The Adventure Tour Operators Association of India (ATOAI) is a representative body of adventure camps in India. It’s the connector between the government and the tour operator. They recommend the government on best practices for conducting adventure tourism in the country. It also published a handbook of the guideline on the best practices for adventure tour operators to follow. Last September, it led a risk mitigation committee to suggest changes to preserve India’s outdoor heritage in a better way.
The ATOAI event was held in Araku Valley, situated in the Eastern Ghats of India, in Andhra Pradesh. It is known for its deep forests, ancient caves, coffee beans, and hot air balloons. This region held its first ballooning festival, coinciding with the convention, and the outdoor journal had to attend some heated panel discussions during the way and spoke to a number of established tour operators.
Growth of Adventure Travel in India
In a presentation during the convention, Ashish Gupta, consulting CEO of the Federation of Associations in Indian Tourism and Hospitality (FAITH), explained that the travel industry had gained huge numbers in business, resulting in a revenue gain of almost $3 trillion from direct business globally. That makes it one-tenth of the world economy. This calculation also crossed the agricultural and manufacturing industries. Moreover, he said that adventure tourism revenue is around $0.5 trillion, and it is growing at the rate of 18% every year.
The adventure travel industry in India is gaining prominence. The Ministry of Tourism declared 2018 to be the “year of adventure”. Adventure Travel and Trade Association (ATTA), a global body of adventure tour operators, brought their Annual Adventure Next event to India for the first time last December. The upcoming event in Uttarakhand in February has adventure as its theme. It can be said from all these observations that government bodies of the country are recognizing the industry’s potential in various aspects.
However, ironically enough, the same government of the state has banned camping in Uttarakhand, declaring mass tourism as a problem. Moreover, the government has also forbidden rafting camps along the Ganges. 2018 also witnessed several deaths right from South India’s forests to the high passes of the Indian Himalayas. At least 40 deaths were cited during the presentation.
Mass Tourism in Adventure Travel in India
Mass Tourism is often accused of lowering the quality of experience, degrading the environment and a general lack of safety protocols. Many things have to be kept in mind, like the guide to client ratio is skewed and leave no trace principles are not followed. Vaibhav Kala is one of the most voices against mass tourism in adventure travel in India.
How do people actually define mass tourism? Is there a particular limit in the number of people occupying a space beyond which it can actually create a problem?
One of the suggestions given was to regulate the areas by creating entry barriers and a set of mandatory guidelines. Kala said, “We can have entry checkpoints, where a minimum protocol needs to be followed, for example, hiring a local guide, a certain client-to-guide ratio etc.”
Environmental Impacts of adventure camps
When VinayakKoul of Snow lion Expeditions led a trek up to StokKangri in Ladakh last summer, he was in for a lot of work. He was leading a journey part of a cleanup drive that was supervised under the Ministry of Tourism’s Adopt a Heritage program. They took up two clean-up campaigns, one to StokKangri and the other to a source of the Ganges. He came back with 2100 kilos of garbage, mostly plastic, and tin. People take a plastic bottle, coke cans, and others during their trek and dump them wherever they have done using them. There are dustbins all around, and one could carry the plastic or cans for a while before they can drop them in a bin later.
Huw Kingston has passionately campaigned against the plastic bottle in his journeys and managed to make the Australian town of Bundanoon bottled water-free. His efforts are really appreciable. Due to this pollution of garbage, there are many tourists who refuse to visit the most desirable places. And this problem is not specified in any country but throughout the globe. A straightforward way to get rid of this, as suggested during the panel discussion, is to keep the sizes of the group to a minimum so that less impact is created—another suggestion revolved around creating barriers at entry points to space and education.
Future of Adventure Travel in India
Andreas Hilmar, a German travel agent, often brings different travellers to India in the past 15 years. He says that his group has a varied range of interests starting from visiting Sikkim, Ladakh, Assam, Nagaland, and travel by the Ganga River. So from statistics of Indian people as well as people from Europe and all over the world, we can say that adventure tourism is not just sport adventure. They see adventure in exploring new places, knowing their culture and many other things.
Pradeep Murthy of Muddy Boots, based in Kerala, said that this industry would keep growing, just that new places need to be explored. While some places will not work, explorers create detailed databases of lesser-known places and advise the government to incentivize lesser-known places. The government should shut down areas for further repair and growth, and they should open the new regions instead. These are the things where work has to be done potentially.
There are detailed data accumulated by adventure explorers that prove that in adventure travel, 60% of the income is retained within the country as compared to only 20% in leisure travel. Adventure travel retains still a lot more income within the community and the nation. Vaibhav Kala says that “Signs for India are great, but it is also deemed to be a country where there are 15000 adventure tour operators and only like 40-70 odd active companies recognized by the Government of India”.