Adventure Travel Saves the World

Anything or anyone claiming to save the world is appropriately met with eye-rolling and sighing- we’ve been there and done that.  We are the cynical people who have been sold a bill of goods our whole lives by Wall Street and Madison Avenue. With the recent forced-opening of kimonos, it is clear- there is no silver bullet to save the world.

The general consensus is that every activity of the human race contributes a piece to the world’s grand fabric and potentially its demise as well. We’ve learned that travel professionals from Greenland to Brazil to Norway have a determinedly similar view.

Adventure travel- combining physical activity, cultural immersion and the great outdoors – is a potent force in helping solve some of the world’s most intractable problems.  On the world stage today it is being convincingly argued that large-scale aid often solves only the most instantaneous of problems such as starvation, immunization or malaria prevention, that indeed long-term, large-scale aid is in fact keeping people who are down and out, down and out. And often where aid flows, the environment has become a distant and feeble non-priority, which (ironically) when ignored contributes to continued cycles of poverty and destruction.

How does a seemingly random and apparently trivial activity such as adventure travel hold a key to helping affect life on this planet for good?

Think of world tourism as the earth’s circulation system of humans.  Mass tourism venues such as Disney, Paris, beaches, and major attractions like the Pyramids, the Great Wall of China and Yellowstone together are the heart, the aorta and the major veins of the planet’s circulation system.  It’s where mass transit happens – for better or worse- but keeps economies pumping and revenues flowing.

Adventure tourism from the world’s largest three markets (Europe, North America, Latin America) is around a $90B industry. This doesn’t take into account domestic adventure tourism- this is purely the outbound market.

Adventure travel is a really, really good social investment.  It employs millions of people and supports millions more through the ripple effect of the revenue that hits local restaurants, artisans, guides, lodges, musicians, etc. One of the best and transformative experiences of a person’s entire life is literally breathing life into millions of homes in rural arenas.

Back to the circulation system- It is adventure tourism in all its various forms- ecotourism, rural tourism, nature tourism, etc., that keep the limbs and extremities alive!

Adventure travel acts as the little veins and capillaries of tourism-hundreds of thousands of vital eco-lodges, trail systems, wildlife preserves, tour operators, nature preserves and the like that drive people and resources out to the farthest reaches of the planet.

For those who are overly concerned about the environment impact by travelers, keep in mind:  It is often ONLY tourism that protects some of the world’s most treasured wildlife reserves and animals.  Once the local populace understands that killing and selling or eating the last of the local wildlife is a short-term benefit, then it is often tourism that replaces the value and revenue.

We should ask ourselves- how many other industries:

  • Transfer money from the developed to the undeveloped world and leave it in local communities? (vs. huge multinational hotel chains where the profits go back to London, New York, Hong Kong)
  • Introduce people to other cultures and ways of thinking to open the way they see the world?
  • Send ambassadors of peace and goodwill out in a world that is highly tense and fractured? (Clearly, sometimes tourists are awkward representatives, but generally the adventure traveler is educated, open minded and sensitive)
  • Have a near universal focus on the triple bottom-line of helping local economies, protecting environment and preserving cultures?
  • Turn the casual traveler into an avid advocate for conservation and cultural understanding?
  • Encourage governmental tourism authorities to think about preserving what they have locally and think twice before saying yes to the mono-cultural (and life squelching) multinational brands that make Tokyo, Los Angeles, Yogyakarta, Mumbai and Denver seem like a variation on a theme?  Having eaten at a KFC in Yogyakarta, I don’t say this frivolously.
  • Get people to buy hand made products and locally grown food as part of a normal trip offering?

I’ve shared tea, laughed and shared stories with Kurds in Iraq who desperately want to know and understand Americans, watched Rick Steves on PBS reel in surprise when Iranians tell him they love America, spoken with groups of Uighur Chinese who as one agree that the people of China love America but that the governments continue to get in the way, listened to the story of a friend who found a cure for a medical problem from a Thai herbalist that US doctors could not solve, and the beautiful stories go on, and on and on.

If you’ve traveled and immersed anywhere, you have your own stories of benefit and transformation.

Adventure Travel- is it not fitting that one of the most amazing, fulfilling and enriching activities spills over into goodness for others too?  We as humans are built for adventure and it is not only for our own good, but for all whom with we share hallowed ground.  The trip you skip will never come back – go explore the place you’ve always wished to and do your part.

Shannon Stowell
Adventure Travel Trade Association <>