chapter  16
9 Pages

Adventure tourism – Hard decisions, soft options and home for tea

adventure on the hoof
WithG. Shephard, S. Evans

It would seem a very straightforward task to define the term ‘adventure tourism’. However, considering the wide variety of opportunities for adventure seekers, a definition may depend very much on the participant’s characteristics. Adventure levels can be based on the personal perception of risk and the type of travel which is perceived to be adventurous; and this will be inherent to the traveller, his/her background and previous life experiences (Evans, 2003; Weber, 2001). For example, the highly organised whale spotting trip in the Scottish Hebrides

may be perceived as great adventure for a tourist with little travel experience, while this may not hold the same value to a yachtsman who has travelled the seas and in doing so has had ultimately various experiences in deep sea wildlife spotting. As Weber (2001: 371) highlights, ‘previous travel experience is a further aspect that is likely to affect an individual’s perception of a holiday as an adventure’. Swarbrooke et al. (2003) emphasise this problem of definition by suggesting that

there are ten core characteristics of adventure (Table 16.1) which, once combined, can be related to tourism, thus creating an expectation and fulfilment within the adventure tourism context. In any definition of adventure tourism, the fact that there may be combinations

of the elements shown in Table 16.1 could create difficulties in classifying adventure tourism in absolute terms. As adventure is broadly about uncertainty of outcome, then ‘adventure by numbers’, or the creation of specific criteria for a product to be an ‘adventure’, cannot exist (Price, 1978 in Beedie and Hudson, 2003). This might also indicate that any predetermined and closely defined adventure tourism product may be by definition not a true adventure product and that any adventure should be undertaken with no predetermined expectation as it may end in a way quite different from that planned. The difficulty in establishing a definition for adventure tourism also comes from the need for adventure tourism operators to achieve a balance within their particular adventure tourism niche, where the paying client can have their expectations met whilst remaining within their accepted envelope of safety and risk. It would not only be irresponsible for adventure tourism operators to knowingly push their clients into risky situations but it would also create financial and legal implications due to

Table 16.1 Characteristics of adventure

1 Uncertain outcome 2 Danger and risk 3 Challenge 4 Anticipated rewards 5 Novelty 6 Stimulation and excitement 7 Escapism and separation 8 Exploration and discovery 9 Absorption and focus 10 Contrasting emotions

potential litigation resulting from accident and other unexpected harmful events. Achieving the balance between safety and accepted levels of risk is very difficult, leading to situations where the client has become dissatisfied with the experience, or he/she has been unnecessarily exposed to risk and situations beyond their experience and competence. For example, white water rafting, often marketed as an adventure experience or as part of an adventure tourism operator’s portfolio, sometimes may not meet expectations as the actual rafting element is undertaken in a closely supervised manner and often bears little resemblance to the dynamic, wet and wild and action packed perception the clients may have initially had. Another example may be taken from New Zealand, where true wilderness

trekking and an expectation of the portrayed isolation does not always occur, as walkers and trekkers quite literally form a queue for most of the day as they walk from mountain hut to mountain hut. This has resulted not only in tourist dissatisfaction, but also in physical hardship and personal risk for some tourists who, in order to avoid levels of overcrowding, have undertaken side trails or gone on their own, becoming lost or stranded as a result of the area’s hostile terrain and swiftly changing weather conditions. Adventure tourism then would appear to come at different levels, with the

danger and risk ranging from very low to very high. At the same time, while in cases where the risk is limited, there is a chance of the participant experiencing at least some of their expected emotions associated with the chosen adventure product, at the other end of the spectrum – with a high level of danger – skilled or adventure specialists would be involved, dependent on the tourists’ levels of competence. In fact, risk takes on a major and central role as ‘satisfaction with the experience and a desire to participate may decrease if risk is absent’ (Ewert, 1998, in Weber 2001: 361). The spectrum of adventure activities ranging from non-hazardous to high risk

has led to the concept where adventure tourism can be categorised as either ‘Soft adventure’ or ‘Hard adventure’. Soft adventure would involve very low risk and may be undertaken by anybody physically fit and able, yet they would not necessarily need to have any previous experience in their chosen holiday. Accommodation would be provided and there would be little or no need for participation in anything other than the chosen holiday. Motivation for this would be more to the experience rather than the expectation of an encounter with any risk. On the other hand, hard adventure would require previous experience, recognised levels of competence, ability to cope with the unexpected and skills associated with type of holiday. While this might imply some sense of risk seeking, Ewert and Hollenhorst (1994: 188) are at pains to suggest that ‘although adventure recreators seek out increasingly difficult and challenging opportunities, they paradoxically do not necessarily seek higher levels of risk’. Table 16.2 specifies those activities which should be the primary sources on which

to analyse adventure segments. By analysis of the most commonly provided activities, Sung et al. (2000) identified six groupings (Table 16.3). From this it can be understood that there are various deriving levels of adventure

tourism activities, but, as suggested earlier, their perception and fulfilment will depend much on the participant characteristics rather than on the actual type of tourism undertaken (Adventure Travel Society, 2004).