New Zealand is well positioned in the world of Adventure Tourism – we are the innovators and leaders of bungy, and have the perfect setting and natural resources to offer a comprehensive range of tourist activities that are land, water and air based.
But every so often we are reminded of it’s risks when a tourist in New Zealand suffers serious injuries or even death by undertaking one of these experiences. Such was the case on Friday in Hanmer Springs where an Australian tourist slipped out of a bungy harness.
Is adventure tourism inherently risky and something tourists should agree to at their own peril? Yes, BUT – there should be safety regulations and regular approval/review processes of commercial adventure tourism operations that aim to eliminate or reduce the risks, that are balanced with the need to attract and effectively cater for thrill seekers. As a backpacker in South America I undertook several adventure tourism activities and recall that asking about safety precautions was not high on my list of key concerns (put that down to youth, being trusting and language barriers), the point being that adventure tourism operators need to be the ones who are concerned and do take the right precautions, training, checking of equipment and conditions etc.
Scarily, over 5 years 29 people have died (and at least 540 seriously injured) in New Zealand adventure tourism activities. I have no doubt that each time this happens the overall New Zealand tourism reputation takes a hit – particularly when it’s occurred under the management and care of a marketed tourism business and not the result of irresponsible behaviour on the part of the tourist. Sure accidents happen when people do things in the outdoors – but severe injury and death are not acceptable outcomes during the course of a paid or chaperoned tourism activity if it was avoidable.
The Department of Labour is currently conducting a detailed gap analysis of risk management and safety provisions in the adventure and outdoor commercial sectors in New Zealand, due to the Minister of Labour by 31 May. We will look forward to seeing the outcomes that will hopefully outline a way forward to prevent these statistics from growing.
In the meantime, for the sake our visitors, we hope adventure tourism businesses are reminded that safety is priority at all times and it would be interesting to hear their opinions as to the best way forward to improve safety measures across the industry and for reputation management.