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The contention that risk is an essential element of all adventure tourism experiences


I thought I would share my essay on the risk taking in adventure tourism, since it is a growing area of tourism and holidays. The essay scored really high when I got my degree so hopefully if you are doing something similar it can be helpful. On the other hand if you are interested in adventure holidays you might find it interesting and useful in choosing the activity you would like to participate in. I hope you will enjoy reading this.

Adventure tourism

Adventure tourism is a rapidly growing, new area in tourism where the activities are still being defined by the academics (Buckley, 2006).  There are few already established definitions, which suggest that risk is the key element in adventure tourism, for e.g. according to Beaver (2012), adventure tourism is “Recreational travel which may be hazardous, varying from extremely dangerous activities to involvement in thrilling but relatively safe pursuits”. However, some forms of adventure tourism such as a walk to discover the local culture may not seem to be risky. Therefore, this essay will discuss this topic and will try to find out if the risk is the key element in all adventures.

What is risk?

To start this discussion, it is important to understand what risk is. Fischhoff and Kadvany (2011) argued that risks are present all the time in our lives, from buying new technologies or eating unhealthy to gambling, poisoning or injuring the body which impacts person’s perception if they could carry on living if things went wrong.

Risk can be easily defined as “a situation involving exposure to danger.” (Oxford University Press, 2017a). Bauer (1960) proposed that a consumer perceives risk if the outcome of their decision is uncertain (Weber & Roehl, 2000:122). However, the outcome in some adventure tourism types such as commercial adventure tourism, for all intents and purposes is known (Cater, 2006). This could suggest that the consumers do not perceive risk in commercial adventures.

Why do people take risks?

To understand why people take risks, the following theme will discuss the motivations towards taking a risk, which should help to understand if risk is the key motivator to adventure tourism. There are various motivators to adventure travelling, but according to Cater (2006), thrill and excitement are the key motivators in adventure tourism. The two definitions of adventure found in the Oxford University Press (2017b) also represent that excitement is the key motivator in adventure tourism; “An unusual and exciting or daring experience” and “Excitement associated with danger or the taking of risks”.


A study on the feeling of risk done by Slovic (2013), shows that people take risks based on their past experiences (positive or negative), allowing them to make a decision whether the perceived danger is worth the outcome. The past experiences are vital in the decision making, for e.g. if an individual has a positive experience of recognition among peers and satisfaction of improved skills which is associated with an adrenaline driving activity (such as white-water rafting), then the perceived risk reduces and emotional benefit increases (Mansfeld and Pizam, 2012), meaning that the person is more likely to do it. However, on the other hand, a person with negative experiences of for e.g. drowning in water, would perceive going to the swimming pool as a danger. What is risky to one person, would not be risky to another, and Slovic’s (2013) theory suggests that people only choose the risks that are associated with positive emotion.

Maslow’s Hierarchy Of Needs

Using Maslow’s Hierarchy of needs model (adopted from Mansfeld and Pizam, 2012) could suggest that people who take part in adventure tourism are on the self-esteem or self-actualization motivational level. This could suggest that people take more risks as their competence increases, as the main aim is to improve their own potential and to find recognition among other people. The people who do not participate in adventure activities perhaps find self-esteem and self-actualization in other forms of leisure. Following this model could suggest that risk is not an essential element in adventure tourism as the main motivators are self-esteem and self-actualization to find recognition and fulfil one’s personal potential.

The Adventure Experience Paradigm

To support this argument, there is “The Adventure Experience Paradigm” by Priest and Bunting (1993) which illustrates the relationship between risk and competence (Cater, 2006). This paradigm suggests that in order to have an adventure, the person undertaking the activity needs to have some level of competence against the risk. Otherwise, if the competence is too low against the risk, the person would experience misadventure and it could even lead to a disaster. This paradigm suggests that the more competence, the lower is the risk to an individual. In this light, Slovic’s (2013) theory about risk-taking is right because if the competence is sufficient then the person would have a positive feeling towards that given activity. This could suggest that the key element in adventure is the development of personal competence (Mansfeld and Pizam, 2012) and not the risk, which reflects on Maslow’s Hierarchy of needs theory.


Motivation Summary

Following the studies on motivation and taking risks suggest that people take risks when there is an initiative for them. Fischhoff and Kadvany (2011) show that all elements in any holiday experience involve risk, and the studies on motivation show that people choose leisure that is associated with personal achievement. It is purely dependent on individual perception and experiences, which type of holiday would fulfill their desires of becoming better. This could mean that people choose to go on adventure holidays not because of risk, but to become better in certain activities.

In summary for the tourist’s motivation, it is fair to say that from one perspective the tourists rather seek the excitement and development of their own potential to fulfill self-esteem. If the risks are present everywhere, so even in a typical mass tourism resort, it would be arguable that adventure tourists seek excitement in adventure tourism for the recognition and self-pride. Whereas other types of people feel the same excitement in a lower risk holiday type as their skills are different, hence they choose not to participate in adventure tourism. The findings show that every single tourist is a risk-taker, and the chosen risk is based on the perception of the reward against possible danger.


Adventure theories

On the other hand, there are definitions of adventure suggesting that risk is the key element. The key involvement of risk in adventure tourism has been mentioned by many authors (Collins and Collins, 2013; Buckley, 2010; Swarbrooke, 2003).

To test the opinion that people take adventure tourism holidays based on risk, it is important to discuss the different types of adventure tourism. According to Buckley (2006), there is a conflict between private recreation and commercial adventure tours. The participants in commercial tours commonly want to experience thrills and fear, but do not actually want to be exposed to actual danger (as cited by Buckley, 2006).

Less Risk, More People

Buckley (2006) created a model that suggests that the less involvement of risk, the more volume of people is interested in an adventure. From the commercial perspective, it looks like the risk is not the key element of adventure, but rather the fear, excitement and thrill.

Buckley’s (2006:9) model:


This model shows how the volume of participants increases as the risk decreases. So, perhaps the risk is not of much importance to the adventure tourism activities. However, the private exhibitions which tend to be of a higher risk, pioneered most of the commercial activities (Buckley, 2006). This shows that the commercial activities are based upon risk, because if the risk was not taken previously by others then there would have not been an interest or demand to those activities.

Hard and Soft Adventures

According to Musa, Higham, and Thompson-Carr (2015), commercial adventures can be classified as soft adventures and private exhibitions as hard adventures.

In mountaineering, for example, the commercialized soft adventures provide an ideal introduction for the inexperienced participants in a kind setting (Musa, Higham and Thompson-Carr, 2015).

Tourists search for authentic experiences because their modern lives are dominated by inauthenticity and habitual rules (Henning, 2012). The current generation adapted a “snacking culture” towards holidays (Yeoman, 2008), which means that they want to sample a lot of different experiences instead of one main holiday.

This could suggest that adventure tourism demand is increasing based on this modern lifestyle and theory that people only want to sample the experiences. In this light the commercial soft adventures are the key players in the growth of this industry, meaning that from the commercial perceptive risk is not the key element in this type of tourism.


Adventure Tourism Trend

According to World Travel Market (WTM, 2016) and Urh (2015), the increasing trend into soft adventures in Europe is linked with the drive for healthier lifestyles, which clashes with the idea of being exposed to a danger. Consumers moved from materialism to an interest in actual experiences, which supplemented the rise in adventure tourism (WTM, 2016; Yeoman, 2008).

Recently, EasyJet and TUI created a new “microadventure” concept in tourism as an alternative to a city break (TUI Travel plc, 2016; WTM, 2016; easyJet, n.d.). A microadventure is an outdoor adventure that requires minimum skills so that everyone can do it (WTM, 2016). This development supports Yeoman’s (2008) “snacking culture”, which is fuelled by the lack of authentic experiences. This shows that majority of people just want to experience new forms of leisure, not actually be subject to danger.

Varley (2006) believes that the soft adventures have incorporated comfort for a high-quality experience where the guide takes the full responsibility of safety. Many experts argue that soft adventures are inauthentic, however as mentioned by Musa, Higham and Thompson-Carr (2015:79) ‘If state of mind is a measure of satisfaction, then a range of climbs and processes become legitimate’.

Risk as Key Element Summary

So, to summarize; it could be argued that the tourists involved in hard adventures perceive the risk as the key element, however the people who choose to go on commercial adventures do not take much of a risk, as they seek the excitement and they know the potential outcome of the adventure.

Risk Management

Yet as a result of various different incidents in the adventure tourism industry, risk management has become really important for the adventure tourism providers (Swarbrooke, 2003), which shows that risk is an important element. Analyzing the different incidents, such as; two deaths in commercial expedition to Everest on 10 May 1996 (Krakauer, 1997) and 21 deaths in the Swiss canoeing incident on 27 July 1999 (Dodd, 1999), shows that risk is an element of some adventure activities.

“Risk management has long been associated with the use of market insurance to protect individuals and companies from various losses associated with accidents” (as cited by Dionne, 2013:1). Risk management is focused on protecting the consumers from having accidents, which at the same time protects the company from legal liability to pay out a compensation or face other consequences. It is about managing or optimizing risks (Hudson, 2003).

Minimising Risk

To minimise the danger there are widely accepted principles of risk management in the tourism industry. According to Hudson (2003:255) the risk-management process consists of; Determining exposure levels acceptable to the planning organization and its guests, identifying hazards to the business, evaluating those hazards, selecting finance and control alternatives, implementing mitigation strategies and planning appropriate responses to emergency incidents.

Hudson’s (2003) process is a guideline to what organizations in the adventure tourism sector should do, to minimize the exposure to danger for the customers.

Additionally, there are various guides in the UK for the adventures undertaken by individuals or for the providers of adventures, such as the BS 8848 developed by the British Standards Agency (Foreign & Commonwealth Office, 2015).

BS 8848 guideline provides a framework for the providers of adventure tourism on how to effectively manage risks on trips abroad, as well as for individuals to give ideas how to prepare for adventures.

The previously mentioned incidents show that the risk can be high when taking part in adventure sports or activities. According to Collins and Collins (2013:72) “All Adventure Sports are characterized by a degree of risk, since they require specific technical skills, possess an element of physical challenge and occur in a continually changing, (largely) non-competitive and dynamic environment”. This then suggest that risk is an element in adventure sports.

Nevertheless, it does not prove that risk is the essential element as risks are present everywhere (Fischhoff and Kadvany, 2011; Slovic, 2013). There is only a difference in the level of risk, depending on the skills and competence of the participants. If the competence of participants is high then the risk reduces making the risk acceptable for that person (Slovic, 2013).

Risk Society

Finally, the last concept to discuss in this paper, which could suggest that risk is the essential element in adventure tourism, is the concept of risk society (Cater, 2006). Cater discussed how risk became an increasingly important factor in modern societies. As the risks lowered significantly in the more developed countries, the apparent risk-taking increased in leisure activities. People in present societies are more likely to take unnecessary risks. The increased willingness to accept higher risks in leisure activities was also suggested by the British Medical Association’s report:

‘Nobody sincerely believes that all recreational activities can be made free of risk. Indeed, some degree of risk is manifestly one of the attractions of many kinds of recreation, and it is clear that people in general are prepared to accept far higher levels of risk in recreation than they would be at work, say, or as the result of the operation of a nearby industrial facility.’ (BMA, 1990, p. 146).

This quotation suggests that risk could be seen as an essential element in certain activities. The Adventure Tourism Paradigm (Priest and Bunting, 1993) and the idea of the flow experience (Csikszentimihalyi, 1975) could help to support this argument, by showing that the right balance between the risk and the skills can create a positive feeling, at the same time showing that risk is essential for this positive feeling to occur (Cater, 2006).

This could support the argument that risk is an essential element in adventure tourism. It clearly shows that people accept more risks in leisure activities. However, it does not clearly show that risk is a motivator, so from the perspective of motivation towards adventure activities, it still shows that the key element is the positive feeling.



This discussion leads to some conclusions. The supporting evidence found in this discussion shown how wide is this topic, by discussing the difference in perception and perspective. Slovic’s (2013) work is the best example to illustrate how the understanding of risk can differ from person to person, by saying that risks are taken when there is a positive feeling involved in that risk. A positive feeling is something personal, based on how people grow up and what experiences they had.

The evidence found shows, that risk is present in adventure tourism and it can be higher than in other types of holidays which results from the fact that the participants might need to have some level of competence and skills to carry the given tasks (Collins and Collins, 2013; Priest and Bunting, 1993).

The widely studied and carried risk management practices within the adventure tourism industry also show that risk is higher than in other types of tourism. Risk management is continually mentioned throughout the adventure tourism literature, which resulted from very serious incidents.

Some studies show that as the daily risks in societies reduce, the more people want to be involved in risky leisure activities (Cater, 2006). This could potentially explain the growing trend into this type of tourism and support the contention that risk is an essential element of all adventures.

However, as Buckley (2006:9) shown in his model, there is a higher volume of people involved in adventure activities with lower risks. The commercial soft adventures are seen as good fun for inexperienced participants.

What can be learned from this discussion is that in terms of motivation and commercial activities, the risk is not an essential element. However, risk can be an essential element in improving a person’s competence which then leads to an adventure. The motivation to be recognized in Maslow’s Hierarchy of needs is subject to changes as the societies develop, and the mentioned change in risk-taking in modern societies (Cater, 2006) could fuel those motivations. Therefore, although the main motivation is not to take risks but to find recognition, the risk could still be of importance as a result of the social changes. Modern societies can perhaps pressure some people to get involved in more risky leisure activities, which could fuel the demand for adventure tourism.



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