Hitting the Ecological base? The other side of Adventure Tourism

Tourism has been an important ingredient in the development of many economies. Besides economy, tourism has also helped in fostering the socio-ecological development of different countries. Tourism can be of different types such as spiritual tourism, historical tourism, medical tourism, adventure tourism, wildlife tourism and more. One of the emerging forms of tourism in the last century or so is adventure tourism. No one knows the origins of adventure tourism but it is said that merchants were the first adventure tourists who used to travel to unexplored areas to conduct their business. Similarly, explorers like Vasco Da Gama, Christopher Columbus can also be considered adventure tourists who travelled into the unknown and discovered new places.

Adventure tourism has evolved a lot in the last decade. Tourists are pushing the limits of conventional destinations and are increasingly exploring unknown places. Adventure tourism can be classified into two types – powered and non-powered activities. Powered activities could be paragliding, mountain riding, and ballooning, whereas non-powered activities could be kayaking, rappelling etc.

Adventure tourism engulfs four different qualities which makes it different from other forms of tourism. Adventure tourism is robust i.e. the tourists who indulge in adventure tourism are risk takers and passionate. Data from American Pulse: USA Adventure Traveler shows the increasing interest levels by adventure tourists overlooking any kind of setback to the tourist destination that justifies their will and passion. Let’s face it, adventure tourism is not for all. The target group for adventure tourism is limited. Mostly, physical fitness, and economically sound individuals are more inclined in taking up adventurous trips which are organized by travel companies shaped as premium packages. This form of tourism is also considered to be an enabler in terms of supporting local economies. Although most of the money goes to the operators, airline companies but it also trickles down to the local communities. This happens via homestays, selling culturally significant memorabilia, local cuisines, local guides, local festivals and more. Whereas in more commercialized forms of tourism, the profits are enjoyed by the big tour operators and agents. One of the many positives about adventure tourism is that it encourages sustainable practices. Policymakers, and other stakeholders of adventure tourism try to abide by sustainable environmental practices as they know that adventure tourism cannot sustain without pristine natural environments and meaningful cultural experiences.   

Ecologically, Adventure Tourism has two different sides. As mentioned earlier, this type of tourism can only sustain through the surrounding environment. Without forests, clean water sources and hills there cannot be any adventure. The surrounding environment provides the USP factor in adventure tourism and the more unique the destination is the more people would be interested to make the trip. Another crucial ecological factor of adventure travelling is that it connects the tourists with the surrounding which ultimately raises awareness of the pristine beauty that nature is. It’s not only the environment that benefits from such form of tourism, it bolsters knowledge regarding the local communities, their relationship with nature; and significantly contributes in sustaining the local economy. Two such instances that show the influence of adventure tourism can be that of the South Luangwa National Park (SLNP), Namibia and Whale Watch from New Zealand. Adventure tourism in the form of wild safaris have developed the national park and has brought in cohesion among the local communities. With the aim of sustainable development, Luangwa Conservation and Community Fund (LCCF) has been started from 2009 and the local community has formed the South Luangwa Conservation Society (SLCS)for providing sustainable lodging and safari options which does not disturb the local flora and fauna. Similarly in New Zealand, Whale Watch has been doing a great job in making this kind of adventure a sustainable business. This nature/adventure tourism company was started by the Kati Kuri people of Kaikoura, a Maori subtribe. It is fully tribal owned and operated and shows how tourism can be a tool for empowerment of a local community and provide socio-economic benefits to the whole area. Through whale watching, the tribal company tries to provide the thrill of observing the majestic creatures up close and at the same time reflects the importance of nature and its gifts.

Although adventure tourism has contributed immensely in the conservation of the ecology and the local community, there are instances where it has also affected the natural surroundings drastically. The top five problems associated with adventure tourism and ecological damage are pollution, unregulated waste generation, deforestation, alienation of local communities, and unfettered and illegal construction activities.

Pollution is an ecological evil that transcends any form of tourism. With adventure tourism, there are many instances of high altitude littering which affects the surroundings. Bottles, plastic, oxygen tanks are some commonly found litter. Primary examples would be Mount Everest in Nepal, high altitude trekking paths in Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, India. Similarly, water adventure sports create a huge ruckus which results in sound and water pollution. Primary examples would be Goa, India; Rio de Janeiro, Brazil and similar commercial coastal areas. The waste generated from the hospitality industry in the destinations generate huge amount of waste which is not regulated and managed, thus changing the natural setting. With the commercialization of adventure sports in certain locations, private commercial operators end up luring the crowd which in turn socioeconomically vilifies the local community. This is awful as it is the local community who are in sync with the ecology and without them the tourists can have an adventure which would be incomplete. As adventure tourism blooms, there would be an increase in the influx of tourists which would require increased accommodation options. To meet the hospitality requirements of the tourists, illegal or unregulated construction often happens. This is done by clearing out forested areas which result in habitat loss for the local fauna and also increases chances of human-wildlife scenarios.

Every coin has two sides, so does Adventure Tourism. There is a need for waste management in the adventure destinations since with increasing tourist influx, there will be maximum commercialization and with accelerated commercialization, there will be waste generation. If not managed properly, this will pose a serious risk of hygiene and would dampen the natural beauty. Also there is need for increased policy intervention which will enable conservation and community building. For instance, as observed in a United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) report, ‘the Adventure Tourism policy issued by The British Columbia Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations, regulates guided adventure tourism activities. It includes rules on concession use, crown land use, permits, and pricing’. This curbs illegal construction, permeates the profits to the locals and boosts sustainability. Other governments and tourism bodies can also use this example in developing crucial tourist destinations. It is important to realize that adventure sports and tourism and thrill seeking travelers with a zest for living on the edge will only increase in the future. Whether it will be an important tool for ecological conservation and empowerment of indigenous communities or result in drastic ecological impairment and alienation of local groups can only be ascertained in the future. For the sake of the environment, let’s focus on the former.