The global adventure tourism industry was said to be worth almost $496 million in 2021. Here in South Africa, which is brimming with a bounty of adrenalin-fuelled adventures, the numbers are also encouraging.
In 2014, according to SATSA’s Dirty Boots South African Adventure Industry Survey,
11 million people participated in adventure activities in South Africa, and the industry supported 25 000 jobs, with 56% being full-time employees. A total of R4.6 billion (€272.7m) in revenue was generated through these activities, which equals a direct contribution of 4% to the total tourism and travel contribution to GDP.
Adventure tourism has huge growth potential. Not many would argue about that. Where things do get a bit hair-raising, however, is when it comes to regulation.
South Africa does not have an officially recognised regulation system for adventure tourism, although there are individually set best practices and guidelines. Self-regulation for adventure tourism has been a hot topic for many years – and it is a mammoth and controversial undertaking.
Call me biased, but we shouldn’t take any chances when it comes to reputational risk management. For economic return and tourist safety, and to position South Africa as a safe and appealing adventure tourism destination, I believe that self-regulation is vital, as proven by various case studies globally.
From 2012, mountain loads of discussions, meetings and proposals have been held by various stakeholders, including the Department of Tourism, SATSA, South African Tourism and the Tourism Grading Council. In October 2019, SATSA submitted a business plan for review at the Collaborative Fund meeting of which feedback is still pending.
So, why self-regulation?
Safety is key to create demand and opportunity. In order to competitively market with other adventure destinations globally (that are regulated), self-regulation will provide DMOs and the private sector with a degree of confidence and safety that can be marketed locally, regionally and internationally. The ripple effect of such marketing will drive demand, awareness, the creation of new product and job creation. For South Africa’s underdeveloped or rural areas that have huge potential for attracting adventure travellers, the transformational and skills development aspect cannot be underestimated. Without the message that “our adventure products are regulated and there is an industry standard,” it’s difficult to sell with confidence.
SATSA reported that most countries were either setting statutory regulations or making use of national or international standards. They include Britain, India, Kenya, Malaysia, and Brazil, as well as big adventure tourism players such as New Zealand.
Study after study shows that adventure tourism is worth prioritising.
So, what’s the way forward? Although SATSA has not been able to find a funding partner yet, despite many attempts, it has decided to take control of what it can by taking the first small steps. Tourism businesses, now is your chance to be a part of the adventure!
Join the SATSA chapter
To join SATSA’s adventure chapter, receive information on industry matters and contribute to positioning South Africa where it should be in the world of adventure, SATSA has made available a free-of-charge registration for any adventure-related business in South Africa. Click here for more information.
SATIB and SATSA hosted an Adventure Tourism webinar on Wednesday, June 22. Focussed on why regulation is important, the ins and outs of SATSA’s Adventure Chapter, and the pros and cons of regulations vs standards, it's a 'must-watch' for adventure operators.
If you missed the webinar, you can watch the recording here.
It takes one small step after another to conquer the mountain – and adventure tourism is one worth conquering.