Adventure tourism gears up for takeoff

Tuesday, 18 September 2012 00:40 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

By Cheranka Mendis

Sri Lanka’s adventure sports arena has potential to develop itself to stand on par with regional players within the next three years, if the private and public sector put in efforts to conserve, develop and promote both the country and the sector.

With the country now diversifying the market and promoting the country beyond the ‘sun, sea and sand’ concept, adventure tourism has emerged from a deep slumber introducing new activities in the country.

While the sector itself has been in existence for the past few years, poor marketing and promotional campaigns along with activities limited to the likes of kayaking and white water rafting has placed Sri Lanka in an unpopular position in the region’s adventure tourism segment.

Having entered the sector early this year, Mongoose Adventures aims at sharing the thrills of adventure within the country offering activities such as Snuba which encompasses the best of scuba diving and snorkelling for the first time in South Asia along with certified PADI diving, water skiing, wind surfing, snorkelling, kayaking, catamarans and micro light aircrafts. Para sailing and bungee jumping are next in line to be introduced in March next year.

On to a good start with the sports gaining steady interest in the country, Mongoose Adventures Managing Director Nishan Silva noted that for the country to really boost the sector proper infrastructure, legislation and controls must be set up by the Government while encouraging more companies, be it local or otherwise to enter the sector. He noted that several Maldivian companies have shown interest in opening operations in Sri Lanka in the sector. “We must make it easier for them to enter the market and we need to have proper legislation where private companies could also use Government land without too much trouble if they fall under proper guidelines in a controlled manner while reducing red tape.”

Being the first adventure sports operator in the country looking at insuring their guests, Mongoose noted that Sri Lanka had zero ranking in the particular insurance segment when they approached the insurer. “According to rankings, Sri Lanka has not being doing any water sports in all its existence. Three of the major companies said their reassures would not insure us because Sri Lanka does not know what it is doing.” As a result the company had to pay a substantial premium to insure its activities.

Having conducted a market research prior to setting up operations, Silva noted that it is not so much the lack of resources but the lack of promotion, conservation and regulation that has put Sri Lanka in a lower position when compared to the likes of Indonesia, Thailand, Malaysia and Singapore.

“These countries are packed with tourists and are making lot of money when it comes to diving. The dive centres are set up in places comparable to our beaches but charges twice as much as we do,” he said. “In these countries the waters are good even though the facilities are not great.” Giving an additional boost is the centres working in unison on pricing the products without undercutting which is currently lacking locally. Silva stated that standards must also be put in place on equipment and compressors used for diving as bad experiences leads to bad publicity for the country.”

Silva also stressed the importance of having proper rescue services in the coastal belt and other locations where adventure activities take place. Asserting that most water sport activities must be done in open waters to fully experience the thrill, he noted that there should be a stronger coast guard presence in the areas. “We do have a coast guard run by Sri Lanka Navy but we need a stronger presence.” In locations such as Bentota, Hikkaduwa etc and near all major hotel chains where mass amount of people gather and engage in water based activities a strong and well qualified life guard service needs to be developed.

“Emergency phone numbers etc should be put up in signs that are clearly visible to the guests by the beach. Life guard towers should be around.” Lack of portable toilets and changing rooms closer to tourist attractions was also mentioned. The country currently has only one decompression chamber as at now and that too in Trincomalee. In case of an emergency in the southern or western part of the country, the patients must be flown into Trincomalee for treatment.

“The Government needs to provide facilities such as decompression chambers, mobile toilets and changing rooms and strong lifeguard/coast guard presence,” Silva said. This would encourage more parties to join in to the sector and boost the image of Sri Lanka as a destination for adventure sports.

For certain activities there are no legislations in the country, he added. However certain authorities have shown interest in working with private companies such as Mongoose in establishing rules, regulations and standards for relevant activities.

“Sri Lanka has a lot of natural resources and sites that can be used for adventure sports. Most are not explored yet. If you want to do something that is not too nature based there is nothing offered.” Activities such as quad bike racing, bungee jumping can be offered in Sri Lanka as there are areas that are suitable for such activities. “There is a lot of Sri Lanka that isn’t explored yet. I also feel that we did not have a proper mix of products catering to all ages.”

According to the analysis the trend is that more and more are seeking extreme adventure sports rather than simple activities. In that respect Silva acknowledged that the country could work on improving existing products. “Simple things like a flying fox can be introduced in Sinharaja rain forest to make it more exciting and to give the guest an opportunity to experience the forest in a different way.”

While the adventure sports arena aims at a niche market, the country has seen a slowing down of western tourists who are known as high spenders. India is currently the record holder for arrival on a monthly basis. When asked whether this will affect the industry, Silva noted that separate packages are being sold for the Indian market. “But it is still ok because that volume is also required. Profit margins are lower when we sell it to groups but we still need that. We need to see the jet skis, the Snuba gear in the water all the time.” Archery, he says is a good sell for said tourists.

Silva also commented on the public private partnerships that should be maintained to conserve the natural environment. Simple incidents such as dynamite fishing etc must be stopped; coral reef conservation should be further promoted and the refuse must be directed to areas that are not visited by tourists.