The urge to travel for adventure is as old as Marco Polo, but ‘adventure tourism’ as a recognised tourism niche sector is relatively new. It’s travel that combines a trip to a new environment with physical activity and a certain amount of risk – things like zip-lining, rafting, trekking, diving, and the like.
The market size of global adventure tourism was estimated at approximately US$288m in 2021. According to Next Move Strategy Consulting, this figure was forecast to grow steadily during the following years, peaking at roughly US$2.8bn by 2030.
New Zealand has taken the lead in adventure tourism, with some help from the movie The Lord of the Rings. Britain, Kenya, India, Malaysia and Brazil aren’t far behind. It’s currently the fastest-growing tourism sector, with existing revenues of $288m in 2021 and a projected value of $2bn by 2030.
In South Africa, adventure tourism ticks all the boxes: it’s high value; it appeals to younger travellers who are currently driving the tourism resurgence; it has huge development potential in rural and under-developed areas; it promotes environmental and developmental sustainability; it has already created 25 000 jobs; and is worth R4billion (€228mn)to our GDP.
When one considers what other successful adventure tourism destinations do to capitalise on their adventure travel value proposition, South Africans probably don’t even realise just how suitable our country is for adventure tourism.
We have the climate for year-round activities, we have some of the most striking and unusual attractions, and we can combine this with extraordinary biological and cultural diversity.
Safety standards are key
Driving adventure tourism forward in South Africa, SATSA (the voice of inbound tourism) has embarked on a strategy to formalise and promote what South Africa has to offer.
One of the things holding us back from pulling out all the stops on marketing adventure tourism in South Africa is the lack of a recognised regulatory framework. Other countries have either developed their own or are making use of national or international standards.
The worst thing that could befall our incipient adventure tourism industry is a headline-grabbing disaster due to lax safety standards, neglect or apathy. If this happened, the government would feel obliged to step in with regulations, so SATSA is working to pre-empt this and working with the adventure tourism community to establish self-regulation guidelines.
SATSA’s Adventure Chapter is working with stakeholders across the country to define and publicise the high standard of quality and safety to create a benchmark for the entire industry. We have operators amongst us who are world class, but we need to ensure this standard is adopted throughout each activity. SATSA is encouraging all adventure operators in the country, even non-SATSA members, to get involved.
Adventure tourism is defined as any kind of activity that includes an accepted, inherent and managed element of risk and challenge. Activities often take place outdoors, sometimes in remote environments and usually involve participants being taken out of their comfort zone, physically, mentally and/or culturally.
It generally requires specific equipment or guidance, ranging from something as simple as hiking boots or hard hats to more complex things like safety harnesses or flotation devices. If you have any kind of tourism product that fits this profile, SATSA is looking for you.
Destination South Africa cannot take any chances when it comes to our reputation for safety. If we are positioning South Africa as an appealing adventure tourism destination, we need to step up.
Western Cape leads the pack
And step up the Western Cape is. Wesgro and DEDAT Western Cape Department of Economic Development and Tourism are already dabbling in this lucrative market segment.
The Western Cape’s Tourism Blueprint 2030 outlines the exceptional adventure tourism value proposition in its regions, from the Overberg to the Garden Route, Cederberg Wilderness Area and beyond. Developing adventure tourism in the province is a key theme in its strategy, including the co-ordination of adventure tourism products, establishment of new experiences and upgrading of adventure tourism infrastructure.
South Africa’s traditional European and US source markets hold the largest share of tourists enjoying South Africa’s adventure activities, according to a Wesgro report, with Germany leading the charge (15.1%), closely followed by the US (13.8%), United Kingdom (12.6%), the Netherlands (7.1%) and France (5.9%).
Adventure tourism was the second overall most enjoyed activity for European tourists to South Africa in 2021, just after wildlife viewing. And the Western Cape enjoys the lion’s share of adventure tourism consumption by tourists visiting South Africa.
The potential market is huge. The Western Cape, and indeed South Africa, is an adventure-tourism phenomenon waiting to happen, and SATSA is committed to driving it forward through such campaigns as Free To Be South Africa which highlights the 101 adventure experiences on offer in South Africa.