The PATA Adventure Travel and Responsible Tourism Conference and Mart 2019 took place in at the Ganga Resort in Rishikesh, India from Feb. 13-15. Its one-day conference featured an esteemed panel of speakers who discussed important topics within tourism.
The conference began with a lively cultural performance that helped to set a hospitable tone for the rest of the day. A lamp-lighting ceremony immediately followed, which was participated by Shri Dilip Jawalkar, Secretary Tourism, Government of Uttarakhand; Shri Suman Billa, Joint Secretary, Ministry of Tourism, Government of India; Dr. Mario Hardy, CEO of PATA; Shri Yogendra Tripathi, Secretary, Ministry of Tourism, Government of India; Shri Satpal Maharaj, Honourable Minister of Tourism, Government of Uttarakhand; and Captain Swadesh Kumar, President of the Adventure Tour Operators Association of India.
Shri Dilip Jawalkar, IAS Secretary, Department of Tourism – Government of Uttarakhand, provided a brief history about the state of Uttarakhand (which was created in November 2000) and highlighted the way that tourism has developed since. As home of the highest bungee jump in India, the largest manmade lake in Asia, and a destination for centuries of pilgrimages, Uttarakhand is popularly visited for spirituality, yoga, wellness, wildlife, and adventure.
According to Mr. Jawalkar, one of the reasons why there should be more tourism to Uttarakhand is because “people here are very hospitable and entrepreneurial; partnering with them will be fruitful.” He also reassured delegates that the government has been working diligently to increase support for tourism development. For example, this would be delivered in the form of creating frameworks for regulations to meet international standards and improving disaster management.
Shri Suman Billa, Joint Secretary at the Ministry of Tourism Development India, discussed new developments in India’s tourism landscape, particularly that of adventure travel. India, as the “cradle of the human race,” has been seeing substantial growth in tourism each year, despite global issues.
Attentions were drawn to two important numbers: while India currently receives just 1.2 percent of the global share of international tourism, it sees 2.1 percent of inbound tourist receipts. Tourism growth in India has been almost double that of the global average and the government will continue facilitating travel.
For example, the country recently simplified its visa process, opening the country up to the most source markets in the shortest time. In addition, a 24-hour tourist hotline has become available in 12 languages to help answer any questions that visitors may have.
PATA CEO, Dr. Mario Hardy, welcomed all the delegates who gathered under the theme of rejuvenating one’s soul through tourism. With its breadth of outdoor activities, including some that he has never even heard of before, the state of Uttarakhand played the perfect host for this premier event for responsible and adventure tourism.
Conscientious travel is especially important because almost 900 million annual visitors will be arriving to Asia by 2023. By continuing to interact responsibly with the local communities and environments, tourism truly can be a force for good. For these reasons, PATA is fully aligned to support responsible travel and believes in the positive power of adventure tourism.
Shri Yogendra Tripathi, IAS Secretary, Ministry of Tourism, Government of India highlighted the inherent need for nature in adventure travel activities and the topic of PATA ATRTCM is therefore absolutely apt. Although India faces infrastructure and connectivity issues, tourism in the country has still been able to achieve great things and this will continue to grow as visitors increasingly want to experience more.
Shri Satpal Maharaj, Honourable Minister of Tourism of Uttarakhand, called his state “the hotspot of tourism” and thanked delegates for working to add to its prestige.
Mr. Paul Brady, Editorial Strategist at Skift (USA), encouraged delegates to be motivated by who they can become through travel instead of focusing on what they can get. The factors that led an individual to take a trip are important to consider because segmenting based on traditional demographics is not an effective way to market to adventure travellers.
For example, chefs are driven to travel by food; just the same, adventure travellers prefer to do rather than relax. It is no longer true that a lot of money is needed for people to travel and tour operators must be able to differentiate themselves by offering unique experiences.
Speaker, writer, and business owner of Kunzum Travel Cafe India, Mr. Ajay Jain, discussed selling travel on Instagram through storytelling. He focused on the basic principles behind social media platforms, including the goal of using it being to improve brand equity and therefore increasing sales.
In the 4 Ps of marketing, the product in this case is the Instagram account. According to Mr. Jain, this product “must be authentic because today’s customers cannot be fooled;” on the consumer’s end, the image or post “starts with inspiration […] which informs, leading to adventure.”
Although people is not a component of the 4 Ps, it is vital to invest in staff and social media influencers to create content. The people who contribute to social media marketing are the ones living the stories that tourism operators want to share; it is therefore a requirement for creating high quality contents.
Mr. Jain provided further practical advice, such as ensuring that social media activities are accurate, authentic, and free of plagiarism. Part of the authenticity is challenging oneself to show activities from behind the scenes, such as how a business puts its products together. On that note, organically grown social media followers should always be prioritized over fake followers and paid influencers.
Mr. Apoorva Prasad, Editor-in-Chief and Founder of The Outdoor Journal (Luxembourg), addressed the issue of sustainability in future-proofing destinations. He presented India as a country of egocentric and anthropocentric values, where all beings have souls and humans are only one part of the equation.
These qualities encourage a balance of the desires of humans with the needs of nature. In order for one to build businesses that succeed long-term, one must create inspiration in others while enabling people to enjoy and protect all wilderness.
In the first breakout session, Dr. Mario Hardy, moderated a discussion about trends to India. Panelists included Ms. Mariellen Ward, a digital storyteller at Breathedreamgo, whose spiritual escape to India transformed into living there permanently; Capt. Swadesh Kumar, President of the Adventure Tour Operators Association of India (ATOAI), who built the organization to help protect the environment; and Mr. Mohan Narayanaswamy, Managing Director of Travel Scope, who creates special interest tour packages.
Ms. Ward was asked about the increase of young female travellers who visit India on their own and how their expectations for safety are met. While she did not want to dismiss the fact that these issues exist, 99 percent of Ms. Ward’s personal experiences have been positive and she found it unfortunate that the reputation of India within western media is that the country is unsafe. If India could do more to better manage its reputation, more women would be able to experience the safe and welcoming India that she now calls home.
Although there is an increase of tourism arrivals to India, it is still a relatively low number compared to the size of the population; Mr. Narayanaswamy was asked to address why this growth is not as fast as it could be. He agreed that there is growth but that it is limited by the increase of new competitors.
In his opinion, international companies like Airbnb and TripAdvisor are currently driving tourism growth and there could be faster growth if domestic businesses could promote the industry as well. However, local people need to be better educated in order to lead the internal growth.
Adding to this, Capt. Kumar expressed his belief that adventure travel would be very useful in driving tourism growth in India. This sector encourages visitors to meet locals and help teach everyone to respect the environment, which would also help with promoting a positive reputation.
A comment from the audience was prefaced by a love for India but that the biggest problem in promoting the country to visitors is the perception of it being a very dirty place. In response to this, Capt. Kumar agreed that all destinations have strengths and weaknesses but the government has really been trying to shift the mindset of the population. For example, there are areas in India that have started to ban all single-use plastics.
Mr. Narayanaswamy acknowledged that there are country-wide issues with personal hygiene and empathized that the population is not born into this awareness. He expressed his beliefs that this will change in time as people become more educated and realize the importance of cleanliness. The dirtiest areas are cities, where rapid inbound migration create issues with maintaining standards; some rural areas in India are very clean because smaller communities are easier to manage.
The second breakout session focused on creating regenerative experiences and was moderated by Mr. Ajay Jain. Panelists included Ms. Vivienne Tang, Founder of Destination Deluxe (Hong Kong SAR); Mr. Trevor Jonas Benson, Director of Food Tourism Innovation, Culinary Tourism Alliance (Canada); and Mr. Rajeev Tewari, CEO of Garhwal Himalayan Explorations (India).
Mr. Jain pointed out that niche and mainstream tour operators exist in separate spaces, as it is difficult for them to sell to each other’s markets. When asked about how the two entities could be married, Mr. Benson responded that food tourism has always been a good way to promote travel and individuals who consider themselves foodies are no longer considered niche. Creating and promoting identities, such as Rishikesh being the “world’s vegetarian capital” or cities being known for specific food items, requires support for the vision but can indeed become self-fulfilling prophecies.
Ms. Tang mentioned that lifestyle trends, such as vegetarianism or healthy living, are not about extremes anymore. People now prefer moderate experiences over “hardcore vegetarian detoxes” so that they feel generally healthier.
“Just create magic in somebody’s life and they will create it back for you.”
As somebody who has spent 30 years creating experiences, Mr. Tewari agreed that the job of those in the tourism industry is to create memorable experiences, especially for small businesses. Magical experiences can be found in places where they are least expected, as long as people make the effort and be present. He offered the advice, “just create magic in somebody’s life and they will create it back for you.”
The second session revolved around the topic of marketing to new adventure travellers. Its speakers included Ms. Choy Teh, Account Manager – Media Relations Asia for Bannikin Asia (Hong Kong SAR) and Mr. Rohan Prakash, CEO of Trip 360 (India.) They discussed Chinese and Indian visitor profiles, destination preferences, and how they can best reached by marketers.
Motivated by clean air and photographable experiences, Chinese adventure travellers prefer convenience in planning, booking, and conducting their trips. Many enjoy bucket list travel in groups and being the first of their peers to visit an area. In contrast, Indian travellers will conduct their own research before travelling and take multiple short haul trips that are based on online reviews.
An energetic pop quiz was conducted by Ms. Melissa Burckhardt, Director – Member Relations, PATA, and Mr. Mandip Singh Soin, Founder and Managing Director of Ibex Expeditions (India). Before the quiz began, Mr. Soin was asked about his background as a prominent mountaineer who has been on expeditions to all seven continents of the world.
His love of travel grew during his time in university and after realizing that school was getting in the way of his trips, Mr. Soin went into the business of expeditions. After more than 40 years in the field of adventure and a list of Indian firsts, including the first Indian ascent of Mount Meru, the Swiss Alps, and Scotland, Mr. Soin is an advocator for responsible tourism. He strongly believes that the sustainable tourism criteria of India will help to manage the country’s environment.
The third speaker session focused on the topic of using tourism as a tool for rejuvenation and was moderated by Dr. Mario Hardy. Panelists included Mr. Trevor Jonas Benson; Ms. Shradha Shrestha, Manager-Brand Promotion & Corporate Marketing, Nepal Tourism Board; and Ms. Moe Moe Lwin, Director and Vice-Chairperson, Yangon Heritage Trust (Myanmar).
Dr. Hardy began the session by articulating that his love of travel is sometimes marred by the internal conflict that he feels when tourism may not be the right path for a community, especially when there are unique ethnic needs for cultural preservation. Ms. Shrestha empathized that because Nepal is without bodies of water, its industries are limited and must therefore depend on tourism.
However, while the loss of cultural identity is an intrinsic byproduct concern of tourism, this was the only industry that remained strong after the earthquake in her country. This sector helped to maintain the economy and insulate the communities from drastic downturns. Nepal has been successfully selling mountains for a very long time but those who revisit are there to see the people. As a result, the government and communities are realizing that the local people are also assets.
Ms. Lwin expressed similar experiences in Myanmar; tourism has positively impacted its heritage sites since the country opened up to visitors. However, there continues to be a need for responsible management so that those designated to be in charge of restoration and facilitating tourism will not damage the culture.
Mr. Benson was asked whether food culture can be used to develop new destinations, such as those who have traditionally been seen as unsafe areas. To this, he resoundingly agreed that there are many places that have successfully redirected visitors away from primary destinations. For example, areas outside of New York City have evolved into vibrant foodie destinations because of the lower cost for businesses to enter the market and create quality experiences.
In an interlude about Indian rejuvenation, Ms. Yosha Gupta, Founder of Meraki (Hong Kong SAR) shared her journey about promoting traditional folk art through sustainable and ethical fashion. She made the case for art being the heritage of India and that art is about creating engagement. Ms. Gupta’s customers buy products and services because of the stories attached to them; this movement for empowering history by connecting it to contemporary art is one that helps to preserve culture while uplifting communities.
In the closing keynote about vision-driven leadership in adventure tourism, Ms. Robin Weber Pollak, President of Journeys International (USA) began by asking the audience to reflect upon their personal state of mind. This revealed the process that each individual needed to undergo in order to arrive at a philosophical destination guided by vision and inspiration.
Ms. Weber Pollak described her own experiences before arriving to a positive perspective that is driven by self-honesty, motivation, and action. She challenged all delegates to keep environmental consciousness in their visions and welcomed everyone to contact her for assistance in developing their personal goals.
The PATA Adventure Travel and Responsible Tourism Conference and Mart 2019 in Rishikesh, India was generously hosted by the Uttarakhand Tourism Development Board and graciously supported by the Adventure Tour Operators Association of India.
View event photos. >> Please note that this is just the first set. More to come!