which in terms of its pristine beauty is India’s answer to Mt Titlis in Switzerland and Aspen in America.” He informs that Adventure Himalayas offers all kinds of adventure sports in the country including paragliding with two jump stations, one on a lower and one on a higher level. It also offers mountain biking, snowmobiling in Solang.

Moreover, Adventure Himalayas boasts of 19 gondolas with a seating capacity of eight persons in each. The ropeway is the latest state-of-the-art built by Poma of France similar to the one in Switzerland and France and it covers a distance of 1.3 km having a vertical rise of 500 metres and a top speed of 6 m/s. It is designed to carry 1200 passengers up the mountain in an hour and provides diversity of natural terrain for all standards of skiers and snowboarders. Adventurists can access the best locations for paragliding, skiing, snowboarding, zorbing, mountain biking, ski mobile and other adventure sports.

But even though the MoT in general has launched certain initiatives to promote adventure tourism there are still certain loopholes which pose bottlenecks in the segment’s growth. Colonel Chauhan adds, “With the segment growing, the Indian government has a bigger role to play in terms of promotion of the segment. As India already is an established adventure activities destination, it needs to look out for new avenues and locations and create products for the discerning adventure enthusiast. Apart from this, the segment, needs to aggressively promote and develop adequate infrastructure to reach destinations which do not have direct connectivity.”

Soin believes that to really sort out the challenge to promote this segment, the government needs to look at developing wayside amenities and transport must be available to reach remote destinations. For example Auli in Uttarakhand is an important ski destination but it lacks proper connectivity.

Also according to Tejbir Singh Anand, managing director, Holiday Moods Adventures, “India is still largely known as a cultural destination. If we want India to be a 12 months destination, then the only answer is ‘adventure tourism’. Summers are the leanest month and Himalayan Journeys are the perfect answer. We need to brand India as ‘The Himalayan Monarchy’. The Himalayas are the playground for adventure and cultural activities such as trekking, mountaineering, white water rafting, sailing on the rivers, skiing, mountain biking, high altitude overland jeep safaris and many more.” Unavailability of insurance products for adventure travel continues to be the roadblocks in the growth of this segment. The number of visitors will undoubtedly increase over the foreseeable future if available. Since the nature of this segment is all about the wilderness and remote inaccessible outdoor areas, restrictions on use of life saving electronic equipments such as GPS/ satellite should be lifted. Availability of good maps are essential for venturing out in the outdoors and can be seen as life saving equipments. However, these are not available to the adventure tourism industry. Presently there is also no such facilities available for evacuation in the Himalayas. This will boost the image and business to Indian adventure travel.”

Another major problem is accessibility to remote areas. Areas like Spiti in Himachal Pradesh, Gouchar and Uttarkashi in Garhwal and Pitthorgarh in Kumaon are classic examples of areas which have one small air strip which can be connected with fixed winged full bodied aircraft. This is the reason for the success of adventure tourism in Nepal because of connectivity of Lukla (serving as base camp for trek to Mount Everest) to the international fraternity.

The Land Bank Rules and Regulations are inadequate in the country. In order to change the land use, under existing policies, the option available for campsites is to turn to luxury hotels. There are no clear policies for creating campsites/lodges/resorts. There are concepts like Eco Lodges and Jungle Lodge Resorts which are gaining strength and should be looked at. “There is a huge difference between a hotel and an eco-lodge. An eco-lodge refers to a structure and using process that is environmentally responsible and resource-efficient throughout a building’s life-cycle – from locating the site to design, construction, operation, maintenance, renovation, and demolition. This practice expands and complements the classical building design concerns of economy, utility, durability, and comfort. The time is ripe to look at a hybrid model comprising of camps and eco-lodges instead of only luxury hotels which can be set up by only big industrialists,” believes Anand. “There is an urgent need for identification and development of new adventure destinations and creation of adventure zones whenever a new adventure destination or zone is identified, we start constructing a concrete jungle around it like what we have done to majority of our destinations like Shimla and Manali,” adds Anand. It is recommended to identify new adventure destinations. This does not mean only identifying a new adventure destination and developing hotels and accommodations at various places. As a destination will gain publicity with the promotion of the activities, facilities like accommodation, etc, will automatically fall into place and complete the jigsaw.

The future

According to Kumar, in the early days, adventure in India was limited to trekking or climbing the Himalayas. However, today the industry has come of age and offers a variety of adventure travel options. “India, in that context is a ‘one stop adventure shop’. Only in India can a person indulge in a camel safari in the deserts of Rajasthan, heli-ski in the Himalayas, raft down the mighty Ganges and trek in the Garhwal Himalayas, all in the same month. In addition, there are various other activities that widen our scope of adventure travel. These include luxury camping, outdoor corporate training programmes, aero-sports including hot air ballooning and paragliding, bungee jumping, alpine skiing and ski-touring, kayaking and canoeing, jeep, camel and elephant safaris – the list is actually quite exhaustive,” states Kumar. Destinations in India are more economical. There is more awareness now and hence people are visiting places within the country in large numbers. Thomas Cook offers domestic destinations for adventure travel in India. It also offers ‘Thomas Cook’s 100 per cent Holidays plan’, in which travellers can opt for various international adventure destinations.

Instead of being seen as a small, niche market, a study shows that adventure tourism is a sizeable market with the potential for significant economic growth opportunities. According to a recent study of PHD Chamber of Commerce and Industry (PHDCCI), about 40 per cent of foreign tourists visit the country for adventures. This coupled with a large number of adventure seeking domestic tourists comprise the market for adventure tourism in the country. The adventure tourism is projected to be one of the major foreign exchange earner for the country with expected revenues of US$ 20 billion (Rs 90,000 crore), provided the potential is fully exploited.

The prime reason for increase in demand for adventure sports is the growth in youth tourism which has been identified as one of the largest segments of global and domestic tourism. These young travellers are major contributors to adventure tourism revenue. One thing that needs to be taken care while planning any kind of tourism activity is to assess the carrying capacity of the region. The development needs to be in a sustainable manner.

According to Anand, the future of adventure tourism holds many opportunities. Today, trekking still commands the major share of the pie, but new adventure travel trends and activities are emerging. The opportunities and changing trends see a shift in the mindset of the clients:

Shorter trips but higher spendings: From longer trips of around three weeks, the packages being sold have come down to from seven to 10 days. But the frequency has gone up. Over and above one long trip, clients also take couple of short getaways also in a year.

Popular activities: Today’s popular adventure activities include trekking, white water rafting and other related water sports, zip lines, rock climbing, rappelling, ATVs, paintball, zorbing, camel and horse safaris, mountain biking and bike tours, sailing on the rivers, hot air ballooning, paragliding, skiing, high altitude overland jeep safaris.

Changing trends – multi-activity trips: These are new entrants which primarily mean an itinerary encompassing multiple experiences of soft activities which all age brackets can do. A typical example can be of an itinerary of which goes through the experience of wild life, birding, camping, trekking, mountain biking, rafting, zip lines, rappelling/ rock climbing, Yoga, home stays and cultural experiences to top it all.

Family adventure vacations: Many families (including multigenerational) are forgoing theme parks and all-inclusive resorts for more genuine nature-based, cultural, and education and learning excursions. This attribute is in part to baby boomers who have the means to travel coupled with a strong interest in bonding more deeply with families. The top vacation requests are all family friendly.

Girl/ women getaways: More women are leaving the men at home. More than 25 per cent of adventure travellers are women and most fall between ages 35 and 60. Now it’s not unheard of women to be going rafting, mountain climbing, trekking.

Rise of the adventure honeymoon: Forgoing the cookie-cutter honeymoon, more newlyweds than ever are celebrating their matrimony with an adrenaline-filled adventure tour.

As India is a young country, the new weds are sporty and want active forward to active journeys. Trekking in Himalayas, each day waking up to the most incredible mountain views, enjoying rich cultural experiences and a great work-out is the new recipe of the honeymoon trips.

Schools including adventure within the curriculum: The IB schools, Cambridge University schools and the International Award for Young People organisation (IAYP) have realised the learnings from adventure travel. So as a part of the curriculum, adventure journeys are a part along with other components such as skills, service, skills, creativity and sports.

Financial upswing: With the domestic markets stable and economy on the upswing, travellers are once again beginning to plan and book vacations well in advance of their travel date.

For the last couple of years, people were planning their trips very last minute due to an unsettled feeling about the economy and how it might impact them personally.

ITB world travel trends report 2012/13: Asia remains the powerhouse for world tourism growth this year with strong growth of seven per cent in outbound travel as incomes rise and consumers are able to travel more. The outlook for 2013 is even stronger and India is seeing an upswing.

The continuing upward trend in the global travel industry is due mainly to an economic boom in the BRIC countries – Brazil, Russia, India, and China and in other developing countries. Significant income growth in countries such as Russia and India and the emergence of a new middle class in almost every BRIC country has sparked a desire to travel which prevails in times of crisis.

Travellers book online more than ever: The number of travellers aged 15-35+ has increased to 42 per cent compared to last year and the confidence in people booking online has also grown.

The internet has now clearly established itself as the main place to buy travel with 54 per cent of bookings, well ahead of travel agencies which have slipped back to 24 per cent.

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