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Adventure Tourism: The Reality of 'Risk Taking'

Adventure Tourism: The Reality of 'Risk Taking'
Author: Sophie Gee
2 Commentries
Adventure tourism can be described as the act of 'deliberately seeking risk and uncertainty of outcome' (Weber, 2001), it is characterised by its ability to provide high levels of sensory stimulation through challenging and experimental experiences. It is important to differentiate between the illusion of risk and genuine risk and to identify the role these play in tourist motivation and satisfaction, leading us to ask the questions; just how much true risk taking is really involved in many so called 'risky' adventure activities? And how vital is the presence of risk?

An individual's perception of what constitutes a 'risky' situation is a unique, personal construct created in the mind (Hall and Roberts, 2001); affected by personality traits, previous experiences, knowledge and levels of skill (Weber, 2001). This leads to varied views regarding the danger level of participating in a specific activity.

It is widely believed that risk plays a central role in the appeal of adventure tourism and therefore if risk is absent, satisfaction and the desire to participate will decrease (Weber, 2001); risk is considered a motivational factor as it is directly linked to the pursuit of positive outcomes. It is said that many tourists rate the desire for risk as more important than their safety, however, studies show that tourists are likely to be more safety conscious than they think, selecting activities that take place in commercial settings, under the supervision of trusted operators (Weber, 2001). Such 'protective frames' allow the tourist to experience emotional highs associated with risk without actually putting themselves in truly harmful situations (Gibson and Lepp, 2008).

Cater (2006) suggests that adventure tourists primarily seek emotional highs which result from fear rather than risk itself. Gibson and Lepp (2008) refer to this concept as 'sensation seeking', where individuals seek intense, novel and complex sensations and experiences through tourism practices which are perceived to be risky or challenging. Buckley (2009) supports this view, claiming that the majority of adventure tourists seek 'rush' rather than risk. 'Rush' is described as a psychological and physiological sensation, known as a 'peak experience' which can only be obtained when the individual is comfortable with the required skill level and the conditions are ideal. This is also known as 'flow', a sensation that builds up throughout participation in activities as the individual becomes so involved that nothing else seems to matter. Activities that generate 'flow' require the setting of goals, demand challenge, skill, concentration, a sense of control and total immersion; participation must be voluntary and it is vital that participants feel at harmony with the environment (Pomfret, 2006).

Activity organisers aim to minimise the level of risk as much as possible to avoid poor publicity and costs which result from negative tourist experiences. It is said that what is actually sold is the 'illusion' of risk rather than genuine risk itself (Buckley, 2012). The recreation of risky situations is believed to stimulate intense levels of positive emotional and cognitive arousal in participants (Robinson, 1992). Research concludes that the most successful adventure tourism products have a high perceived risk but a low actual risk, as participants are said to gain pleasure from the knowledge that they cannot be harmed yet still get to experience the unknown (Hall and Roberts, 2001). Participants are also said to 'play with their fears' and are often encouraged to do so by activity organisers, this contributes to the authentic feeling of being in a dangerous situation which is in reality under control, this is referred to as 'commodified fear' (Cater, 2006).

It is suggested that 'risk-taking' is not always primarily a physical fact, but instead a device used to construct a story. Created risk narratives help individuals to express chosen identities, which may continue to develop after the experience is over. Research shows that many tourists believe participation in certain activities will work favourably for them in the future, as it will give the impression of an exciting, self-reliant, powerful and strong character (Elsrud, 2001).

It is often assumed that participants in adventurous activities are somewhat reckless and uneducated; failing to understand consequences and the concept of danger. However, studies have shown that people participants actually tend to be emotionally stable and conformotist (Gibson and Lepp, 2008), suggesting they would be unlikely to put themselves in a position they deemed damaging.

Brymer (2009) determined the main reasons tourists choose to participate in adventure activities are focused around the obtaining of experiences, skills, accomplishment and personal insight, demonstrating commitment and definition of personal boundaries. It seems that contrary to common belief, many participants simply seek emotional rewards not risks. Although danger may at times be present, it is often an unavoidable by-product, not a motive. For many tourists, the rewards they reap are greater than the risks they take; however, more often than not the perceived risk is much greater than the reality (Walle, 1997).

In conclusion, it seems that many adventurous activities do not encompass true risk taking but merely the perception of risk. Tourist motivation and satisfaction is largely concerned with experiencing emotional highs rather than seeking danger.

Key References
Cater.C (2006) Playing with risk? Participant perceptions of risk and management implications in adventure tourism, Tourism Management, 27 (2) 314-325
Gibson.H & Lepp.A (2008) Sensation seeking and tourism: Tourist role, perception of risk and destination choice, Tourism Management, 29 (4) 740-750
Weber.K (2001), Outdoor adventure tourism: A review of research approaches, Annals of Tourism Research, 28 (2) 360-377

Adventure Tourism: The Reality of 'Risk' Taking
Author: Roxanne L. Cooper
Commentary on Discussion Paper

Adventure Tourism: The Reality of 'Risk' Taking

Author: Roxanne Cooper 0902868

This paper begins by concisely identifying the link between adventure tourism and risk, introducing concepts such as motivation. Questions are raised which creates platforms for further discussion and gains the readers interest. Additional information could be provided surrounding the rapidly growing adventure tourism industry prior to the main discussion. For example, industry statistics reporting a 30% increase in year on year UK sales, and 47.4% of travel magazine readers would be interested in booking an adventure tourism holiday (Mintel, 2008). A brief analysis of the reason why the paper fits into the conference strand would have also offered the reader a further level of understanding.

The general structure and layout of the paper is good, starting with definitions before moving through to a critical analysis of different factors relating adventure tourism and risk. This provides a comfortable reading style and ensures a clear understanding. Regarding references, there are a large number of different authors used within the text, suggesting key authors were not identified and as understood exceeds the amount requested. However, most were up to date, if not were good quality structural references necessary for discussion.

The author makes reference to risk as more important to safety for tourists, whilst this may be the case it does not apply to all tourists. Hudson (2003) acknowledges the size and diversity of the industry, therefore, understanding different types of tourists and possible adventure activities are key for discussion. Plog's tourist typology (Cooper et al, 2005) is a useful model, providing three categories of tourists; this has been previously applied to adventure tourism, revealing that the type of tourist that travels on adventure tourism holidays is mid-centric to allocentric, depending how adventurous the holiday is (Cooper et al, 2005). This model would have provided an opportunity to allow the level of risk and safety to be discussed within the different tourist groups, thereby avoiding categorising all adventure tourists as having the same motivations to participate.

The disucssion around 'flow' is extremley exciting, explaining a complicated concept in a good, easy to understand manner, another author that could have extended this discussion is Csikszentmihalyl (1997). It is also interesting how this has been linked to the 'peak experience' model, although, this could have been analysed further with the introduction of the adventure experience paradigm (Morgan and Stevens, 2008). Thus demonstrating and providing evidence in a figure format of the relationship between risk and skill in order to reach 'peak adventure'.

The papers conclusion summarises the main findings concisely but needs some expansion to fully understand all of the discussion that has taken place and does not reflect upon some of the significant findings for example the analysis around 'flow' and fear.

Overall this paper was interesting and written in an attractive, flowing academic way, it gave important definitions and critically analysed a number of factors surrounding the adventure tourism industry and risk. In doing so it successful answered the questions set within the introduction, therefore achieving its aims. There were however a few occasions where the discussion could have been expanded, particularly when considering the opinions of a number of different tourists with very contrasting motivations. This being said the paper successful sustains the reader's interest and provides motivation to read around the subject area in the future.


Cooper, C., Fletcher, J., Fyall, A., Gilbert, D., and Wanhill, S. (2005). Tourism Principles and Practice. 3rd Ed. Essex: Pearson Education Limited.

Csikszentmihalyi, M. (1997). Finding Flow. Pysychology Today [online] 30(4) pp.46-50 [Accessed 22 March 2011]. Available at:< http://web.ebscohost.com/ehost/detail?hid=113&sid=f7678abf-3f1b-4997-a001-19c4405fa9af%40sessionmgr104&vid=19&bdata=JnNpdGU9ZWhvc3QtbGl2ZQ%3d%3d#db=buh&AN=9709036852>

Hudson, S. (2003). Sport and Adventure Tourism. Binghampton: The Haworth Press Inc.

Mintel. (2008). Adventure Tourism - Europe. [online] London:Mintel [Accessed 1 March 2011] Available at: <http://academic.mintel.com/sinatra/oxygen_academic//display/&id=294937/display/id=335463>

Morgan, C and Stevens, C (2008) Changes in Perceptions of Risk and Competence among Beginning Scuba Divers. Journal of Risk Research [online] 11(8) pp.951-966 [Accessed 17 March 2011] Available at : < http://web.ebscohost.com>
Author: Robyn Cummings
This paper is well structured and emphasises the difference between perceived risk and actual risk which is essential not only to adventure tourism but to other areas of tourism also. It is clear in highlighting the fact that risk can be an attractive phenomenon for some individuals and that the idea of risk is often used as a promotional tool by many tourism organisations despite there generally being little risk involved.

The majority of the references in the paper are up to date and they all well related to the text. Interesting points have been highlighted in the paper such as the idea that risk helps individuals to express chosen identities and this has been referenced however a more up to date reference could have been used by referring to Wyatt and Peterson (2009) who back up this point stating that risk is essential for an individual to mature.

The paper highlights some interesting points such as the assumption that adventure tourism is for the reckless and uneducated and that many tourists seek a rush rather than a risk. Reference could have been made to Plogs tourist typologies particularly the allocentric tourist to which adventure tourism tends to appeal to. It also explains how although organisations use the perception of risk as a tool to attract tourist, they generally try to minimize the level of risk. This brings in the psychological aspects of tourism marketing which broadens the topic.

The penultimate paragraph looks at reasons why individuals take risks and the various outcomes people hope to receive. This could have been related to Jenkins Risk Behaviour Scale (Pizam et al, 2004) which measures an individual's propensity to take risks and concludes by stating the main aspect that causes that specific person to take risks e.g social risk taking could be participated in to fit in. This would have allowed more depth into tendencies towards risk taking although I can appreciate it was a discussion paper and therefore only a brief insight into the topic area.

Overall the paper gave an excellent discussion into the perception of risk taking. The title reflected the content of the discussion paper brilliantly and there were good sources of references used.

Pizam, A., Gang-Hoan, J., Reichel, A., Boemmel, H., Lusson, J., Steynberg, L., State-Costache,O., Volo, S., Kroesbacher, C., Kucerova. J. and Montmany, N. (2004) The relationship between risk-taking, sensation seeking and the tourist behaviour of young adults: A cross-cultural study.Journal of travel research. 42(3), pp.251-260.

Wyatt, T. And Peteron, F. (2009) Risky business: exploring adolescent risk-taking behaviour. Journal of school health,75(6), pp.229-231.