Adventure Tourism and Licensing in India

March 15, 2018 at 7:35 am

A recent tragedy during a trekking event in Tamil Nadu resulted in the loss of many lives. We extend our sincere condolences and plenty of sympathy to the families of the deceased. We also pray for the speedy recovery of the injured. This event has generated numerous questions about the organisers, guides, participants’ roles, etc. NALS has received several calls from forest officials, schools, parents and journalists. In order to give some perspective to the concept of ‘licensing’ in the adventure industry we are writing this blog post.

To begin, what does adventure tourism comprise of?

There are three major adventure sectors :

  1. Water based – such as kayaking, surfing, rafting, diving, boating, etc.
  2. Air borne – such as gliding, parasailing, skydiving, etc.
  3. Land based – such as trekking, ice climbing, mountaineering, expeditions to peaks, biking, bungee jumping, etc. Bulk of the adventure activities fall under this category


Formation of an adventure organization

Any person with passion at heart, a reasonable experience in the field and love for the Outdoors can gather a group of like-minded individuals or even beginners and motivate them to step out of their comfort zones. This event may either be commercial or non-commercial. This is how most of us start our careers in the Outdoors. As the group size grows and commercial demands are fulfilled, it is best to organise ourselves into a structured entity in order to conform to certain standards of discipline and safety. When volumes grow, the need to hire guides and trainers will become greater than before and this is where the problems start – the junior staff may not conform to the founder’s expectations in terms of safety and customer experience. Further, in a nascent industry, finding depth in experience and skilled staff is a challenge. This is where most outdoor enthusiasts seem to err. They are unable to put in place a robust review mechanism and most importantly, a limit to what they can handle with the resources available. Most of us choose to remain unorganised and thus lose out on the standardisation and safety guidelines that will actually benefit everyone in the long run.  Sadly, adventure is largely unorganised in India.

Who licenses an adventure tourism operator?

Adventure operations are licensed by the Ministry of Tourism, Government of India. The licensing is a done very efficiently and we at NALS must congratulate the Government of India for such a professional service, having gone through this licensing process twice.


Copy of Adventure Tour Operation License – NALS Outdoors


There is information available about the licensed organizations on various websites. However, the statistics are highly unfavourable to the customer – only about 41 entities (source – are carrying a license in the field of adventure. Hundreds of activity providers carry an NOC (No Objection certificate) from the local panchayat. Unfortunately, village panchayats have no jurisdiction to certify adventure activities and this certificate of NOC is largely misused or misinterpreted as a license. This is bad news as thousands of entities are offering adventure activities in India and yet, most may not conform to standards prescribed by the Ministry of Tourism.


Compared to some of the Himalayan belt states such as Himachal Pradesh, Tamil Nadu does not have standard operating procedures or monitoring mechanisms in the field of Adventure Tourism. Thus, all and sundry are jostling for space in a high growth sector. This is the case in many of the Indian states. The fact is that there are ONLY TWO LICENSED ENTITIES in Tamil Nadu and only four in the entire South India. This does not augur well for the industry.



  1. We suggest that our authorities encourage more and more entities to become licensed so that a minimum standard can be established for safe customer experience.
  2. Identify and allow forest entry in specific locations: Trekking is a wonderful way to connect with Mother Nature. Despite all the hardships, the takeaways from a trekking holiday can last a lifetime. Authorities must identify forest routes and allow trekking in these spots with some guidelines and limits.
  3. This suggestion is for heads of institutions – A large number of educational institutions send their students for trekking camps, expeditions, Outbound training camps. Some of them stay in resorts and treks are organised by these resorts. The difference between boarding a bus with an unlicensed or licensed driver is the point, we are trying to drive home. If you are a school / college Principal or a key decision maker, will you hire an unlicensed driver for your students because he came cheap or is known to you? It is quite possible an unlicensed bus driver may drive better than a licensed one, but there is a fiduciary responsibility in keeping the students safe. Hence, verifying the service provider’s statutory credentials in the field of adventure tourism, is an important part of risk mitigation.
  4. Another point is lack of awareness amidst general public. We rarely know the process of licensing in many of the services that we consume. That leaves us with only one or two benchmarks – cost of the service and some word of mouth referral. Authorities may well bring awareness in several service areas where licensing is paramount. Any knee jerk reaction to suspend all services will bring great harm to the industry and create panic  or fear in the consumer.
  5. In order to bypass Income Tax, GST, PAN cards, some of us seek or are even encouraged to start “Trusts” or “clubs” that provide adventure activities. NALS has no qualifications to comment on their statutory status. The government may well consider licensing them as well if they are offering specialised services such as adventure.
  6. Bring accountability to the industry: Last year, a 52 year old man fell during a parasailing activity and died on the spot at the CODISSIA grounds of Coimbatore. The incident has not been investigated nor has the operator’s qualifications been questioned. The disturbing fact is that he still offers the services in many parts of Tamil Nadu.



1. An approved operator is not immune to incidents such as the recent one. Risk is ever present in the field of adventure. But an approved operator has been screened, his equipment and guides are standardized, back up procedures have been questioned, thus minimising the chances of risk. Further, he is accountable to incidents and also he may have access to insurance and thus customers can assure themselves of some protection.

2. There are several factors involved in adventure tourism and risk mitigation. Licensing is only one aspect of the whole story. This perspective above is only looking at the licensing angle in order to bring some minimum standards to the industry.



Authored by:

Seshadri Venkatesan

Lieutenant (ex-Indian Navy)

Director Operations,

NALS Outdoors India Pvt Ltd