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What is adventure tourism and why is it so big?

Adventure tourism is big, it’s exciting, it’s fun…. but what actually is it? In this article I will teach you all about this exciting type of tourism, what the history behind adventure tourism is, what the different types of adventure tourism are and what amazing examples of this type of tourism there are around the world. Ready to learn more? Read on…

What is adventure tourism?

Adventure tourism is tourism that involves any kind of activity or adventure. It especially relates to those that involve risk, or requires extensive planning. The Adventure Travel Trade Association defines it as a tourist activity that includes physical activity, cultural exchange, or activities in nature
Meanwhile, Sung et al describe it as: the sum of the phenomena and relationships arising from the interactions of adventure touristic activities with the natural environment away from the participant’s usual place of residence area and containing elements of risk in which the outcome is influenced by the participation, setting, and the organizer of the tourist’s experience. HH Sung is an academic who has researched this branch of tourism in great detail.

Ultimately, adventure tourism is all about ADVENTURE! It is a pretty broad term really and many would argue that it is subjective (what I deem to be adventure, you may not). Nonetheless, this is a big part of the tourism industry and whilst it is an example of niche tourism, the sector is growing fast! There are lots of types of activities and types of travel that come under the umbrella term of adventure tourism and I will outline these for you shortly.

History of adventure tourism

What is adventure tourism

Of course, people have been travelling for centuries- the history of tourism is a long and fruitful one! Over the years travel evolved into tourism (travel for travel’s sake) and now we can see many different branches of tourism.

We can trace the roots of adventure tourism specifically back to perhaps as early as 569 AD when Alboin, king of the Lombards, climbed Matajur in the Alps. Adventure tourism is all about doing something with a bit of risk, and putting planning into it. We don’t know how much preparation Alboin put into this expedition or whether it was some sort of off the cuff climb – but it can still be seen as an early example of adventure tourism. Climbing mountains at this time was generally a practical or symbolic activity. It was usually done for economic, political, or religious reasons.

However, in the 1800s, adventurers pushed the limits more and more. It became a formal sport, and people did it for fun. Other adventurous activities such as caving, river-rafting, abseiling and gorge walking emerged as a fun way to pass the time. As people got more into them, these activities formed part of adventure tourism. Organisations such as Nat Geo and also The Explorers Club, as well as Boy Scouts and Girl Guides  to an extent, were established. These have always promoted and supported adventure tourism.

In recent years consumer desires have evolved and many people have/are moving away from the traditional sun, sea and sand package holiday model and instead seeking alternative experience. There are a wide range of types of tourism that people are embracing more and more nowadays, and one example is adventure tourism. There are more adventure tourism companies including travel agents and tour operators who specialise in this field than there have ever been before.

Types of adventure tourism

Adventure tourism can be split into two ‘types’. These are hard and soft. I will explore the differences below…

Hard adventure tourism

As the name suggests, hard adventure tourism refers to activities which are typically more high-risk. They require intense training, changes in diet, lots of practice, a guide and so on.

Soft adventure tourism

Soft adventure activities are the opposite – much less risky, and don’t require the long-term commitment that hard adventure tourism activities often would. They often are led by a guide, but you can do this sort of thing without. Generally these are much more popular, as they are easier activities and (as mentioned) have a much lower risk.

What is adventure tourism?

Adventure tourism activities

There are so many activities which come under the umbrella of adventure tourism. Whether you travel simply for the purpose of undertaking this adventure or decide to incorporate it into your trip, if you have done any of these then you are officially an adventure traveller! I’ll split them into hard and soft as above. Activities like skydiving are something you can do in most places, as long as the weather allows – skiing, however, requires specific conditions and plenty of hills.

What is adventure tourism

Hard adventure tourism activities 

  • Mountaineering/mountain climbing
  • Caving
  • Ice Climbing
  • Rock climbing
  • Skydiving
  • Trekking/intense hiking
  • Free diving
  • Extreme biking

Soft adventure tourism activities 

  • Birdwatching
  • SCUBA diving
  • Horse riding
  • Kayaking/rafting
  • Skiing
  • Orienteering
  • Safari
  • Canoeing
  • Fishing
  • Hiking (gentle)
  • Snorkelling
  • Hunting
  • Surfing
  • Snowboarding
  • Eco-tourism

Adventure tourism destinations

You can enjoy adventure tourism activities in pretty much any destination. There are some more than others, however, which are better set up for this branch of tourism.

Adventure tourism in India

What is adventure tourism

Adventure tourism is a big deal in India. This diverse and spectacular country has so much to offer – and one of the big draws here is hiking and trekking. There are plenty of incredible places to hike in India. Gentle hikes/treks are a form of soft adventure tourism, while some more intense treks and hikes can fall into the hard category. Uttarakhand is one of the best places to hike in India; the ‘Roopkund trek’ is a famous trek around Roopkund Lake, which is surrounded by hundreds of human skeletons! 

Other examples of adventure tourism in India include surfing in Kovalam, skiing in Auli and white water rafting in Rishikesh.

Adventure tourism in Iceland

What is adventure tourism

Beautiful Iceland is one of the most popular places for visiting the Northern Lights. This in itself is a bit of an adventure, but there are all sorts of other things you can do which come under this branch of tourism. You can snorkel or scuba dive in Silfra Fissure, for example, or go inside a dormant volcano at Thrihnukagigur.

Adventure tourism in Costa Rica

What is adventure tourism

It is impossible to be bored in a place like Costa Rica. The country has so much to offer, and is an example of somewhere that to most of us (no matter where you come from) is pretty exotic. Head deep into the jungle on your adventure to see some colourful wildlife; visit the Costa Rica volcanoes and cloud forests; go rafting and hiking and ziplining and so much more. You can book 10-day trips that encompass all of these things, or you could stay somewhere peaceful and relax for the majority of your holiday, opting to book a one-day tour for some adventure.

Adventure tourism in New Zealand

What is adventure tourism

Said by some to be the home of adventure tourism, New Zealand is a must for anyone considering this type of trip. With so much space and such a sparse population, is it any wonder that this lovely little country is home to so much adventure? Admire the views from up high by skydiving in many different locations, or raft on the highest commercially rafted waterfall in the world in Rotorua! From caving to off-road driving to heli-skiing, there is so much choice in New Zealand.

Benefits of adventure tourism

There are many benefits when it comes to adventure tourism. One huge benefit is simply that it is so much fun. Trying something new, or doing something you already enjoy, is a brilliant way to spend your time while travelling. Gaining a new skill or honing the one you’ve been learning for ages – it’s such a sense of achievement. This is particularly true for activities that require physical hard work such as skiing, or training like mountain climbing.

Adventure tourism is growing fast, and with that comes job creation. This is a definite benefit of any type of tourism. Jobs are created for guides and instructors, for people who work in the booking department of tourism companies, for people working in hotels or restaurants in areas that people may not visit otherwise. All of this means the economy is growing and the industry is thriving, resulting in positive economic impacts of tourism. Local communities are supported by all forms of tourism. This is no exception!

Due to the rise in the popularity of ecotourism and the ongoing conversations around sustainability, adventure tourism companies are often dedicated to protecting the environment. Though it may seem like these activities could be harmful, they are often not. This is because companies ensure the activities they offer are respectful of the planet too. It also allows more people to fall in love with the outdoors.

Disadvantages of adventure tourism

There are some disadvantages to adventure tourism too. Nothing is black and white, of course, and points on both sides are incredibly nuanced. While these activities are a fun chance to try something new, they can be dangerous. Hard adventure tourism activities are considered high-risk. Many will require you to sign a disclaimer (like skydiving) and for some you need months if not years of training. Most insurance companies won’t cover you either. To climb Mount Everest, for example, you need a permit – with the fees on top, this will set you back around $20,000 before you even buy equipment. There are strict criteria you need to meet to be granted one, too.

And even though many adventure tourism companies are looking out for the planet, individuals often are not. There is no guarantee that visitors will always be respectful of the local environment. From standing on things they shouldn’t to the classing dropping litter, there are many negatives that we can see from an increased footfall.

There may also be cultural and social impacts. With more visitors, locals may see some sort of loss of their cultural heritage over time. This can be devastating. With more tourists in place, especially during peak season, peoples’ roles in society naturally change. The status quo is affected.

Adventure tourism: Additional reading

Now that you are well-informed about thew adventure tourism industry, you may want to learn more about these tourism industries too-