Nidah Kaiser (24)*, is participating on her first Himalayan trek – Sar Pass (Himachal Pradesh). She is doing this with A-Nation, a company that boasts of specialising in outdoor travel and runs many trekking programs across the nation. Incentivised by an inexpensive INR 6000 entry ticket Nidah joins the trek relying on the ‘expertise and confidence’ of the operator to run such events. Less than 24 hours into the trek the truth unfolds. Nidah has been paired with a group of mismatched capabilities, and moreover has been understocked with guides. An athlete by make Nidah is at the lead of her group, entrusted also with the job of navigating a listless bunch. The guides on the other hand, lag behind and are clueless of the day’s agenda. It starts pouring by the time the group reaches a nighthalt. To their utter dismay, the tents and supplies haven’t come along. Stranded in the outdoors in freezing temperatures and inhospitable conditions, the group begs another one on the trail for refuge. When the tents finally arrive a few hours later, to her horror Nidah discovers that the one allocated to her is leaking.
Kieren Dsouza (25)*, is one of India’s ace ultrarunners. He picked up trail running shoes from a W-craft store; chewing upon an idea to run his next set of races on a homegrown brand. This was not to be, as the pair didn’t even last a hundred kilometres. While the toe-box of the shoe tore in places, the sole went flying off on one of his daily practice runs.
PROBLEM: Consumer is NOT the King
It’s not uncommon to come across tales of unscrupulous service providers and shoddy outdoor travel/sport products that have not only resulted in the waste of consumer resources but have also risked life and safety of unsuspecting buyers.
In the past two decades Indians have come a long way when it comes to outdoor travel and adventure sport. Gone are the days when Yash Raj’s Switzerland alone made the ideal spot for vacay; or when rucksacks obtained from army disposal were the aspirational picks for an excursion into the great Indian outdoors. India’s economic boom, a surge in purchasing propensity and a soaring travel sector is converting experience seeking and gathering into a mandate than a lifestyle choice.
However, in a country that registered approximately 3.5 million inbound tourists in the adventure travel segment (in 2015), where homegrown outdoor lifestyle brands mint over 1000+ crores in annual turnover and where the year 2018 has been declared the year of adventure travel, the adventure travel and lifestyle market still demonstrates monopolistic and oligopolistic players and leadership.
REASON: Why they’re taking you for a ride
This is not by design though. In the gold rush that the adventure sport and travel market is proving to be everyone who has the resources, understanding or intelligence is trying to cash in on the opportunity this nascent sector (shielded from mainstream attention or legal regulations) provides. From trek operators, to soft drink brands, early birds on the block are positioning to capitalise and consolidate their market share. However, in the absence of a legal framework, regulations or independent watchdog groups, capitalistic ambitions are flourishing regardless of the consideration of social welfare. It’s a seller’s market, as they say.
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Bringing attention to cleaning up efforts. After the mess left by tour/trek operators and local population.
As in every economic situation, the reason for the existence of imperfect market conditions is the lack of information. From the perspective of a consumer this implies lack of information availability to aid conscious decision making. This literally translates to consumer’s ignorance to material issues such as waste management by trek operators on remote Himalayan treks, whether beverage and ‘sports drink’ brands really contribute to sports performance, or river safety and rescue procedures mandated internationally for river based sport experiences such as rafting and kayaking. Government organisations are no less when it comes to delivering substandard services. The country’s various mountaineering institutes run with a partnership of the central government and the Indian armed forces, dole out prehistoric training pedagogy and practices (on poor equipment and infrastructure) to thousands of impressionable trainees; who in turn graduate and become the participants of this industry and all of what is wrong with it.
SOLUTION: Getting the ball back in your court
What is that one missing link impeding holistic progress?
It’s the even permeation of the right information, available at the right place and at the right time.
Who can make this possible?
An empowered outdoor media.
Even in usual social and economic circumstances, the media is entrusted with the role of the arbitrator between market forces, interest groups, law and governance. An empowered media brings to the fore issues that even out any possibilities of hoarding power or resources. Put simply media is a sum total of medium in an ecosystem. Mediums which allow the transaction of free flow of information, gearing imperfect markets towards perfection; both for sellers and consumers, just by making everything transparent.
Learn how 4Play is fighting for consumers from an office in the mountains.
What the Indian outdoors and adventure travel industry most needs at the moment is an empowered media. Whether it is in the form of films such as Poorna (highlighting athletic potential) or, print mediums as magazines and newspaper reports or, even digital content creators as Redbull, Woovly or 4Play. The sum total of efforts of such organisations translates into transparency and free flow of information among the stakeholders of this industry (most importantly the consumer, which is at the moment least powerful). The media is essentially the watchdog which takes up the cause of the unrepresented. Working to raise their awareness levels, handing them more bargaining power vis-a-vis the organised business and governance machineries in the sphere.
4Play: Leading Digital Evolution
It was estimated that there were approx 220 million consumers of digital content in India (in 2016). Of this, 150 million resided in urban geographies, and consumed content genres as entertainment, travel, lifestyle and sport. The figures have grown exponentially ever since. 4Play works for this audience, to sensitise, educate and entertain them while using creativity alongside to enable them in interacting with actual product and service markets. In essence contributing to evolved competitive markets, valuing consumer rights and addressing sustainability concerns.
What do you think 2018 is going to be like for Adventure travelers in India?
**Opinion expressed is of individuals, based on their personal experiences. 4Play takes no responsibility for any such opinion cited.
Author: Sukrit Gupta
An avid climber, ultrarunner and day dreamer, Sukrit is a fan of everything that is self-managed and solo. A flag bearer for self sufficiency and pushing beyond limits, he loves to spend his time slithering over rock faces and devising cruel trail running courses in his mountainous backyard in Manali.