India raises adventure tourism profile but perceived cultural destination image lingers

View from Nag Tibba basecamp, the highest peak in the lesser Himalayan region of Garhwal, Dehradun, Uttarakhand

Recent efforts by India’s Ministry of Tourism and state tourism boards to promote adventure tourism are expected to drive more international arrivals and promote the country as a destination for adventure holidays and activities.

Last year saw India making a visible push into the adventure tourism arena, with the Indian Ministry of Tourism declaring 2018 as the Year of Adventure Tourism while the state of Madhya Pradesh became the first destination in Asia to host Adventure Next in Bhopal in association with US-based Adventure Travel Trade Association (ATTA).

View from Nag Tibba basecamp, the highest peak in the lesser Himalayan region of Garhwal, Dehradun, Uttarakhand

Indian states like Uttarakhand, a state in northern India crossed by the Himalayas and which is better known for its Hindu pilgrimage sites and yoga offerings, are opening up to adventure tourism.

Uttarakhand is currently hosting PATA Adventure Travel And Responsible Tourism Conference & Mart in Rishikesh between February 13-15.

Dilip Jawalkar, secretary, tourism, religious affairs and culture department, government of Uttarakhand, commented: “Traditionally, we have been seeing demand from international markets for spiritual and wellness tourism. Adventure is a new segment for us and we want to promote destinations like Rishikesh and Auli for adventure activities.”

With the attention these recent trade events have brought to a previously under-tapped segment, travel operators and buyers alike are finally starting to realise the potential of India as a destination for adventure tourism.

Tom Parsley, personal travel consultant of Hays Travel, a UK buyer attending the PATA event in Rishikesh, expects the efforts of the Indian government and trade adventure tourism stakeholders will reap benefits in future.

“As an adventure destination, India is a new market for UK and in the past we have done tours of Golden Triangle and big monuments,” Parsely told TTG Asia. “Adventure is one of the fastest-growing outbound segments for UK, and India has jumped (ahead of) other countries to get to that market. I see demand coming from FITs to explore adventure tourism in India.”

Swadesh Kumar, president, Adventure Tour Operators Association of India, noted: “There has been a buzz created for adventure tourism in India and the promising future it holds. If India has to grow its inbound numbers rapidly, activity holidays need to be promoted. We as an association will try to bring more adventure tourism events in India.”

However, among the key impediments to the adventure tourism’s growth in India is the perception of the country as a cultural destination in the international markets.

“The perception of India remains as a cultural tourism destination and I don’t see it changing in the near future. If India wants to grow its adventure tourism segment it needs to adopt best practices from a market like Nepal,” Ambrose Bittner, founder & managing director of US-based Red Lantern Journeys, remarked.

Concurred Tejbir Singh Anand, founder & managing director, Holiday Moods Adventure: “At present international tourist arrivals for adventure are far less than cultural tourists in India. Traditionally, the image of India is (associated with) Taj Mahal, Kerala or Rajasthan, so international events like these will help to project the adventure side of India.”

It is hence vital for the Indian authorities to keep up its efforts of promoting Indian as an adventure tourism destination, Anand recommended.

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