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Adventure Tourism and “Development”

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This entry is the first in a series of perspectives about adventure tourism and development to be presented in 2008 by the collaborative partners referenced in this article.

For the past few years, the ATTA has been working with its partners to raise the profile of adventure tourism with organizations and people supporting human and environmental development initiatives.  We’ve tried to connect with these groups and help spread the word about the positive benefits of adventure tourism market development.

One of the key ways in which we’re seeking to lead this industry and support its sustainable development is through the Adventure Tourism Development Index.  Created in partnership with The George Washington University and Xola Consulting,  the ATDI captures the factors necessary – everything from government policy on to market image –  for competitive adventure tourism and provides destinations with a blueprint for sustainable adventure tourism market development.

It was developed based on consumer research and therefore offers a valuable perspective into the kind of adventure tourism products experienced consumers expect.  The ATDI’s Ten Pillars of adventure tourism competitiveness are further informed by the remarkable work of community and rural tourism development specialists around the world.

Even as we go forward with the ATDI, we want to flag some important issues. 

1) What do we mean when we talk about “development?”  

2) How will we know we’ve been successful in supporting it?

3) Which begs the question, how shall we even define “success?” 

The term “development” is often used to encompass a broad spectrum of economic benefits for people coupled with environmental conservation.  And in the adventure industry there is ample evidence of the ways in which adventure tourism market development can make a positive contribution in these areas:

  • Many adventure tourism businesses have low capital requirements and can be easily launched by entrepreneurs, bringing economic opportunity into rural communities.
  • As well, we’ve seen that once a community recognizes the economic benefits that can be derived from preserving their natural resources, they are more inclined to keep it free of trash, and to try to balance its use with other industries.

Difficult questions remain, however: 

“What do we mean by “human development?”

“How are we to balance the competing pressures for land use in growing economies?”

As an industry we’re advocating adventure tourism market development as a panacea to some of the world’s most pressing problems, but we are very aware that there are no easy answers and continue to challenge ourselves.

“Human development” goes beyond simply having more money; “environmental conservation” goes beyond simply having more trees.  Human development also entails the ability for people to choose from among alternatives, which assumes educated people; it implies access health care and clean water, freedom from crime and persecution.  Environmental conservation doesn’t always just mean the preservation of a single species, it implies the much more challenging concept of balance, something that’s hard to strike in any era. 

As we continue to advance the mission of our industry, educating travelers and working with all our supply chain partners to improve their operations, we seek your contributions.  Come to the ATWS Summits and participate in the sessions; organize with other tour operators in your regions to work for better land management and community programs; sensitize travelers at every opportunity to appreciate the global context. 

It’s a lot to ask of a rafting company, no doubt.

By Christina Heyniger

Xola Consulting, Inc.

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