BRAND, Pop Culture

Elephants Can Surf – Will Indian adventure sport catch the right wave?

Any given Sunday, anywhere in the NCR , you can find about half the population of the metropolis mall ratting.

Other than academic, I have no love for these malls. But while pursuing retail trends, I do have the comical misfortune of observing people of all shapes and sizes, mostly round, gorging on the overpriced food court variety. Chow can create a distortion field of vision which renders an orgy of fat flubbering around you. Enough to make you vomit inside you and want to run away, and well… keep running.

I’m from the school of alert and active, so while on this run I spot a store that interested me enormously. Among all the Boggis , Tommy’s and Fcuk sakes…..aah a Quicksilver!

What’s the world’s leading surf and board sport equipment brand doing in Delhi? Last time I passed by Yamuna, it was still a smelly drain and had waves only enough to carry all the dead bodies thrown in as collateral damage of the Dalit memorial built nearby.

Quicksilver did trigger my curiosity enough though to do a little research on what brands of adventure and extreme sports are present in India and why?

Aren’t we curry eaters who in spite of having more than 1/6th of the worlds population fail to win more than 2 medals in Olympics? I mean, why would brands meant for adrenaline junkies come to the land of lard?

Well, it turns out that while I was getting depressed about urban obesity, there are small but significant changes happening in the arena of adventure sports & goods in India.

A Cliff hanger This one! ( a piece of history)

For years since independence the adventure sports & goods industry in India has survived on one mighty benefactor.

The Indian Defence forces.

So much so that till late 90s almost 80 percent of all goods sold in terms of climbing, camping, marine sports and aerial sports like ballooning and para gliding were consumed by our adventurous faujis.

The institution led consumption led to no development in terms of retail business for the brands catering to the sectors. They were just happy selling to one big consumer through an importer driven supply chain, hence avoiding marketing and set up costs because the market simply was not big enough.

If Sharukh has abs I must have them to, if Hrithik deep dives i’m a bloody shark  

Aside from jewelry, clothes and property that an average polyester blend shirt buys, the youth finally armed with disposable income has hit outdoor travel, tourism and adventure sports with a vengeance.

I’ve not been to one party in last two years where drunken revelry does not include a pseudo tale of bungee jumping, trekking, backpacking , scuba diving or sky diving. Need more evidence, get onto FB. Pseudo or not its a great sign, the only concern being, most of these tales were at a foreign locations, not in the Indian outback.

Who’s got Wings?

Much of the fascination with adventure has been triggered by brands like Red Bull, Mountain Dew, and even Bajaj Pulsar who leverage the aspirational adventure platform to establish a market for themselves. Their smart adverts and BTL activities have played a role in the growing awareness and consumption of adventure related goods and activities.

Its not mambalacha fueled prattle, when I say ZindagimileginaDobara has added grandeur full of spark to the Travel and adventure space (Spain, Sky Diving, Scuba diving being the primary beneficiaries in this specific case).
One look at this video will explain why! One might argue that Indian films have been shot abroad for donkeys years. Except that, then a great location meant finding a well endowed tree for the starlets to run around.

The Compass Pointing North: ( Factors encouraging a trend)

If non adventure brand can use this latent need as a platform why cant the authentics do it.
The presence of brands like Quick Silver, Timberland, Firefox bikes, Polaris quad bikes, ATVs etc. is an indication of the faith brands are showing in a responsive market.

Then we also have the success of Wildcraft ( a home grown adventure gear brand mainly mountaineering related accessories) and the growth of 20 North and adventure 18 ( e-tailers of adventure gear and equipment).

Growth of sport & hi speed super biking clubs in metros, Andamans as a diving hub, culture of camping and trekking in Himachal, Leh, Arunachal, Uttarakhand. White water rafting in Hrishikesh, Leh, Brahmaputra region.Popularity of extreme treks like the Chaddar trek on frozen Zanskar river are all pointing towards a market full of opportunities for operators/conductors of adventure/ extreme sports and the equipment Brands.

As I furiously type this information out, the adventure sports/goods industry is estimated to be worth around 1300 crores and expanding at the rate of 32- 35% per annum.

Fast enough for the VCs to step up, take notice and loosen their purse strings.

Its not all smooth sailing though

The Himalayan Frost bite : ( Challenges the industry faces)

1. The Market place itself is not synchronized and organized yet:
Brands like Northface & Columbia haven’t looked India way yet. The brands that have made the entry are struggling to align themselves to the opportunity space. It’s a scattered, fragmented market offering sporadic splinter solutions. The synergy between the service ( The operators) and the product ( The brand) side is clearly missing.

2. Lack of adventure gene code in Indians: Barring the semi trained locals of the area conducive to adventure sports who end up being operators for the other consumer, the urban upwardly mobile below 35 segment, the regular Joe is still aversive to any adventure. Maybe because just getting by in a city like Mumbai is an adventure in itself. What do the Goras know, looking for action outside their mundane everyday routine?

3. Government:  How do you explain a country as blessed as India with different kinds of terrain not boast of a thriving adventure industry?
Scuba & Sky diving, mountaineering, ballooning, trekking & camping, rafting, kayaking, etc ranks so low as a destination and a market for adventure travel & goods.

Whilst they are busy spending money on incredible India campaigns( very well done though), their execution as with everything else is ham handed. Policies to support any employment generating adventure tourism or retail are incredibly lousy.

Economic Times  here does a good job of highlighting the issues.

DARR KE AAGE JEET HAI ( Scope & Solutions for overall Industry Growth) : 

Challenges notwithstanding , the industry is trekking its way to town.
On our part we’d not just like to point the search light randomly. Instead we’d offer the various stake holders mini maglites to tread the path less taken:

1. For the Government & Tourism ministry – Though the chance of them paying heed is less, and in all probability they’ll use the maglites to look into each other’s household here’s a shout:

(a) Promote adventure /extreme sport & tourism. It will only mean more business. Grants in setting up and running of adventure sports schools / camps would foster the growth of the sector. It is a form of education itself, but with the double benefit of earnings from tourism. New Zealand is a prime example of countries benefitting from adventure tourism and government’s sustained effort in promoting it as a destination. A country smaller in size than most of our states raises 15 billion USD a year (9% of GDP) from tourism and a substantial part of it comes from adventure tourism.

(b) Designate Area in all relevant states for activities like camping, trekking, kayaking, fishing, diving etc. , where it does not act as an extortion point for officials but gives a genuine push to the adventure sporting culture & tourism. There is a charter by the government on camping but it is purely meant for operators. There is still no single window clearance for tourists/enthusiasts which will streamline and go a long way in making it easy and accessible.

(c) With exception of a few, most category duties are at almost 30%. ,Reduction or waiving of import duties of adventure sporting equipment & goods would help foster a market that may spawn a local manufacturing industry eventually. Long term gains of this endeavor are limitless.

2. For The Service side of the industry ( operators & expedition conductors):

(a) Look beyond the existing revenue model. The market is expanding, keep pace in terms of quality of service and adventure offerings. Consumer is exposed to world class standards is ready to push the boundaries of experience.

(b) Double up as a retail channel for adventure goods. Tie ups with retail side of business for equipment and goods. Use best equipment and don’t cut corners. A leisure adventurer is sure to become an adventure junkie if the experience is out of the world. So anything that establishes that relationship.

(c) Keep up with the latest offerings globally, spend time and effort to educate yourself and the consumer. It impacts word of mouth.

3. For Retail Side of Business (Brands) 

(a) Use the social media/ conventional media effectively to propagate awareness and aspiration. The more extreme sports you see the more you wanna do it. Visibility is just the push required. Videos, links ,events all contribute to creating a following and a culture. Such is the power of positioning that Redbull, which is not even an equipment has done more for the industry than all the industry players combined. Of course it has gained from what many would describe as gimmicks.

This ad as well is not an industry endeavor, but an effective example to show how unrelated sectors use extreme sports to highlight their brands. What stops the real Mcoy from doing the same and making it go viral.

(b) Tie up with Service side of industry, offer goods /equipment for usage at discounted rates to conductors/operators. Use them effectively as a retail channel.

(c) In your communication demonstrate what your product efficacy. But while you do it don’t be greedy and spread your features too wide. If a shoe is good for long treks, say just that. Not that it looks good enough to where to a casual office dinner or at the music festival.

(d) Cross promotions and tie ups for non competing brands categories eg Redbull + Bajaj Pulsar+Timberland could mean something on a travel show. It also means shared costs, more promotions more mileage for brands and more awareness. Join hands where you can.

Finally its absolutely critical that we all step out from the comforts of our living rooms and air conditioned offices and take the first few steps into the wild.

Here’s a wave, catch!:





11 thoughts on “Elephants Can Surf – Will Indian adventure sport catch the right wave?

  1. yet another eye opener..Adventure sports are indeed in a pathetic condition..
    the only thng that comes close to a proper adventure school is The Army School of Mountaineering open for a select few like us from the defense background…
    would definitely wait for a proper adrenaline driven adventure sport in India..
    GREAT INSIGHTS AND research driven article DP..

    Posted by arjun k | January 18, 2012, 2:11 pm
  2. Remarkable post,please write a blog on where is young generation of india moving towards, do young and old generation of india prepared for the changes due to adoptation of western culture ,

    Posted by raj | January 18, 2012, 7:33 pm
    • Thanks Raj. Glad you liked it. To be honest an argument on that topic will have to scoped well else one falls into the cliche trap. With every post we attempt to decipher one aspect then another.
      All of us know there are changes, but they are very different for a young person growing up in Bandra vs another growing up in suburban Hyderabad.
      Again, in all our posts we attempt to scope our arguments so they are relevant and useful to those targeting this rather heterogeneous group. Being young ourselves doesn’t hurt 🙂

      Posted by thinkrasta | January 19, 2012, 6:22 am
  3. nice write up…hope we will grow up…

    Posted by sanjay | January 19, 2012, 12:08 pm
  4. Finally a good write up on adventure sport..thumbs up..TR TEAM

    Posted by VIk (Oman) | January 22, 2012, 12:47 pm
  5. A very thought-provoking write-up this…and with lots of depth. I’m an entrepreneur currently in the preliminary stages of a unique offering in the adventure sports segment. The write-up reaffirms several of our findings as well as hunches. A good indicator towards the fact that our team is moving in the right direction. 🙂

    Take a bow, TR. 🙂

    Posted by Sameer Panje | February 9, 2012, 6:06 am

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