They are all well qualified;
many of them have engineering and management degrees. But they still
decided to take the road less travelled to chase their passion.
Some savvy entrepreneurship and lots of struggle later, this brave
new band of boys has established adventure tourism as a small, but
growing, niche within the country's travel and tourism sector.
Jayesh Morvankar, an engineer-MBA, fed up with his jobs, first
in ad agency HTA and then at tech major Iridium, decided one day
to call it quits and follow his gut. "I realised that I was
not cut out for the corporate world. I wanted to follow my passion
for the outdoors and, therefore, decided in 1998 to chuck my MNC
job and get into outdoor adventure full time," says Morvankar,
who is also a trained mountaineer from the Nehru Institute of
Mountaineering. His company, the Mumbai-based Odati Adventures,
specialises in terrestrial adventure sports like trekking (in
Maharashtra and in the Himalayas), rock climbing, rappelling,
waterfall rappelling and cycling.
Santosh Kumar, who runs adventure sports boutique getoffurass
out of Bangalore, entered the sector through a different route.
He started with a store selling adventure sports equipment before
sensing an opportunity in the market for conducted adventure sports
tours. "There's a huge demand in Bangalore, especially from
it professionals," he says.
As the tourism industry in the country matures and evolves, and
as well-healed Indians gain greater exposure to the lifestyles
of their counterparts in the West, adventure sports and related
tourism activity is slowly taking root in India. But it is still
a very unorganised and young industry (figures on the size of
the industry aren't available). "It's a tough business proposition.
To begin with, it is capital intensive. The initial investment
on equipment, most of which is imported, can run into several
lakh," says Sanjay Rao, who set up the Mumbai-based Nirvana
Adventures, that specialises in offering training in paragliding,
in 1997. "We lost money for the first five years, but now,
we're out of the rapids," he adds. Soumit Doshi, co-founder
of India Outdoors, the only public limited but unlisted company
in the business, had a similar experience. "We struggled
to sell adventure tourism to the masses initially as Indians weren't
well informed about it. But now, I see a change. Many companies
are opting for Outdoor Management Development Programmes (OMDPs)
for their executives and this is generating greater awareness."
to thrill: Vasant Limaye finds trained outdoor
experts to bring in a lot of value to the business
The gestation period for an entrepreneur is a minimum of 5 years.
While Odati Adventures is yet to break even, India Outdoors, which
clocked revenues of Rs 6 crore in 2005-06, is growing at about
40 per cent per annum. Nirvana Adventures, meanwhile, is growing
at 30 per cent. It conducts five-day certified courses in paragliding
that cost Rs 14,500 per person and charges Rs 1,500 for a day's
(10-15 minutes, really) joyride.
Today, all adventure sports companies cater to companies in
a big way. On average, 60 per cent of the revenues come from OMDPs
and 40 per cent from adventure sports programmes catering to individual
clients. Ram Priyan, of the Bangalore-based Ozone Adventures,
for instance, targets only large corporate groups for outbound
learning activities (also called experiential education). Each
group comprises 35-50 individuals and he charges around Rs 2,000
per person per trip on an average. "Corporates today are
willing to spend large sums of money on such activities and many
of them have senior people who are itching to head outdoors to
try everything from river rafting to mountain biking," he
says, pointing out that while adventure sports junkies prefer
to head to the Himalayas (which also has massive rivers like the
Ganga) to get their fix, the less daring like going to south India,
which also offers several options. "Large tech companies
such as Infosys, IBM and Wipro see this as a great way to build
team spirit and bonding," says Priyan, who also sells an
assortment of camping, hiking and protective gear.
However, the industry is hamstrung by several factors. The most
obvious one: safety standards. "Even a single accident can
pull the entire company down," says Vasant Limaye, who started
the Pune-based High Places in 1985 with four British partners,
to offer adventure holidays to European clients. He later parted
ways with his partners in 1992 and set up shop on his own. Related
to the issue of safety is the presence of several inexperienced
people in the business. "Trained experts bring a lot of value
to the business," says Limaye. If an outdoor expert has a
certification from Nehru Institute of Mountaineering (NIM), Uttarkashi,
or Himalayan Institute of Mountaineering (HMI), Darjeeling, it
is an added advantage. "Certification helps as clients want
to know about team leaders and their qualifications," says
Pranav Kukreti, a Narsee Monjee alumnus, who co-founded the Delhi-based
Trek 'n' Rapids, adding that he feels that hands-on experience
is more important than courses.
dreams: getoffurass's Kumar provides tourists with
Another problem the industry faces is that not all trained experts
take it up as a full-time profession. Most work as freelancers
on weekends, primarily because of poor pay. The industry is still
very small and seasonal, so full-time employment is also difficult
to find. Most freelance outdoor experts get Rs 500-1,000 per day.
But sometimes, players get lucky. High Places recently hired Surendra
Chavan, who climbed Mt Everest in 1998, to head its operations.
Chavan, who worked in Tata Motors for almost 25 years (his last
designation was Manager, Administration), has now decided to say
goodbye to the corporate world and pursue his passion for the
outdoors and adventure sports. "While it is absolutely mandatory
for all team members to undergo rescue mission refresher courses,
they are not necessarily professionally qualified in this field;
there are, in fact, no formal courses on adventure sports (except
mountaineering) in the country," says Vaibhav Kala, founder
of Aquaterra Adventures. Adds Chavan: "There has to be a
certifying body to certify companies and clubs in this business.
This will ensure that skilled guides for trekking, rock activities,
rafting and camp managers enter the field."
Every player that BT spoke to for this report agrees that the
future is bright. The popularity of TV channels such as Discovery,
AXM, Adventure One and National Geography is creating more awareness
about adventure sports in the country, and this, they say, is
bound to translate into more business for everyone involved. However,
a lot more needs to be done to create greater awareness at the
basic level. So, while the industry has a long way to go, the
players who are already in the business are looking forward to
growing with it.