A trek together

Written by Jyoti Verma | Updated: Sep 29 2008, 04:14am hrs
This vacation, tell your family to pack action in the bags. Head out to the jungles of Africa, feed baby sharks off the Malaysian coast, or hitch a ride on a dog-sledge in Sweden. Welcome to the whole new world of adventure travel that Indians are getting hooked on to.

Take the case of adventure traveller Dr Milind Sankhe, a neurosurgeon at Mumbais Hinduja Hospital. He drove his SUV on the not-so-friendly Himalayan terrain last year for a car rally, a trip made successful with lot of help from family and friends. The team included family and friends, he says, adding, It was a division of labour, with me concentrating on the track and my wife managing supplies and checking on the time we had to finish the race in. And it is not Sankhe alone. Indian travellers, hungry for some adventure are taking the family along, from kid to grandparent. Family adventure is set to grow in India. With Indians believing in being with the family, and now decoding the fun of adventure, the concept surely has a potential at home, believes Kerala-based Sam T Samuel, MD, Kalypso Adventures.

Globally, family adventure is a hit with people now opening up to family outings. Enthusiasts are going for activities like camping, cycling tours, diving and snorkelling, extreme fishing, horse riding, hot air balloon flights, off-road ski, snow, ice and water experiences being tried out. The most popular trips are to the theme parks, river rafting, hot air balloon flights, helicopter tours, wildlife park tours and skiing. Eco-adventure is a major addition as families find jungles a venue that could suit grown ups and educate the little ones, says Aseem Sadan, COO and co-founder, isango.com.

The concept

Family adventure trips are designed for the whole family. There are some age barriers to certain activities like rafting (12+years). But, usually, most activities could be done by both an eight-year-old and an 85-year old, making the overall package safe for children and exciting for adults. At times, extra services are built in, like an extra horse on a family trek to carry a tired child, making sure that not more than three to four hours of walking is on the trek, child-friendly meals, etc. In some cases, we also try to get the children interested in some other activity, while we take the parents for a tougher activity, says R Balakrishnan, Director, Great Indian Outdoors.

If you undertake, for example, a nine-day tour of Tunisia, you could pack in activities for both young and old, with a visit to the cave houses at Matmata, where Star Wars was recorded. This is likely to appeal to everyone and anyone, who has seen the film. A camel ride into the Sahara Desert may be too energetic for older travellers but appeal to youngsters. Its also worth noting that many activities and excursions are optional allowing travellers who dont fancy them to do something else instead, says the spokesperson of Explore, a UK-based family adventure planner. For instance, a family adventure neednt have something like bungee jumping or bridge slithering, but could manage with a boat tour like the Whirlpool Jet Boat Tour at Niagara Falls with the family on a thrilling ride upriver into the whitewater rapids.

Points to take care

An expert on the subject, Explore says families to check on travel and medical insurance. They must always check if all activities are definitely included. Whenever a person books a tour with us, our staff discusses and advises each family on the package, says its spokesperson. On a personal level, the families trying it out must take note about family illnesses/health and possible problems at altitudes, arrange for a back-up to counter problems on the way and assure safety. On my upcoming trek to Gomukh, I plan to take my daughter, and not wife, as she may not handle much walking, says Sankhe. The options on the family adventure platter include something called Go Independent. Established players like Explore allow one or two families to travel on an Explore Family Adventure itinerary when they want, rather than on the scheduled dates. This allows for more privacy and greater flexibility, and also for the group in question to alter the itinerary a little bit (if they want) to suit their requirements and passions. This is an area we see massive growth potential over the next 10 years, adds the official. Back home, Samuel, catering to Westerners, too is learning a lot.

Compared to the foreigners, we dont get much business from the Indian families. But yes, some of them are coming back. Family adventure could be an attraction for them currently, and surely makes for an opportunity,he says. (Refer to the box for business in adventure tourism)

What it means to the destinations

The growing interest in family adventure is proving to be a boon for destinations that want to change its image. For instance, Mauritius is trying to shun its honeymoon gateway image to make sense to families of all kinds. Malaysia too is realising the potential of the concept. With our high adrenaline activities like walk with lions, zipeline rides in sugar estates, crocodile feeding, river safari (by motorised longboat down the shallow Skrang river) to undersea walk and submarine rides, we are blending ecology and adventure ideas to beguile people from across the globe.

For the current season, we have launched a holiday package for Langkawi priced between Rs 35,000-40,000, says Manoharan, director, Tourism Malaysia, India Market. Upcoming markets like Jamaica offering sea trek, canopy tour through the jungle or a raft ride down the Martha Brae river to North America with destinations like Niagara, are all joining the bandwagon.

Now, with so much happening from the Garhwal to the Arctic, there is no point waiting for holidays to come. Plan for your next adventure right now.

Action-packed business

In the US, about 40% of adventure tour operators surveyed by Adventure Travel Trade Association recorded more than 16% growth (with over eight lakh travellers) in 2007, making adventure a segment with loads of potential. In India, things are different with the segment still niche and most of the travellers coming from metros and urban centres. Tour operators find the overheads high its difficult to find the right manpower and support staff, sturdy vehicles and appropriate lodging. Organisations like Kalypso Adventures (since its inception in 2000, it has grown 200% y-o-y) and Great Indian Outdoors are doing well, with state governments too promoting adventure tourism.

The concept is also contributing to allied product business like cycles and adventure gear (from bikes, tents, backpacks to footwear). Sales of high-end bikes are growing at very healthy double digits. We are confident that the trend will only improve in the near future. Besides, we organise various initiatives to remain in sight and mind whenever one plans to go for mountain biking, says D Raghuram, senior VP, Bicycles & Fitness, TI Cycles of India. TI organises the annual Hercules Mountain Biking Himachal championship.

Vikas Bagga, VP-marketing & corporate affairs, M&B Footwear, knows adventure has arrived in his market. A customer picked 15 pairs of his adventure footwear brand, Merrell. Footwear brands like Merrell, Hi-Tec Footwear, etc, are putting India on their priority list. Though the investment is minimal, the merchandise (largely mens footwear) is sold at high footfall areas through shop-in-shops. With response already showing, we would eventually like to expand our retail model to offer everything an adventure enthusiast is looking for, says Bagga.