2nd Edition of the Adventure Travel Guide Standard (ATGS) is Published After Two Years of Work

15 February 2021

After two years of work by volunteers from around the globe, the second edition of The Adventure Travel Guide Standard was published this week by the Adventure Travel Trade Association (ATTA).  

Adventure travel guides are central to the delivery of professional, responsible and memorable adventure travel experiences. The rapid growth in adventure travel in recent decades has led to an increase in demand for professional adventure travel guides and the need for an accessible, clear, and universal adventure travel guide standard. Adventure guides manage safety and risks and ensure the overall quality of participants' experience while safeguarding both adventure travel company and destination reputations. 

The groundbreaking first edition of the Adventure Travel Guide Standard (ATGS), originally titled Adventure Travel Guide Qualification and Performance Standard, was published in 2016. To create the first edition, a working group was formed with volunteers from over 15 countries and included guides, business owners, and industry partners to create the standard. While adventure travel guides have numerous certifications and best-practices they need to be aware of, at the time of release there was no global standard that tied together the complex and expansive components of being a quality adventure travel guide. The ATGS quickly became a useful tool to academic institutions, companies, destinations and training programs. For example, the ATTA created a robust 5-day training program harnessing the ATGS that has been delivered around the globe.

To create the 2nd Edition, volunteers who serve on the ATGS Governance Board compiled input from industry meetings and gatherings on what the 1st Edition got right and what needed to be changed or updated. Over the course of the two years, small teams took this input and combined with their own experiences and expertise to rebuild the standard piece-by-piece. Outside expertise was tapped such as the Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics, and animal welfare in tourism experts, ANIMONDIAL. Similar to the 1st Edition, where existing best-practices were published and available, those sources were referenced, such as the International Organization for Standardization’s ISO 21101:2014 for Adventure Travel.

A key addition to the 2nd Edition is the inclusion of the three core responsibilities of an adventure travel guide: Sustainability, Safety, and Quality and Meaning. These core responsibilities are at the heart of each guide no matter where in the world they guide and in what capacity. Specifically emphasized in this edition is the critical role guides play in delivering and educating about sustainability with focus on the climate emergency, preservation of biodiversity, social impacts of global tourism, and biosecurity. The latter is relevant since the bulk of the 2nd Edition was created during the COVID-19 pandemic. Safety was well represented throughout the 1st Edition, however much of the feedback we received was that safety wasn’t called out specifically. Finally, in highlighting that a guide is responsible for delivering high-quality and meaningful experiences, the ATGS elevates the critical role adventure travel guides have in the transformative power of travel.

The format of including five core competencies that all adventure travel guides must possess stayed the same, however, the competencies were updated. This is the bulk of the standard and includes both general principles as well as examples. The five core competencies now include the following:

  1. Sustainability
  2. Technical Skills & First Aid
  3. Safety and Risk Management
  4. Customer Service and Group Management
  5. Natural and Cultural History Interpretation
The result is a much more robust ATGS that not only better aligns with the needs of the adventure travel industry, it also includes updated research and examples to make the text more relevant to the modern adventure travel guide.

While the standard is not enforced or regulated by the ATTA or any other organization at this time, it has proven to be a valuable resource for elevating the quality of adventure travel guiding. Governments, destination managers, and company owners are encouraged to refer to this standard when evaluating the quality and performance of their own guides and determining appropriate training programs. Both new and experienced guides may refer to the standard as a benchmark for evaluating their own performance.

In accordance with the ATGS Governance Board, the ATGS is revised every 5 years, first by a working group of Governance Board members and then through a public consultation process. The 2nd edition was revised between August 2019 and October 2020 and the public review period for the second edition took place from 17 July to 17 August 2020 and comments and suggestions from the community were welcomed and incorporated into the standard. The ATGS will be released to the public in February 2021 and will be translated into multiple languages, starting with Spanish. In an effort to continue to raise the safety and quality of adventure travel, the standard is available free of charge to adventure travel guides and adventure travel operators around the world.

Stephen Taranto, editorial manager of the new version, adventure guide, and co-owner of operator La Paz on Foot, explains that this time around, the revision “has been an exciting process of collective intelligence and commitment focused on making the new standard better, and reflect the realities of adventure guides, adventure operators, and responsible travel around the world. When you think about it, adventure travel guides have to have an incredibly diverse skill set, and the standard is an excellent guide to doing it all professionally, safely, and with maximum positive impacts.”