1. As you update your Instagram feed with your bungee jump, is your tour operator compromising on safety to make profit?
Indians are bored… of sightseeing. Vacations are not about taking a stroll through the spots where Saif Ali Khan danced to a Bollywood number in Kufri. Or having a sundowner in a houseboat. Don’t get us wrong. These touristy drills still have takers. But there is a growing crop of vacationers who would rather challenge themselves with rafting in the dangerous waters of Ganges or try to stay still on a paragliding spree in Bir.
2. Safety is a major concern in adventure sports
The numbers suggest that the business is booming, but there is something amiss. Adventure sports has come under intense scrutiny due to lax safety measures and an absence of a suitable framework to ensure safety and security of the adventure seekers. The banning of white water rafting in Rishikesh, a few skydiving deaths and the concerns over the ecological damage in pristine landscapes are just some of the main issues plaguing this industry. “The lack of safety is a major issue today in adventure sports. Since India is a price-conscious market, the aim of the tour operators is to cut costs and provide services at slashed rates. The first thing to get neglected due to cost-cutting is safety.
3. A few government regulations on safety
The central government has prescribed some basic safety measures to be followed by operators. However, there is no regulatory body that conducts inspections. The rapid growth in this sector necessitates the presence of a regulatory body that can conduct standard checks to ensure equipment is usable and safety guidelines are followed.
“Although it’s growing, the adventure sport and tourism market is still unorganised. It is estimated that the industry’s cumulative turnover in 2016 was about `5,000 crore which is quite meagre when compared to most key or mainstream industries. And even in this, four to five players claim the major share,” Sukrit says.
4. Increased scrutiny
But, there is some good news too. “Recently, a clutch of stakeholders have stepped up to ensure safety standards. For instance, the high court of Uttarakhand has put a halt on all river-based sporting activities in the state until a policy/guideline is laid out to ensure safety and sustainability. It has also banned camping in bugyals (high altitude meadows) on most Himalayan treks,” Sukrit says. The problem, however, is that the Indian governance system has always the approach to place outright bans instead of understanding the root causes and managing the situation in a sustainable manner.
Adventure Tour Operators Association of India (ATOAI), which is one of the largest platform for tour operators, has come up with a guideline for safety procedure and Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) to lobby with the legislators.
5. Responsible Tourism
Cultural immersion and livelihood to locals are what adventure sports tourism bring with it. But, it also brings with itself concern over the degradation of fragile ecosystems due to an uninhibited growth. Locals will be benefited more if adventure sports facilities are developed in their regions. For example, Kamshet in Maharashtra, witnessed infrastructure development only after it became a hub for paragliding. “Adventure tourism is providing employment avenues in remote regions, lowering dependency on natural resources (such as forests) for sustenance, bringing about heightened awareness of sustainability and environmental issues, and most importantly lowering the ‘village to city’ displacement of labour in search of employment,” Sukrit adds.
6. The way forward
In the present scenario, it seems like it is the onus of individuals to ascertain that their tour operators are following stipulated safety norms. In the absence of a regulatory system, it is up to customers to take up the mantle. “We ask operators to provide details of their on-field guide and submit the documents about their certifications. Most operators do not have this information and use this as a filter to narrow down on the operators that do follow the protocol,” Manan adds.
You wouldn’t go to a doctor or a lawyer without verifying their credentials, right? There is no adventure in jumping off a cliff without a safety harness.