New Study Sparks Adaptation Strategies for Adventure Tourism Companies Coping with Climate Change

31 December 2009

Newly published research -- Adventure Tourism Companies & Climate Change: Observations from the Himalaya, Amazon, and Polar Regions Spark Adaptation Strategies for Business -- is available now in PDF format (Download now, 2.9mb: click here) and offers management and business practices for sustaining adventure travel businesses in sensitive environments affected by climate change. With international media buzzing on the topic, as a result of the UN Climate Change Conference 2009 (COP15) in Copenhagen, this report provides valuable research and actionable solutions for some of the first to be affected by climate change: adventure traveler operators.

The following preface to the study is offered by Editor and Adjunct Research Supervisor, Christina Heyniger, of Xola Consulting, who remains committed to observing and following trends and changes in the adventure industry and will continue to publish on this subject in the coming years:

In contrast to leisure tourism, where more emphasis may be placed on man-made settings, adventure tourism’s business model is thoroughly exposed to the slightest environmental changes.

Adventure tour operators, with products and services that depend on healthy natural environments, have a regular and direct connection to important environmental issues such as climate change.

Given that the broader tourism industry has mainly focused on adaptation strategies for two major travel sectors so far — coastal island and ski tourism - we felt it was worthwhile to examine the smaller players in remote environments.

Anticipated Benefit/Outcome of this Research:  This research offers management and business practices for sustaining adventure travel businesses in sensitive environments affected by climate change.

We believe that while adventure tour operators may respond to climate impacts in varying ways depending on their location of their operations, they can apply similar business practices to cope with its effects.  We hope that by sharing this research, adventure companies will continue learning from each others' experiences.

A case study approach was used to examine operators in three different regions: polar, mountain and tropical forest.

Three companies agreed to participate in this study:

Snow Leopard Adventures; Uttarkhand, India

Quark Expeditions; Arctic and Antarctic

Amazon Tree Climbing; Manaus, Brazil


The overall trend that we observe is that climate change has not yet had a significant effect on the polar or tropical region adventure tour operators interviewed, but has affected tour operations in India’s Himalaya mountain region slightly more. All of the companies interviewed are implementing operational and management focus towards climate change adaptation.

Study Contributors: This paper was developed by Cambridge University student Ryan Piotrowski in collaboration with Christina Heyniger of Xola Consulting - who served as the study’s Editor and Adjunct Research Supervisor - from June - September 2009. Special thanks is given to Parth Joshi from Snow Leopard Adventures, Ltd, New Delhi, Bill Davis, Francesco Contini and Prisca Campbell of Quark Expeditions and Eduardo Cunha of Amazon Tree Climbing for so generously sharing their time, experiences, and field observations.

Executive Summary

With their close relationship to the environment, adventure tourism companies feel and react to climate impacts to different degrees depending on location, but can follow similar business practices to cope with its effects. Common strategic, operational and marketing practices can be used to reduce business threats and take advantage of business opportunities as a result of climate change. As climate change effects become more prevalent and pronounced, companies need to proactively engage in adaptation, moving beyond a corporate responsibility mindset to the application of strategies to manage its business impacts. In reviewing the various adaptation methods currently applied, a general adaptive framework emerges for making climate change part of business and operational strategy.

Data gathered in interviews with three adventure tour companies in different environments — polar, mountain, and tropical forest — reveal ideas for specific climate adaptation techniques and strategic guidance for other adventure tour companies and the tourism industry in general. The interviewed companies’ practices indicate that some adaptation methods for increased extreme weather events have always been practiced, while the long-term impacts of climate change have not significantly affected operations and strategy.

The graphic below summarizes the climate effect companies highlighted in this paper can expect to experience over time. The companies participating in this study are a polar cruise company that operates in the Arctic and Antarctic, a Himalayan- based adventure company, and a tree climbing operator in the Amazon. A brief review of climate change in the interviewed companies’ specific regions is provided along with a discussion of each region’s general climate conditions.

Surprisingly, we observe that climate change has not yet caused significant changes in business for the polar or tropical region tour operators interviewed, but has affected tour operations in the Himalayan mountain region of Uttarakhand, India. Regardless, all of the companies interviewed are beginning preparation to adapt through education and training, while slight itinerary changes have been a response to any existing climate impacts. Subtle differences between the companies are highlighted to provide insight towards future adaptation techniques.

Our research indicates that while adventure tour operators may not be adapting as rapidly as we expected to climate change, opportunities and threats from climate change need to be understood and managed as soon as possible. Strategy, operations and marketing highlight some initial areas for discussion around climate change adaptation. In order to adapt to climate change an Adventure Tourism Climate Change Adaptation model is recommended for the adventure travel industry based on existing models, interview findings. Adventure travel companies must proactively and dynamically engage in strategic adaptation to climate change in order to sustain their business.