THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: When Jackson Peter and his team at Bond Safari set up a scuba diving facility in Kovalam two-and-a-half years ago, the adventure sport was relatively unheard of in this part of the world. Ironically, it still remains more or less the same due to lack of proper marketing initiatives on the part of the government to showcase the state as a water sports destination.The team at Bond Safari had to cut through red tape and run from pillar to post to obtain various licences due to the lack of proper guidelines in the sector. Water sports being a fledgling sector, the onus of marketing also fell on their shoulders.
“Many are unaware of the rich underwater biodiversity Kovalam offers,” Jackson told Express. “We can rival many of the top underwater activity destinations in India. Thanks to awareness through movies, a large number of tourists from north India has now started showing interest in scuba diving, along with our regular clientele of foreigners.” Bond Safari diving instructors have been certified by Professional Association of Diving Instructors (PADI), the global association for scuba diving, and follow international standards in safety, he said.
The Kovalam Surf Club active since 2005 started commercial operations a few years ago. However, the going has been equally tough. The club had to go through many hassles in the initial stages. Timely intervention by the Tourism Department and the local MLA finally convinced the Ports Department which granted a three-month operational license for the club.
“Most of the government departments are highly sceptical about adventure activities. All our instructors have obtained training from the International Surfing Association and are hands on when it comes to operations and rescue. We had a tough time convincing various government agencies about our safety standards,” said Mani Sreekumar, managing director of Kovalam Surf Club.
Huge Potential Ahead
According to Sam T Samuel, chairman (South), Adventure Tour Operators’ Association (ATOA), water sports and other adventure activities will definitely take off in a big way in the coming years. “For the first time in the country, ATOA is coming out with a manual laying down guidelines for all kinds of adventure activities. The draft copy has been presented to the Union Government. Once the guidelines are issued by the government, we can ensure participation of genuine and experienced players,” he said. Sam launched his company, Kalpyso Adventures, 17 years ago when adventure tourism itself was an unknown concept in the state.
Regulatory Framework Soon
Tourism Department Secretary Venu V said the government is in the process of setting up a licencing and regulatory framework in the adventure and activity tourism sector. The framework will be transparent, easy and will comply with world standards, he said. “We have begun the process and have set up a panel of experts for the purpose of setting up the framework in adventure and activity-based tourism,” he said.