Adventure tourism encourages sustainable practices. According to ATTA (2013), “adventure travelers ranked areas of natural beauty as the most important factor in choosing their last destination, followed by the activities available and the climate of the destination”. Adventure tourism practitioners and policymakers are aware that “without the pristine natural environments and meaningful cultural experiences their destination would lose its competitiveness and tourists would go somewhere else” (UNWTO, 2014, p.11); they therefore follow sustainable environmental practices.
Governments acknowledge the potential of adventure tourism. “Because of its documented benefits to the environment, local people, and local economies, governments are increasingly identifying adventure tourism as a tool for sustainable and responsible economic growth that delivers benefits to every level of society. (…) In many destinations, adventure tourism has been developed without extensive new infrastructure. It can also deliver benefits, from creating local jobs rapidly to relying on traditional knowledge of local people for guiding and interpretation” (UNWTO, 2014, p.14).
There’s a certain type of adventure tourist that has been identified to be the most beneficial in supporting local economies: Although many adventure tourists are “cash-rich, time-poor” (Buckley, 2006, p.3), backpackers and trekking adventurers will “often stay in their destination longer, thus spending more money, albeit less per day. Their expenditures often penetrate deeply into local and regional economies, helping increase the spread of tourism benefits” (UNWTO, 2014, p.24). The UNWTO (2014, p.29) explains “Adventure tourism’s supply chain linkages go very deep, and this is one of the key reasons that adventure tourism delivers greater benefits at the local level”. The traditional supply chain is described as follows: “If a North American customer is booking a rafting holiday in Zimbabwe, they will likely contact the tour operator that they used for past international adventure trips, who will work with a ground operator in Zimbabwe, who will then book hotels and transport with local suppliers. While the outbound operator is based in the source market, the inbound operator and local suppliers are in the destination. In developing markets, the majority of adventure tourism is delivered through a chain as outlined above, and the customer is only in contact with the outbound operator”. However, “the adventure tourism supply chain does not always follow this traditional pattern. Parts of the chain might be minimized or overlooked, and the connection to those actually providing the product or service might be much more direct, depending on the scope or type of offering. The chain may be shortened depending on the product, the size of the local supplier companies, and the distance between the customer and the destination” (UNWTO, 2014, p.29). With the rise of the Internet travelers have become more independent. “In the adventure tourism sector, the trend has been towards disintermediation, meaning the removal of the middle-man – a tour operator or travel agent – who has traditionally connected the consumer in the source market to the provider or ground handler in the destination market. As the traveler can access information and trusted consumer reviews online, he is more likely to go straight to the provider. (…) The trend of disintermediation is more prominent in mature adventure markets, but will likely cause changes in developing countries’ supply chain in the coming decades” (UNWTO, 2014, p.29).
There lies a big chance in adventure tourism for developing countries: In the 2014 UNWTO Global Report on Adventure Tourism (p.9) Yolanda Perdomo states that “Adventure Tourism has grown exponentially worldwide over the past years with tourists visiting destinations previously undiscovered. This allows for new destinations to market themselves as truly unique, appealing to those travellers looking for rare, incomparable experiences”. Adventure tourism can be very beneficial to the host communities, but it needs to be well planned, managed and monitored: “The challenge is for the tourism sector to use its best efforts to reduce the negative impacts of tourism, while safe-guarding and/or enhancing local environments, biodiversity, and culture. Tourism can, where appropriately managed and monitored, play an important role in poverty alleviation, cultural understanding, and biodiversity conservation. As such, adventure travel must be consciously planned and undertaken to maintain or enhance biological and cultural diversity and to be economically viable and socially equitable. Adventure Travel can be of enormous benefit to tourist destinations, creating employment and income and providing a strong incentive for conservation. It can also raise public awareness of the many goods and services provided by biological diversity and of the needs to respect traditional knowledge and practices” (UNWTO, 2014, p.34). The UNWTO (2014) further points out that some customers even support destinations beyond their stay once they realize which impact their financial contribution has to preserve the key cultural and natural capital.
Adventure tourism is beneficial to marginal communities. Destinations often struggle “to get customers beyond their iconic spots”, but “adventure travel also helps push tourist spending to the rural fringes of a destination” (UNWTO, 2014, p.35). The establishment of thematic tourism routes in particular has gained recognition for bringing tourism to remote communities. The UNWTO (2014, p.36) emphasizes the transformative potential of tourism: “Tourism is a people-based economic activity built on social interaction. By opening the doors to employment opportunities and decent livelihood, leading skills and capacity development, it can have a strong transformative impact on communities, especially those existing in poverty, at the margins of society or in remote areas”.
According to the UNWTO (2014, p.36), the development of community-based tourism allows travelers to “find an authentic connection with the history, culture and customs of their destination through engaging with community based tourism products and services, whether these are locally-run tours, hostels, adventure activities or food outlets. If managed properly, the proceeds of what they spend go directly to supporting grassroots development and into ensuring that long term operations will benefit both host and traveller. Adventure tourism is attracting attention for its emphasis on rural areas, local culture, and because it can often be developed within existing infrastructure”. ATTA president Shannon Stowell explains: “Adventure travel requires less development than traditional industry: Paved roads, large airports, and expensive infrastructure are not always required by the adventure customer or product. This is especially ideal for emerging economies who can maximize what they already have” (UNWTO, 2014, p.83). Since 66% of the adventure tourism revenues stay in the destination, it provides alternatives to extractive one-use industries such as mining or logging, and it pushes revenue even to rural and remote areas. Stowell (UNWTO, 2014, p.83) believes that “Adventure travel gives people a reason to stay rural and be proud of their cultures: Migration to overcrowded megacities is a problem in many emerging economies, and adventure tourism can be used as a tool to give young people and entrepreneurs a way to create products that attract high-value, low-impact customers”. Stowell asserts “because it relies on cultural and natural capital as its primary assets, adventure tourism can be used as a model to create, develop, and sustain profitable businesses and thriving destinations”. However, he points out that the adventure tourism industry “needs to pursue better risk management, community inclusion in projects, and sustainability in order to be both healthy and productive” (UNWTO, 2014, p.82).
The UNWTO (2014, p.35) attributes adventure operators “a key role in contributing to a sustainable vision for the sector through their selection of service providers, vendors, the activities they promote, and the facilities they choose to use”. At the World Tourism Day 2014, UNWTO Secretary General Taleb Rifai pointed out the importance of community engagement: “Tourism can only prosper if it engages local populations by contributing to social values such as participation, education and local governance” (UNWTO, 2014, p.36).