Adventure Travel is one of the fastest-growing sectors in the travel & tourism industry in India. As per the Adventure Travel Trade Association (ATTA), the adventure tourism segment is over 3 billion travellers, and the demand in this sector is growing by leaps and bounds globally.
With 73% of the Himalayan range covering the North and North East part of India, some of the biggest rivers in the world, some of the largest forests with flora and fauna outside Africa, with coral islands and deserts, there is no adventure activity that cannot be undertaken in this incredible destination. Each discipline needs a push to grow and the message of its uniqueness needs to be brought out in public. The potential is huge and the realised percentage of the same is miniscule at this point of time.
Proposed by Adventure Travel Operators Association of India (ATOAI), Vinod Zutshi, Secretary Tourism, Government of India, recently announced a National Task Force on Adventure Tourism for development and promotion of the segment in India. Chaired
by Secretary Tourism, the team will comprise Joint Secretary Tourism as the Convener, Joint Secretaries of Ministry of Home Affairs, Ministry of External Affairs, Ministry of Civil Aviation, Ministry of Environment and Forests, Ministry of Defence, Ministry of Sports, Secretaries of all states concerned with Adventure Tourism and Deputy Director General, Niche Tourism along with related adventure tourism associations.
“Adventure travel has been facing challenges on multiple fronts, across almost every region in India. Safety, accessibility, licensing and standards are the four pillars of any adventure travel destination and we had to deal with multiple ministries and offices to address such issues. The formation of the National Task Force on Adventure Travel will not only attempt to address these challenges, but at the same time, will be able to highlight our vast plethora of natural assets to international markets which have been ignored until now. Moreover, India needs to be considered as a tourist destination beyond history and culture offerings,” said Akshay Kumar, CEO, Mercury Himalayan Explorations and President, ATOAI.
Besides this new development, ATOAI in support with Madhya Pradesh Tourism has been working towards bringing in the Adventure Travel Trade Association’s (ATTA)
World Travel Summit 2018 to Madhya Pradesh. The informal in-principle approval has been given, however we are still awaiting the official consent from both MP Tourism and ATTA, highlighted Sanjay Basu, MD, Far Horizon Tours and Senior Vice President, ATOAI.
In February this year, ATOAI also announced that the Ministry of Tourism (MoT)-recognised adventure tour operators can procure, register and use satellite phones on non-restricted adventure tourism circuits in India by June 2016. This is yet to take shape as MoT is yet to procure handsets which will then be placed with the Regional Directors at India Tourism offices.
ATOAI has also convinced MoT to conduct the first statistical survey on Adventure Tourism in India. The result of which would give us on-ground assessment of the size of the industry above guesstimates. The first draft report was created where ATOAI members suggested revisions. The second draft is in process by MoT.
“All in all, things are moving, but the motion needs to get aggressive. 42% of global tourism is adventure travel and for a destination like India, the potential is humongous. A host of actions are needed from related ministries of the government,” outlined Basu.
Based out of Mumbai, Andre Morris, Director, Outbound Adventure and President, Adventure Tour Operators of Maharashtra (ATOM), said that the association is pushing Maharashtra Tourism to facilitate the segment in a better manner. The pace is slow and adventure travel does get seldom heard. The political parties are very supportive but when things come down to bureaucrats, their lack of awareness, put things on a backseat. Due to some unsustainable incidents, the Forest Department is putting a hold on rock climbing instead of promoting it.
While on the domestic front, the Indian traveller is now looking for more meaningful and adventure-filled trips. There is a growing demand for experience-driven stays. The inbound adventure travel however, Basu feels, is stagnant and showing a negative curve. India as an adventure travel destination is missing out on infrastructure, accessibility and accommodation options, majorly in the remote and offbeat regions. The regulations also need to be simplified to open this segment further and expand the market size. Basu quotes that the neighbouring destination of Nepal is open to slow treks up to 6,000 mt and below without charging any fees while India still needs to gear up.
“Madhya Pradesh is probably the only frontrunner state in promoting its wildlife tourism segment. The efforts being made by other states such as Rajasthan and Jammu and Kashmir are slow. North East, being an adventure haven, is dormant. Andaman is taking baby steps and Himalayan belt is awaiting the needed push in terms of marketing,” highlights Basu.
Morris also agreed that while Maharashtra has tremendous potential, it needs more push from the Tourism Department. Association bodies have played a vital role in boosting destinations such as Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh. Shillong is exploring possibilities and Andhra Pradesh too, is gearing up. “State tourism departments should rope in related experts and move accordingly for the sector to flourish. The government officials aren’t the right ones to decide on the sector,” he added.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi also said that Adventure Tourism can emerge as the biggest employer in the North East Region. “If developed and promoted well, this can emerge as the biggest employer in the region. It can also add to the growth and income of the region. All states in the North East region are blessed with natural scenic beauty, distinct historical cultural and ethnic heritage. All this offers tremendous scope for tourism in the region. There is also a great scope for mountaineering, trekking and adventure tourism in the region,” he said.
On the accessibility front, over 200 airfields are lying unused such as Shimla, Manali, Dharamshala, and four airports in Uttarakhand. The road journey involves a lot of time, which eventually reduces the duration of trek. Capitalising on the accessibility front, countries such as Nepal and Bhutan with weaker economies are way ahead of our country in terms of attracting adventure-lovers, laments Kumar.
The adventure travel market is growing at over 45% in the Indian market, despite huge
challenges. Desire among clients for a more customised experience is clearly growing, with many tour operating companies reporting that travellers are increasingly looking for completely customised trips. Beyond this, soft adventures are a clear area of increased customer interest including safaris, hiking and cycling as well as cultural activities. There is an increasing trend among corporate entities opting for adventure travel. They are using adventure as a tool for training programmes and this will probably see a further boost next year, speaks Morris.
Amit Chowdhury, President and COO, Adventure Nation, highlights that the Tier-II cities such as Surat, Vadodara, Pune, Bhopal, Chandigarh, Lucknow and Patna are fueling demand in the adventure travel segment. With last minute plans on the rise and travellers thinking a week before where to go next weekend, online booking of adventure travel options is picking up. Online boasts of varied products information and ease of booking at the click of a button. The role of online players in adventure travel business is soon to see a giant leap where even offline operators will have to ensure online presence or even on mobile platforms.
Basu too believes that adventure travel needs to be pushed from both online and offline channels. The survival will continue only for those tour operators in the segment who are constantly innovating and curating real and unique experiences. Also, we will need to create backwaters with better accessibility, amenities, accommodation and regulations. This coupled with low impact and sustainable adventure travel practices will eventually generate employment opportunities for the community and put in motion a positive cycle thus expanding the adventure travel market size in India.