From showcasing a virgin destination, Hanuwantiya, to displaying the tourism potential of Madhya Pradesh to addressing key issues pertaining to the growth of the adventure tourism segment in India, ATOAI’s 12th annual convention was an enthralling spectacle that left many with food for thought. By Rituparna Chatterjee
Keeping the tradition of organising the Adventure Tour Operators Association of India (ATOAI) conventions at activity based locations, this time its 12th annual convention was held at a lesser known beautiful destination called Hanuwantiya, located in the reservoir of Indira Sagar Dam on Narmada river in Madhya Pradesh. The convention, which was held from February 12 to 14, 2016, sought to showcase the tourism offerings of Hanuwantiya to the travel trade stakeholders and potential investors, while allowing the delegates to experience the region’s potential by organising a plethora of water and land based adventure activities including beach volleyball, cycling, cruise boating, banana rides, parasailing, island overnight camping, stargazing, tree plantation activity, hot air ballooning, paramotoring, jet skiing, among others. To launch and promote Hanuwantiya as a water and adventure tourism destination, Madhya Pradesh Tourism recently opened a resort, which was announced during the inaugural ceremony of the convention.
Speaking about the potential of Hanuwantiya at the inauguration, Shivraj Singh Chouhan, chief minister, Government of Madhya Pradesh stated, “Hanuwantiya has all the facilities needed to be positioned as an adventure destination. We want to develop this destination through the PPP model. In future, this will become an international destination.” While the union urban development minister, Venkaiah Naidu added, “I am pleased to see the natural beauty and massive water body at Hanuwantiya. It feels like an international tourist spot. In times to come, I wish that this destination attracts tourists from all over the world.”
Giving his perspective, Hari Ranjan Rao, managing director, Madhya Pradesh State Tourism Development Corporation opined, “A destination like Hanuwantiya can come up very fast if we facilitate investment. The Government of Madhya Pradesh has already notified a master plan covering 15-20 villages. The idea is to make it into a long term sustainable destination and a few days henceforth we are going to make the Hanuwantiya resort plastic-free.”
Madhya Pradesh Tourism has also initiated an annual event, Jal Mahotsav, to showcase the customs and traditions of the tribes that live on the banks of the river. This year, Jal Mahotsav was held from February 12-21. During the inauguration, ATOAI and Madhya Pradesh Tourism also signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) under which ATOAI would be conducting a one-year skill development and capacity building certification course, especially for the rural population of Madhya Pradesh. Under this, basic training would be provided to conduct adventure sports in concerned areas. “Final details of the commencement of the course are in the pipeline,” informed Tejbir Singh Anand, chairman of the convention. The MoU signing ceremony was followed by the ATOAI 2016 Awards. The convention also witnessed a significant announcement being made wherein in the next three months, the ministry of tourism (MoT) recognised adventure tour operators can procure, register and use satellite phones on non-restricted adventure tourism circuits in India. This information was shared by Akshay Kumar, president, ATOAI.
This year the convention offered three brainstorming sessions, held on the second day, to discuss several topics pertaining to the Indian travel and tourism industry. The first session titled ‘Marketing of Adventure Travel – The Way Forward’ witnessed an interesting discussion wherein the panelists highlighted several emerging trends. For instance, Himmat Anand, founder, Tree of Life Resorts & Hotels, spoke on the need for inbound operators to adopt technology. “Every two-three years, the business model will change and there will be disrupters. The three major dirupters today are the tablet and the mobile (the smart watch is going to be the trend five years from now), OTAs and exhibitions.”
The second business session on ‘Managing Growth’ had panelists Anirudh Chaoji, director, Pugmarks Eco Tours; Megh Bahadur Ale, founder and president, Nepal River Conservation Trust and course director/ head instructor, Borderlands Professional Development Programmes; Dr Pranab J Patar, consultant, Earthwatch Institute; Anand Sankar, founder, Kalap Trust; and Gopinath Pariyal, founder, The Blue Yonder. The third business session titled ‘Importance of Innovations and Investments’ witnessed Varun Suhag, CEO, Flyboy Aviation highlighting that innovation and investment needs to go hand-in-hand.
Other panelists for this session included Sanjay Basu, managing director, Far Horizon Tours; Alistair Gunn Scott of Flying Fox; and Brig S P Singh (retd), director marketing and publicity, Jumpin Heights. Apart from business sessions, the success stories of Chinmay Divekar, director, Nature Trails Resorts; Gurpreet Dhindsa, para guru and Gulshan Chadha of Himalayan Mountaineering Institute (HMI) of Darjeeling were shared.
The ATOAI 2016 Award Winners
Best Adventure Travel Website: Adventure Nation
Best Popular Adventure Camp/ Resort: Atali Ganga
Innovation in Adventure Activity:
Air Adventure – Flyboy Aviation
Land Adventure – Jumpin Heights
Water Adventure – MV Mahabaahu by Far Horizon Tours
New Innovative Product (Eco Lodge in Remote Location): Binsar Forest Retreat
Excellence in Community & Adventure based Tourism: Pugmarks Eco Tours
Innovation in ‘Adventure Travel’ based on Innovation, Strategy, Use of Technology, Safety Standards, SOPs and Sustainability: LifeStraw/ A&S Creations
Awards of Excellence:
Lifetime Achievement Award – Vasant Limaye, CEO, High Places Management
Hall of Fame – Mohan Tickoo, MD, KVT Holidays, New Delhi
Friend of Adventure – Indian Mountaineering Foundation
Game Changer in the Adventure Travel Industry – Decathlon Sports India
Best Indian States in Adventure Tourism:
Innovation in Creating Adventure Destination – Madhya Pradesh Tourism
Promotion for Adventure Travel – Jammu & Kashmir Tourism
Sustainability in Adventure Travel – Sikkim Tourism
Upcoming State Promoting Adventure Travel – Maharashtra Tourism
The concluding day witnessed the valedictory session where Sarabjit Singh, vice chairman, Federation of Associations in Indian Tourism & Hospitality (FAITH) applauded ATOAI for its efforts to promote adventure tourism in India. “There is commitment which shows that international standards can be achieved in adventure tourism in India.”
While Rinchen Namgyal, president, All Ladakh Tour Operators Association said, “We are undertaking several initiatives to maintain Ladakh as a sustainable and eco friendly destination. We want associations like ATOAI to work with us in a better way. Tourism is the backbone of Ladakh and our association’s objective is to promote tourism in Ladakh in a better way, give opportunity to the local people and support the local community.”
Sharing his adventure experiences, Dhindsa said that there is restricted air space in India. Another issue is regionalism in India. “Both these issues need to be looked at,” he mentioned.