Boosting Tourism in India with Surfing Culture

By David South, Development Challenges, South-South Solutions

SOUTH-SOUTH CASE STUDY

Tourism has experienced decades of growth and diversification and is now considered one of the fastest-growing economic sectors in the world. According to the UNWTO – the United Nations World Tourism Organization – modern tourism is “a key driver for socio-economic progress.”

The scale of global tourism means it rivals other sectors, such as oil exports, food products and automobiles in terms of economic clout. With such an important role to play in global commerce, it has become a top income source for developing countries in the global South.

International tourist arrivals grew by 4 per cent in 2012, reaching a record 1.035 billion worldwide (UNWTO). Emerging economies led the growth in tourism, with Asia and the Pacific showing the strongest gains. Tourism outpaced growth in the wider world economy in 2012, contributing US $2.1 trillion to global GDP and supporting 101 million jobs (WTTC).

“2012 saw continued economic volatility around the globe, particularly in the Eurozone. Yet international tourism managed to stay on course” said UNWTO Secretary-General Taleb Rifai. “The sector has shown its capacity to adjust to the changing market conditions and, although at a slightly more modest rate, is expected to continue expanding in 2013. Tourism is thus one of the pillars that should be supported by governments around the world as part of the solution to stimulating economic growth.”

One country that has found tourism becoming a key contributor to its national income is India. The country’s travel and tourism industry is now three times larger than its automotive manufacturing industry, and generates more jobs than chemical manufacturing, communications and the mining sector combined (World Travel and Tourism Council).

Indian Tourism Minister Subodh Kant Sahai called for the sector to create 25 million new jobs over the next five years and it is hoping to grow the market by 12 per cent by 2016 (The Economic Times).

Travel and tourism now contributes 6.7 billion rupees (US $124 million) – or 6.4 per cent – of the country’s total GDP (gross domestic product). The sector supports 39 million jobs directly and indirectly.

But competition for global tourist dollars is fierce. As more flight routes open up – Africa for example, is seeing new airlines and routes emerge every year – a person looking for somewhere to holiday has an ever-growing range of options to choose from. Will it be Africa this year, or shall we go to Asia?
One way to attract tourists and gain an extra edge in the global travel marketplace is to show imagination and innovation. Being different and novel can be the clincher for a tourist, especially one who is widely travelled and is searching for new experiences.

In Southern India, the state of Kerala is well known for its ayurvedic medicine (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ayurveda) and food tradition going back centuries, combined with its laid-back beach culture. It is a heady combination that successfully attracts many people, who come to relax and boost their health.
Now, Kerala is offering a new dimension to this experience: surfing. Surfing is a water sport involving a person riding ocean waves (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Surfing), usually on a long board. India has enormous and mostly untapped potential as a surfing destination, with its hot weather and 7,000 kilometres of coastline.

Soul and Surf (http://soulandsurf.com) in Golden Beach, Varkala is within walking distance of the Varkala Cliff tourist area and an hour away from the closest major airport, Trivandrum International Airport.

The founders of Soul and Surf, Ed and Sofie Templeton, were captivated by “surfing warm, empty waves, eating wonderful fresh, cheap seafood, practicing yoga and receiving ayurvedic treatments”, according to their website.

“Enchanted by India’s magical, spiritual atmosphere, the warmth of the local people and the raw natural beauty of the area,” they set up a combined surfing and yoga retreat in 2010.

They have become part of a growing surfing scene in Kerala, and an increasing awareness in the country that its long ocean coastline is perfect for water sports.

As surfing grows in India, the owners wanted to create a business that supported the local area, particularly coastal fishing communities surrounding Varkala.

They have also expanded to run a luxury surf and yoga retreat in Sri Lanka and guided trips to the Andaman Islands.

Soul and Surf was inspired by the Surfing India Surf Ashram (surfingindia.net), a 12-hour trip up the coast from Surf and Soul in Karnataka.

Their so-called “Surfing Swamis” have discovered the best places to surf in India and are spirited champions of the whole surfing lifestyle. A swami (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Swami) is a Hindu male religious teacher.
Surfing India promotes adventure sport in India and was started in 2004. At the time, surfing in India had a very low profile. Surfing India offers a sophisticated experience to travellers, including Wi-Fi Internet access, vegetarian food and all the equipment required.

All the staff are volunteers and work for room and board. Profits are plowed back into keeping the surf ashram going and helping its activities, which include adventure tours, a surf camp, surf school, yoga retreat, bodyboarding, snorkelling and wakeboarding.

The Surfing Swamis Foundation is a non-profit organization whose goal is to “teach surfing and environmental awareness to children, orphans, and handicapped persons of any age or gender.”

It also sponsors the All India Surf Team for boys and girls across India.

Resources

1) India Surf Festival: Taking place at the beginning of the year. Website: http://www.surfingindia.net/random-stuff/india-surf-festival-2013

2) A guide to the best places to surf in India. Website: http://www.surfingindia.net/india-surf-spots

3) Surfing Federation of India. Website: http://www.surfingfederationofindia.org/

4) United Nations World Tourism Organization: The World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) is the United Nations agency responsible for the promotion of responsible, sustainable and universally accessible tourism. Website: unwto.org

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London Edit

31 July 2013

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