A Languid Kerala is Waking up to Adventure tourism

Kochi: Kerala has long been considered as a leisure destination and its backwaters, seashores, Ayurveda and greenery have attracted travellers from all over the world, who wished to enjoy a quiet holiday, at God’s Own Country.

Kerala raked in Rs. 38,000 crore from tourism with around 10.3 lakh foreign and 1.32 crore domestic tourists arriving in the State in 2016. But one interesting trend emerging in the tourism sector of late is the rise in the arrival of thrill-seekers who pursue excitingly different experiences. Sunbathing and sight-seeing no longer enthuse them much. Rather, they are looking for activities causing rush of adrenaline like bungee jumping, paragliding, underwater rides, scuba diving, trekking and off-roading. Kerala is now trying to woo this younger generation by offering such activities and water-based adventure tourism.

Marking a shift in its positioning as an enchanting laid-back destination, Kerala Tourism is all set to add a dash of adventure to its portfolio by re-branding itself as the ‘The Land of Adventure’ to woo the younger generation of tourists looking for some adrenaline-pumping moments

“Over the years, the tourism industry has changed drastically and rapidly, with tourists preferring to look beyond historic temples, monuments and modern sights. Tourists now want to explore hills, waterfalls and forests by indulging in adventurous activities. Hence, Kerala will be re-branded as ‘The Land of Adventure’ to attract the younger generation by offering adventure activities and water-based tourism,” says Kadakampally Surendran, Minister of Tourism.

Adventure travel became the buzzword some eight years ago. Now extreme sports and adventure activities are fast gaining popularity, registering 60 per cent growth every year. Globally, adventure tourism is doing an annual business of a whopping $300 billion. From typical family holidays, the travellers are moving towards adventurous experiences.

“With our backwaters, houseboats and Ayurveda, we were having a good time by marketing a brand of tourism which focussed on relaxation. Now we want to transform ourselves into a destination for a younger crowd, too. All parts of the State are suited for adventure tourism, especially northern Kerala as it has a number of unexplored locations. The State Government is in the process of formulating a licensing and regulatory framework for the adventure and activity tourism segment. The framework will be transparent and simple, and it will comply with world standards. We have already begun the process and set up a panel of experts for the purpose of evolving the regulatory framework,” says Dr. V Venu IAS, Principal Secretary, Kerala Tourism. Kerala has some major plans to attract adventure enthusiasts. “The main focus will be on water-based activities and adventure parks. One of the projects we will develop is a river tour circuit connecting eight rivers of Kannur and Kasargod districts at an estimated cost of Rs. 325 crore,” Minister Kadakampally explains the State Government’s plans.

Though the world had already realised the potential of adventure tourism, it took a while for Kerala to wake up to the fact that it is a place with a lot of potential for adventure tourism.

Sam T Samuel, MD, Kalypso Adventures feels that it was mainly because of a wrong understanding of the term ‘adventure tourism’. “People linked adventure tourism to pure adventure activities like rock climbing, mountaineering, paragliding etc. There was also a perception that adventure tourism was restricted to the Himalayas. The fact is that there are so many activities in Kerala that would fall easily under the purview of adventure tourism. There is so much more to adventure tourism than mountaineering and skydiving,” says Sam.

The cliff at Varkala Beach makes the destination a perfect place for paragliding and parasailing. Travellers can take off from the helipad located on top of the cliff.

But George Varghese, Managing Partner of Rockhill Adventure Park in Munnar, believes that the interest in outdoor activities among Malayalis is not very high. “This attitude of Keralites has resulted in the underutilisation of various avenues for adventure activities. Though we are witnessing some changes happening, they are not fast enough. Of late, the Kerala Government’s initiatives, however, have been producing some results,” adds George.

Harshakumar Sharma, a veteran of adventure tourism sector and the man behind establishing most of the adventure parks in Kerala, has a different opinion to share. “We lacked expertise in this field. But from 1990s onwards a few organisations like National Adventure Foundation Kerala chapter, led by Wg. Cmdr. (retd.) S K J Nair, and Malabar Aero Sports Society, led by Safar Ahamed, have been active here. However, they mainly focussed on aerosports which were rather expensive and hence, failed to attract the common man. But the scenario has completely changed after the commencement of Ramoji Film City’s Sahas project, which introduced ‘high ropes course’ in South India. Slowly, Club Mahindra group started organising such activities outside,” says Harshakumar.

The Tourism Department has been following a robust development plan to promote adventure tourism as it has the potential to substantially contribute to the overall growth of the tourism sector. Moreover, the interest of travellers has been increasingly gravitating towards adventure tourism offerings. “The activity-oriented tourism will help the State achieve the targets of doubling foreign tourist arrivals and increasing domestic tourist arrivals to 50 per cent by 2021,” says P Bala Kiran IAS, Director, Department of Tourism, Government of Kerala.

Vagamon, the picturesque hill station in Idukki district, has been identified as the hotspot for paragliding by tourists visiting Kerala.

Travellers can indulge in a range of adventure activities like paragliding, hiking, trekking, biking, kayaking, fishing, canoeing, bamboo rafting and scuba diving. Those who are interested in water sports have opportunities in Kovalam, Varkala, Alappuzha, Kumarakom, Cherai and Thusharagiri whereas those who love trekking may visit the hill stations of Munnar, Vagamon and Wayanad. The government has introduced many initiatives such as mountain biking contests, paragliding festivals, kayaking festivals etc., which are giving a boost to the adventure tourism sector. But the industry players are not very happy with the pace of growth. Infrastructure improvement is one thing which they unanimously demand.

“The government should promote Kerala as an adventure tourism destination at every event they participate. The Kerala Tourism website should give detailed information about adventure tourism activities and adventure tourism promoters in Kerala. More entrepreneurs should be encouraged to invest in adventure tourism. We need more players in the field to make adventure tourism successful. It would be a great inspiration if the government provides subsidy to adventure tourism players. Also, the Forest Department should stop looking at tourism in general and adventure tourism in particular, as destroyers of environment. Adventure tour operators across the world work hand in hand with forest departments and act as protectors of environment and wildlife, and educators of conservation,” says Sam.

George feels that improving connectivity between major airports and tourist destinations, and introducing point-to-point luxury bus services would help. “Today, tourists are being held hostage by taxi drivers by refusing to take them to their destinations unless they pay a commission. The State should also help spread awareness about adventure sites. Since adventure tourism industry in Kerala is only in the initial stages, only 12 per cent GST should be levied. Giving accessibility to various restricted areas of Western Ghats for trekking and other adventure-related activities would also help private players to explore new avenues and thereby attract more travellers,” says George.

“There are 20-odd adventure-cum-theme parks in Kerala, but there is not much awareness about the same, even among the local people. Idukki district itself has about 12 parks. The government and tour operators should take necessary steps to include those parks in their itinerary and give good promotion. The National Adventure Academy, the only one of its kind in India, is situated at Devikulam in Munnar. However, its pathetic condition shows how badly we manage such facilities. It lacks expert instructors, equipment, programmes, funds and infrastructure. Had this been in any other state, it would have been in a better condition. The National Adventure Institute at Pachmarhi in Madhya Pradesh is running smoothly and has enough programmes. In Kerala, tourism means sale of liquor while other activities are largely ignored,” says Harshakumar.

From the boulder-filled terrain of Ponmudi in Thiruvananthapuram, to the rocky landscape and challenging streams of Peerumedu in Idukki district to the wild and unrelenting topography of Wayanad, Kerala presents immense possibilities for off-roading events. Thanks to the demanding routes across its rugged landscape, Munnar is the venue for many prestigious off-road events like the Mahindra Great Escape.

With new projects coming up and the State Government showing keen interest, adventure tourism in Kerala is expected to scale new heights. The State has a variety of destinations, except snow-covered spots, needed for adventure tourism. Further, it has a round-the-year season which is ideal for tourism. Let a sustainable, eco-friendly model of tourism and development be our motto.

MINISTER TO LEAD KERALA TEAM FOR WTM London 2017

Kadakampally Surendran, Tourism Minister of Kerala will lead Kerala Tourism delegation to WTM London 2017, the global event for the travel industry. Apart from sellers, the delegation comprises M Vijayakumar, Chairman, Kerala Tourism Development Corporation (KTDC); Dr. V Venu IAS, Principal Secretary, Department of Tourism and P Bala Kiran IAS, Director, Department of Tourism. Kerala’s much-applauded Responsible Tourism (RT) initiative at the scenic Kumarakom village, which is famous for its backwater tourism, is among the 12 finalists shortlisted for the WTM Responsible Tourism Awards to be presented at this edition of WTM. 2017 being the International Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development, the awards have focused on the UN Sustainable Development Goals. Kerala Tourism’s RT initiative at Kumarakom will also be among the topics of discussion at WTM’s Responsible Tourism Theatre. Dr. Venu, who was instrumental in implementing RT Mission in Kerala, and Jose Dominic, CEO of the Kerala-based CGH Earth Group are speaking at this session.

Jatayu: Peak of Art, Myth & Adventure

Jatayu Adventure Center (www.jatayuadventurecenter.com) at Chadayamangalam in Kollam, which is spread over 65 acres of multi-terrain landscape with the huge sculpture of the mythical bird of Ramayana, is welcoming adrenaline junkies with an assortment of popular adventure sports and games. Featuring a ropeway, the destination is a masterpiece combining art, mythology, technology, culture, adventure, leisure and wellness, giving visitors a spellbinding experience. A feast to the eyes, the world’s biggest bird sculpture is the result of sculptor and filmmaker Rajiv Anchal’s years of toil.  The facility offers activities such as Paintball, Valley Crossing, Trekking, Zipline, Commando net, Bouldering, Side joola, Jumaring, Free climbing, Burma bridge, Rappelling, Wall climbing, Chimney climbing, Vertical ladder and Log walk.

The Center flaunts the highest safety standards, which the traveller community has taken note of, boosting the adventure tourism potential of the destination. “At Jatayu, we have a strict policy regarding the number of visitors per day, which is limited by prior online ticketing. An Eco Guard Society – set up by us as part of the Responsible Tourism initiative – takes care of waste management, safety and administration,” says Anchal, who is the concept designer as well as Chairman and Managing Director of Jatayu Adventure Center.

For details, contact: ph: +91 474 2477077, +91 90725 88713 | Email: [email protected]

Kalypso Beckons you with Soft Adventure

At a time when adventure tourism in India was restricted to the Himalayas, Kalypso (www.kalypsoadventures.com) started with the tag line, ‘Adventure Beyond the Himalayas.’ It concentrated more on ‘soft adventure’ which more people can undertake. ‘‘From being laughed at for starting an adventure company in Kerala, today we have reached a stage wherein accolades come seeking us for the quality of our tours,” says Sam T Samuel, a former Naval aviator and MD, Kalypso Adventures, having operations across India.

Kalypso’s kayaking trip in Kerala has been included in the 50 Tours of a Lifetime in 2014 by National Geographic. Also, the cycling trips have been rated as the best. A multi-day cycling trip can involve up to 120 cyclists at a time. Kalypso’s trekking trips to the Western Ghats have given a different dimension to trekking. “We are also one of the leading birding tour companies in India today,” adds Sam, an equestrian enthusiast.

Based in Kochi, Kalypso also offers Corporate Outbound trainings. A Hornbill Camp, an adventure activities-based camp on the banks of the Periyar River at Thattekkad, is another Kalypso initiative. Developed in harmony with the surrounding nature and local community, this eco-adventure lodge provides unique adventure travel experiences to visitors. This is Kerala’s first in camping with a touch of luxury wherein Kalypso arranges kayaking, cycling, walking and birding activities for the guests.

For details, contact: Ph: +91 484 209 2280, 401 2700 | Email: [email protected]

Ride the Waves at Cherai

The picturesque Cherai beach, located at the northern end of the Vypeen Island in Kochi, is rated as one of the most beautiful seaside tourist spots in Kerala. Now, with the support of Ernakulam District Tourism Promotion Council (DTPC), Cherai Water Sports (www.cheraiwatersports.com), launched in mid-October, is all set to turn it into a favourite of water sports lovers from around the world.

In November, around three high-end sailboats, which are on their way from the United Kingdom, will touch the shores of Cherai. These boats are the first-of-its-kind to operate in the State, according to authorities. “The three sailboats – Hobie Cat F18, Nacra 570 and Nacra F20 – will be superior in all respects. Even in Goa, sailboats of 1980s vintage are used. A maximum of six people can ride the sailboat at a time. However, the boat uses wind sails for navigation and those who wish to sail will need special expertise and training,” says Mesh Manoharan, Owner, Cherai Water Sports.

Mesh, a professional with 25 years’ deep sea diving experience, started his venture with the help of a group of marine enthusiasts. Water sports such as kayaking, catamaran sailing, speedboat rides, banana rides, bumper rides, water ski and boogie boards have been arranged at the beach.

For details, contact: ph: +91 70343 43536.

The All-in-one Thusharagiri

Pristine Thusharagiri Waterfalls, situated 50 kilometres away from Kozhikode city, has earned a spot on the global adventure tourism map by hosting the international White Water Rafting and Kayaking Championships. The events are jointly organised by the District Tourism Promotion Council, Kerala Adventure Tourism Promotion Society and Kerala Kayaking Academy. The place also offers endless scope for trekking, rock climbing, bird watching and wildlife sanctuary visits. For more information, log on to: www.malabarfest.com

Explore the Sea with Bond Safari

Though water bodies criss-cross the State, there are people who are reluctant to immerse themselves in water. Among such people, some would still be interested in learning about the marine world. Jackson Peter of ‘Bond Safari’ (www.bondsafarikovalam.com) in Kovalam has an answer to their dilemma. His firm is launching a semi-submarine – a boat that has its lower part staying below water level and resembling a submarine. “Upon boarding the vessel, passengers have to descend to seats which are placed below the waterline from where they can enjoy fantastic underwater views through the big glass windows. This is a great way to discover the beautiful marine life without getting wet,” says Jackson.

‘Bond Safari’ is backed by team of Indian businessmen who have partnered with ‘Cool Divers SL’ from Spain to bring state-of- the-art diving experience to India. At present, the group has programmes like ‘Bond Safari’, in which a fancy scooter is attached to a container filled with air which allows one person to explore the underwater world; ‘Dive Safari’, a scuba diving programme which is a very low-risk activity if instructions are followed strictly; and ‘Sea life Safari’, a boat trip along the coast of Vizhinjam accompanied by a marine biologist. The group also offers diving and swimming courses.

For details, contact: ph: +91 99465 50073