SAFETY IN ADVENTURE TOURISM
- by Akshay Kumar
In India “adventure” is the new buzzword. There are new companies opening every month. Most of the company owners are experienced professionals who have worked in the industry for many years before branching off on their own. A majority of the companies in India offer safe, responsible and eco friendly adventures, which every one can and must enjoy.
Most adventure travel companies follow prescribed international guidelines for the particular sport they are involved in. However in India, other than traditional activities like mountaineering there are no standard guidelines in place for most other activities. The Ministry of Tourism is in the process of laying down guidelines for all adventure sports. Till this process is complete the trade bodies like the Indian Association of Professional Rafting Outfitters (IAPRO) and Adventure Tour Operators Association of India (ATOAI) play a key role in ensuring self regulation. These bodies conduct regular training camps on first aid, CPR, Mountain rescue, swift water rescue techniques and early warning systems.
Older and established rafting and trekking companies regularly conduct refresher courses for their instructors and invite overseas trainers to keep abreast with the latest in rescue techniques.
With the adventure travel industry growing leaps and bounds, it is important that as a consumer and as an operator we are aware of the current safety standards accepted worldwide and in India. The important issue here is for everyone involved to understand the sport, market it to the right people and use the right operator to execute the project.
Firstly, one has to accept that the term “adventure” itself implies that there are inherent risks that are involved in the sport. Still, world over there are many more people who are injured or die from crossing roads and other such mundane activities, than from participating in adventure sports. Why is that? The way I see it is that most adventure travel companies today are aware of the risks involved and they train their staff accordingly and are always prepared with back up safety plans incase of any untoward incidents.
However, having said that, one must realize that today the potential risks in adventure travel are much higher. In an attempt to stay ahead in the market, adventure travel companies are today offering increasingly tougher and more exotic adventure trips for the clients to choose from. In the 60s and 70s only a select few were capable of attempting climbing expeditions on Himalayan Summits above 7,000 mts. Today, if you have one year and USD 1,00,000 you can easily find some one to take to the summit of Everest. Today, you can undertake first rafting descents of Grade V rivers, Heli Ski down 4000 mts peaks, walk into active volcanoes, sky dive from 25,000 ft, trek across Tibet, visit the North and South Poles and even go on a space mission, all for a price. These are just a few example selected from a wide range of insane adventures available all over the world.
It is great that such opportunities are available to us to choose from, however when one decides to commercialize hardcore adventure activities, you tend to add a completely new dimension to safety. The risks and chances of accidents are much higher. Anyone organsing these trips needs to be much more aware and prepared to handle the “unforeseen”. The clients also need to be trained extensively and be in great physical shape before he or she can undertake these expeditions. Even a small mistake can lead to a huge disaster.
One also needs to keep in mind that in most cases you are dealing with the vagaries of nature. You can not stop nature from acting up but you can certainly anticipate trouble stop yourself in time and wait for better conditions before moving on. One also needs to accept that there is no shame in giving up against nature. Once you recognize that fact there will always be another time for you to come back and try again.
Some examples of times when people failed to recognize these warning signs are-
- In 1996 May, eight climbers, most of them amateurs, from a commercial expedition to Everest perished when they were caught in a blinding blizzard.
- In 1999 July, 21 young adventurers died while participating in a commercial canyonning expedition in Switzerland. The incident occurred when the tourists were caught in a flash flood.
The above disasters are freak accidents that took place in two completely different locations. These are rare events and should not be used to generalize the entire industry, but at the same time we should look at them carefully and learn from them.
In India we have been able to avert any major accidents till date but we should not get complacent and ignore the warning signs.
Like I said before, all stakeholders in the Industry need to work together to ensure that the adventure travel industry grows at a steady and safe pace. Everyone from the consumer to the sales agent to the actual operator have to contribute to achieve this goal. Following are some guidelines I would like to suggest for each of the above stake holder to follow.
For the Consumers:
- Carefully select the activity you want to try based on your physical and mental capability. Not everyone is suited for all adventures. Consult your doctor if you have any chronic ailments or will be touching altitudes more than 3,000 mts.
- Inform your instructor of any ailments like asthma, heart disease, diabetes or any disabilities.
- Research the credentials of the operators you will be traveling with.
- Ensure that you only book through a recognized tour operator or travel agency.
- Ensure that the final service provider is a licensed and recognized Adventure Tour Operator by Dept. of Tourism, Govt. of India.
- Do not hesitate to double check the credentials of the company through one of the representing associations like IAPRO, ATOAI or the Indian Mountaineering Foundation
- Ensure that the operator is a member of any one of the above bodies.
- If looking for a mountaineering expedition, ensure that you have done a couple of climbing courses before to embark on the expedition.
- Do no be afraid to say “NO” if you are not comfortable with any activity in your program. There will always be time to come back and try again later.
- Make sure your operator follows laid down guidelines on safety and environment. Do not hesitate to report any deviations.
- When you travel into wilderness be a responsible tourist. Do not litter, make noise or play loud music. Make sure that others around you also adhere to these practices.
- Respect local traditions and customs. Do not give alms or gifts. This will encourage begging.
For the Selling Agency
- If you yourself are not an adventure operator but use some other company to provide services to your clients then do try and follow these guidelines.
Select your adventure partner carefully. Your company’s reputation is at stake.
- Use the above mentioned pointers to check on the credentials of the company.
- Make sure that your adventure partner is covered by a Liability insurance incase of any mishaps.
- Listen to advice from your adventure partner. They are more experienced in the field. They will advice you if some areas/rapids/treks etc. are not suitable for your client and will advice good alternatives.
- At the first opportunity try for yourself the trips you are trying to sell and promote. Once you have experienced the adventure, you will be in a better position to advice your clients.
- Lower prices do not necessarily mean safe operations. Make sure you get value for money but do not beat down prices to a level where safety might be compromised.
For the adventure tour operator
- Please ensure that you take recognition from Dept. Of Tourism as an Adventure Tour Operator. In addition to the recognition this will also help you enjoy many benefits and marketing schemes offered by the Government.
- Become a recognized member of IAPRO (in case of rafting) or the ATOAI (In case of other adventure sports).
- If you are involved in trekking and climbing then it is always good to be recognized by the Indian Mountaineering Foundation.
- Ensure sound training for all your instructors from a recognized private or government institute. All instructors and camp staff must have First Aid and practical CPR experience.
- Be sensitive to the local environment and help in sustainable tourism by giving maximum training and employment to the locals from your area of operation.
- Always maintain a high safety standard. Do not bow down to pressures from clients to compromise on safety.
- Figure out your minimum operating costs and quote well above that. Once you reduce costs you will have to compromise on safety and lower your standards to make profits.
- Make sure that you buy the best equipment in the market. Sub standard equipment can fail at crucial times leading to serious accidents.
- Ensure that you have a good insurance policy which covers third party liability as well as accident and treatment for you and your staff.
- Follow environment and safety guidelines to the T. Your clients will appreciate your concerns and will recommend you to others just for this.
- Keep a look out for training programs and refresher courses conducted by various bodies and make your staff attend these programs.
- Always get a liability waiver signed by the clients before they use any services from you.
These points cover basic safety requirements for the adventure travel industry in general. Activity specific guidelines can be obtained from the local state tourism departments, adventure travel associations and the Ministry of Tourism, Government of India.