… is an internationally and rapidly expanding tourism market segment. According to the Adventure Travel Trade Association it is a $89 billion industry showing an immense growth rate of 17% – this is four times as high as the overall rate of the whole industry. Adventure tourism is described as one of the most powerful and important trends in the tourism industry in the ITB world travel trends report 2012/2013, as more and more people are striving for thrilling adventures and experiences.
What is Adventure Travel?
In simple words: extreme activities including exploring and engaging physically in mostly remote locations
That is: hard adventure travel experiences as e.g. base jumping, cave diving, high altitude mountaineering, whitewater kayaking or backcountry camping
Or also: travelling to disaster areas, unseen, dangerous and off-limits parts of countries or indigenous, unexplored cultures (see e.g. disaster tourism)
Here is what I learned from digging in the adventure travel industry: People doing adventure traveling explore new places, test their physical abilities and seek new experiences. The old traveler’s profile is changing dramatically. It is no longer enough to see the world from the viewpoint of organized mass tourism. People are expecting more from vacation. Companies and destinations on the Adventure Travel World Summit all agree:
“[T]he world is ready to step away from simply sleeping on beaches and drinking Margaritas to creating a more fulfilling travel experience.”
In search of new, thrill-seeking adventures and unique, enriching experiences, adventurers from all over the world are looking for adrenaline rush providing extreme challenges. They want to be active, inspired and explore the world in order to encounter it with fascination and engage with life. This industry is exploding and adventure became big business, as scientific studies revealed.
A main element of adventure traveling is risk.
Reading about the risks, adventure travel insurances cover, made me realize quickly that this sector is indispensably intertwined with uncontrollable circumstances even for healthy, skilled, well conditioned and equipped travelers.
Those insurances I mentioned above claim to offer protection against the risk of adventure travel. When I read the risks they cover, I felt a little queasy: medical expenses, emergency evacuation, injury, (…), disablement, overseas funeral expenses, accidental death
Adventure travel obviously makes people do things beyond their limits, which might cause the many tragedies in this sector. Iain Mallory, an adventurer, approved my assumption, warning that most accidents occur because of errors in judgement and misjudgements of capabilities.
A lot of people insist or even promise that learning about the risks and preparing a trip enables the traveler to experince a “safe adventure”. But is there a safe adventure? Nancy Shute, a science writer writing e.g. for National Geographic, answered my question. She does not believe in a “safe adventure” and responds that marketers will deny it, but what will never be changed is that an adventure requires risk, challenge and uncertainty. Otherwise it would be just a trip.
Deborah Doelker, a documentary writer, drastically concludes this discussion and stresses:
“Adventure travel is – an adventure. Adventure does not imply you’re sitting in your rocking chair[.] […] I tell people who want to be absolutely safe that they should forget about these kinds of trips and go to Disney World.”
Nevertheless, Christopher Elliott, who is an editor at National Geographic Traveler, declares that people want both: Safety and adventure.
This seems impossible at the first sight, but the author of the book ‘The Emperor’s New Adventure: Public Secrets and the Paradox of Adventure Tourism’ (Robert Fletcher) clarifies that most people do not really seek risks, but the perception of risk. For further reading on the perception of risk click here or here.
For me, there was one extremely interesting question that arose during my research:
What are the underlying reasons for people to risk their lives in adventure travelling? Why is Adventure Travel such a fast growing sector and what makes the spirit of adventure?
First the good news: During my detailed research I found interesting facts about the psychological allure of adventure travel
Bad news: High risk of adventure-infection
To explain this phenomenon I want to go back to the very beginning, where Brigid Delaney took me in her article. She accentuates that the excitement for adventure is planted in our childhood. When we were little, we all loved curiously sitting under the blankets and being told adventures by our parents.
And then, adulthood came, which is basically one giant adventure in which the desire for our child-hood-adventures turns into something we prefer reading about rather than living. We now have our daily routine: wake up, work, eat, sleep, repeat. Delaney describes that as falling “into the trap of the armchair traveler and becom[ing] transfixed by all the journeys we didn’t make.”
Inside us, are still our dream-adventures and at some day we feel the necessity to change something and to shake things up. Then, the lust for a real adventure comes back to the surface. We’ll then ask ourselfs when we can finally live life to the fullest, analyzes Chris Hutcheson. We want to break free and escape the monotonous routine of our everyday life.
Chris Hutcheson persuades that we need to “regain the element of adventure that originally drove those before us to cross oceans and vast expanses of unknown terrain with no hope of return. We need to bring risk back into our lives” and “… snatch up our mere existence and drive it to the edge of possibility, knowing full well that the future holds no guarantee for safety, prosperity or happiness and that a full life is not given, it is taken.”
The Allure of Adventure Travel and Risk
Matthew Walker, who received a master’s degree in applied behavioral science, is deeply convinced that our desire for adventure stems from a need for uncertainty and something rare in our constant, organized world. He highlights that putting people into situations with minimum comfort and only basic elements of life makes them change their view on what is important and evaluate their choices with more clarity.
According to Hutcheson, adventures offer greater rewards than most alternatives because they are not rewards in a material sense but in the sense of great satisfaction and accomplishment. Dr. Thompson supports this assertion and comments that noticing that one was able to overcome a challenge becomes a reward itself.
Pursuing thrills and crossing boundaries we move out of the comfort zone into the risk zone. This gives us the pleasant feeling of exploring something new. As I learned from the adventurer Alastair Humphreys, that movement can also be achieved by so called microadventures. This means including low risk into every day life by for example going on vacation although you actually don’t have the time to do so. Dr. Bridgett Ross, a Licensed Clinical Psychologist, suitably sums up: “The commitment to engage in life is a daily choice.”
Seeking adventure gives us the opportunity to conquer the demons within, adds Delaney. Those might be fear, stagnation or boredom. Delaney describes the situation like this:
“We see adventurous people as being somehow different from ourselves: stronger, braver, tougher, fitter. They are versions of our best selves: the doers in life, the fearless, those who go over the mountain and come back to tell us what’s on the other side.”
Reading all those insightful explanations, I concluded that going on an adventure, we can be our own hero. It gives us confidence and approval.
The great feeling of accomplishment and satisfaction, which a risky, exciting adventure can give us, is a perfect interruption of every day life and even makes us accept uncertainty. Living in a globalized world of certainty and being trapped in strict daily routines, more and more people are looking for a certain degree of uncertainty and are therefore seeking adventures. They want to live life to the fullest, feel freedom and make life an amusement park ride. Believing Mathew Walker, adventures will “provide us with much more of an opportunity for growth and fulfillment over the course of our lives”.
“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”