Kerala's Tourism and Sports department has joined hands with Kochi-based Adventure Sports and Sustainable Tourism Academy (ASSTA) to make the famous paragliding sites in state shine on world adventure sports map. Recently, Vagamon in Elappara panchayat, bordering Idukki and Kottayam districts, hosted Kerala Paragliding Grand Prix - the fourth edition of the international paragliding festival. The officials at the Idukki Collectorate estimate that around 175,000 people visited Vagamon during this five-day event, with 50,000 people in attendance on the last day alone, to witness the spectacular acrobatics display by world class pilots, like New Zealand’s world champion duo of Michael Verhagen and Shane Tims and former world champion David Arrufat (from Switzerland).
The first flights at Vagamon were initiated by Gopa Varma and British flying instructor Paul James, on May 1, 2005. This initiative won the Most Innovative Adventure Activity honor for 2008, as the state bagged 11 National Tourism Awards instituted by the Centre. In March, the following year, the first international Fly-In was organized with pilots from eight countries. The third International Challenge started with a seminar on ‘Adventure Tourism: Challenges and Possibilities’. The credit for putting Kerala on international paragliding map goes to ASSTA, which was established in year 2005, with the approach of 'sports as a supplementary tourism product'.
Gopa Varma, ASSTA chairman, said that Kerala needed to offer activity-based tourism - a tourism event - to grow as a destination. He added that Kerala always promoted only Ayurveda and backwaters, but foreign tourists needed something adventurous at the place they are visiting. He further added that adventure sports blended nicely with the concepts of ecotourism and sustainable tourism. He, himself, is a licensed pilot from the United States Hang Gliding Association. Tourism Minister Kodiyeri Balakrishnan was also present at the occasion.