Adventure Tourism

The Experiential Type

Bungee Jumper
Photo Plan Nepal Travel & Tours

What a phenomenon! Who would have thought thirty or so years ago, when about the most exciting paid travel experience going was a wildlife safari or skiing, that one day activities such as the following would be not only available, but insanely popular:

Ballooning, Whale Watching, Swimming with Dolphins (or Whale Sharks), White Water Rafting, Bungee Jumping, Tandem Skydiving (piggy-backed parachute jumps), Zorbing (rolling down a slope inside a plastic ball, Canyoning (a wet and dry combination of canyon abseiling, rappelling and hiking), Jet-boat thrill rides, Scuba Diving lessons, Quad Bike rides and Fly by Wire (fast, wire-harnessed land-based flying) to name but some.

Driven by governments’ tourism marketing arms and boosted by tourists’ rave write-ups on internet chat channels, the popularity of these add-ons to a traveller’s holiday agenda has grown rapidly and exponentially – with no sign of any let-up.

NZ Scenery
 
Let’s face it; they all have the ‘Wow’ factor; they incorporate varying degrees of danger and risk to one’s person. With some there is the added temptation of experiencing undeniable beauty not usually afforded a human (the aerial pursuits come to mind) but, curiously, it is the two former factors that are key to enticing travellers to part with often considerable amounts of money for the experience – some of which may last only half a day.

Clearly, flying on a commercial jet for several hours at a time is no longer considered a risky venture in spite of historic evidence to the contrary. Many of the abovementioned experiences appeal to me, and some I have done, but there are some that I will continue to avoid doing on the basis that I have had many lucky escapes in my life and now, at seventy, I don’t have the need to push my luck too far.

Comparatively, it can be claimed that we stand more chance of having an accident, fatal or otherwise, on the roads of our home towns rather than on an Experiential Adventure. But for some tourists it is while on that annual overseas holiday that they have come to serious grief by deliberately choosing to flirt with fate.

Tour operators, naturally, take great care to minimise injuries or fatalities; they’re bad for business. But for whatever reason, there have been quite a few tourists who should have just stayed in bed on the day they chose to experience that ‘Wow’ factor.

Take Ballooning: There are some stunning scenic balloon rides for sale in places as diverse as Turkey, Egypt, New Zealand and Australia: some include champagne to set the mood for the heady experience. But clearly it is a risky venture, as recent lists of fatal and non-fatal disasters attest.

Ballooning
Photo AFP

Or Bungy Jumping: Leaping off a high bridge suspended by your feet and plunging down to the river far below where, perhaps, you will dip your hands in the water before being sprung safely back up by the elastic ‘bungy’ cords. It is a modern-day take on Vanuatu’s Pentecost Islanders’ rite of passage. It’s hard to pinpoint where commercial Bungy Jumping started, but it has spread to all continents of the globe and, unfortunately, horrific Bungy Jumping accidents have occurred in as many places. There continues to be, however, no shortage of punters.

Bungy Jumping South Island NZ
Photo everthingqueenstown.com

Or the Tandem Skydive: I don’t want to dwell on this: falling from a great height scares the bejaysus out of me. Accidents are (relatively) few considering the number of travellers who opt for this thrill-ride and, curiously, quite often the accident is the result of the carrier plane crashing. Either way the result is messy.

Tandem Skydive
Photo waskydiving.com.au

Or Zorbing: This is one weird Experiential travel experience that I have difficulty understanding adults being attracted to – I can get a similar experience being dumped and tumbled by a big wave while body surfing – with the risk of having my neck snapped on the bottom. When I was still at school a friend and I had a rocky and rollicking roll down a big hill inside a large water tank. Great fun. But as adults? And, weirdly again, there has been a fatal Zorbing accident in Russia where the Zorb rolled over a cliff resulting in a broken neck and spine.

Zorbiting
Photo zorb.com

Or Jet-boating: The idea is to drive the boatload of tourists at breakneck speed towards a river’s canyon wall and turn away at the last moment. It seems the timing isn’t always perfectly judged; there have been considerable and fatal accidents in New Zealand alone.

Jet Boating
Photo shotoverjet.com

Or Quad Bike Rides: This is a rural experience and must appeal more to urban dwellers, as most farmers ride these things every day. A friend of mine ran such an operation on his land and I used to go up the steep tracks with him and his tourists. He never lost or injured a client but his operation has since been closed down. It was certainly ‘thrilling’, not the least because those machines have a very poorly located centre of gravity and are notorious for tipping over. Yes, there have been fatalities – many. In my friend’s case, his clients stood a good chance of tipping over the edge and tumbling (with machine) into gullies far, far below.

Quad Biking Oaro NZ
 
Or Fly By Wire rides: “With speeds topping 170km/h, the Fly By Wire is tipped as the fastest ride on earth and totally safe, but Thursday’s crash is the second in as many months . . .” Ominous. A 29 year old Swedish tourist should have done something different that day – he died.

Fly By Wire
Photo flybywire.co.nz

The other Experiential Activities such as Whale Watching, Swimming with Dolphins or Whale Sharks, White Water Rafting, Canyoning or taking Scuba Diving lessons, while all having that ‘Wow’ factor, seem to have fewer losses or injuries credited to them – perhaps due to better risk-management by the operators. But even with these considerations there are a few sore and sorry tourists.

What strikes me as interesting is that most of the victims of these tragedies – indeed, most of the travellers and tourists who ‘take the plunge’ and opt for one of these experiences – will have been living very ordinary, mundane (and contented) lives back home minimising risk as a matter of course. But for some reason, while on holiday they decide to go out on a limb (or ledge): seemingly on a whim.
 
Why do it only on holiday?
On the whole, consumers of Experiential Tourism are those whose employment allows only three or four weeks holiday per year. Some tend to use this time to recharge their batteries and revive their dormant activity glands. Non-risk takers for eleven months of the year, there is often urgency in their need for action and many will do things that are quite out of character. Plus, there is no shortage of adventure touts promising exciting rides and jumps that will test a punter’s courage.

Bush Walk South Island NZ
 
Why do it?
Perhaps they could make more adventurous use of their weekends throughout the year. They could access some simple and affordable, adrenalin-pumping pursuit such as kite-surfing, rock climbing, caving or abseiling within their local region as opposed to simply jumping off a very high bridge once a year – or lifetime – with the knowledge that you may not necessarily bounce back up (the aforementioned pursuits have varying and progressively more dangerous levels of risk associated with them).

Sadly, the truth may lie in the fact that ‘the system’ conspires to tire us through debt and employment while at the same time, coddling, swaddling and cocooning us from any danger or risk and feeding us mindless, numbing pap through the media to blot our minds. Consequently, we become somewhat sedated until, eventually, on that overseas break when – free at last – we become tempted by some marketer’s thrill ride. Then, all it takes then is some added peer-group pressure and . . . Weeeeeeeeee e e e e e e e e

Ohhh shhhhh . . . !

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