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ADVENTURE TOURISM ACTIVITIES IN BALI: PERCEPTIONS & MANAGEMENT OF CLIENT RISK

Posted by Andrew Stuart on

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ADVENTURE TOURISM ACTIVITIES IN BALI: PERCEPTIONS & MANAGEMENT OF CLIENT RISK

(Part 1):  EXAMINING ADVENTURE TOURISM IN BALI
"The Balinese Tourism Board indicates that a large proportion of visitors to Bali are seeking adventurous activities typically found in its natural eco-based environments. This demand has resulted in tourism operators providing an increasing range of environment-based adventure tourism activities such as white water rafting, mountain bike riding, tubing and numerous other outdoor pursuits.” (BaliPost).

For many participants, negotiating risk is an attractive feature of structured adventure tourism activities. However, a failure to control the risks involved, will potentially cause harm both to participants directly involved and to the reputation of the activity's operator.

In examining adventure tourism in Bali, particularly rafting, we have critically reviewed how operators assess those risks involved and also how they manage those safety concerns, particularly those that have recently proven ‘life-threatening’.

We also try to explain ‘why’ holidaying customers accept those risks, sometimes without even being fully informed or even aware of the potential risks involved. Following this, a model of ‘safety & risk management' of adventure based rafting activities and the interactions between their perception of fear of potential hazards and control will be developed.

This model will then be integrated into a framework that depicts the deficiencies in the adventure tourism rafting industry training process. Based on this framework, a number of weaknesses in the rafting safety and risk management will be highlighted, together with suggested improvements and a process for industry standardization will be outlined and offered to the Balinese Rafting Forum Industry.

ADVENTURE-BASED TOURISM, TOURISTS' EXPERIENCES & RAFTING ACCIDENTS IN BALI
The Balinese tourism industry acts as a vehicle used by International tourists to manage the risks related to unfamiliar environments. In providing the opportunity for a positive adventure tourism experience, the tourism operator supplies both equipment and access to sites not readily found by those unfamiliar with the area, for example the Ayung River gorge system in Bali.

In addition to this, we examine ‘effective’ and also ‘misleading’ advertising and marketing literature and information from other sources that creates expectations in tourists' mind of a positive adventure experience, where operators claim to manage safety at an appropriate and acceptable level – however, sadly many do not.

The possibility exists, however, for tourists to have negative experiences during adventure activities. The causes of these negative experiences could be, for example, narrow escapes, mishaps or unforeseen accidents and in some cases even death.

Apart from the direct physical and psychological effects that these incidents can have on tourists, damaged reputations of individual operators could produce adverse consequences for the wider adventure tourism industry. These consequences may be further amplified through sensationalist reporting of accidents in the international media.

The potential for accidents is not surprising given that novice participants with minimal skills and experiences in some tourism activities are often subject to conditions of high adventure. Compounding this, inadequate advice or education on the risks involved in the activity can increase the likelihood of accidents, narrow escapes and mishaps for adventure tourists.

Deficiencies in advice, education and training could be caused in part through a failure of the company’s management, instructors, or river guides, to judge accurately the participants' perceptions and expectations in an adventure rafting activity. For example, it seems that there has never been a National investigation into white-water rafting accidents, whilst our own observations over several years, has led to numerous reported drownings of international tourists whilst on holidays on the popular island of Bali - particularly from Australia, China, India & the UK.

Surprisingly, researchers within the Balinese tourism industry have neglected tourist accidents, their causes and their effects. In an exploratory analysis of tourist rafting accidents in Bali, it could almost be said that, "relating risk taking behaviour to actual accidents remains largely unexplained, since many existing assessments of tourist accidents remain based on qualitative assessments and observations of common occurrences rather than quantitative evaluations of each specific situation".

Upon our own analysis of available rafting accident data or news posts in Bali, it could be argued that "to find the most appropriate weak point in the tourist experience is to “educate & advise tourists of ALL the risks” still remains to be determined, nor is it carried out very well".

Our goal has always been to provide a greater understanding of ALL participants' adventure tourism rafting experiences, not just the positive ones, and the related components that influence those individuals that also encountered a ‘negative’ rafting adventure experience. An associated aim is also to examine potential causes of unforeseen accidents and mishaps.

To achieve these aims, relevant research and concepts were reviewed, particularly on TripAdvisor’s customer reviews, and to determine how operators assess the risks inherent in various adventure tourism activities and why adventure tourists seek out these risks whilst on holiday in Bali.

Our ongoing discussions with several Balinese white water rafting tour operators, also considers how adventure tourists perceive risks. Following this, a framework of safety and risk management in the adventure tourism activity will be developed and then these findings will be integrated into a framework depicting the adventure tourism risk management process.

Once this framework is developed together with the Balinese Rafting Forum, it will be offered to the Balinese operators to then be analysed in relation to situations and circumstances that can potentially lead to replacing ‘negative’ experiences with safer ones.

Further support will then be offered in developing a more complex risk management system and optional training processes, with the on-flowing potential of better outcomes for both rafting operators and participants in adventure tourism activities in Bali.

(Part 2):  ADVENTURE TOURISM & AN ON-GOING ‘CULTURE’ OF SAFETY
The Balinese adventure tourism industry offers the International tourist a unique experience, often in an environment with very real hazards. These hazards can lead to severe accidents and even the possibility of death. Accidents in adventure tourism can have legal ramifications in a number of ways, often involving numerous associated companies and businesses, let alone the family members of the deceased.

For example, the several drowning victims of recent rafting accidents on the Ayung River over several years, all impacts drastically not only on the rafting company directly involved, but also the river guide & his family, the local villagers, the local district village council, the resort staff where the deceased was staying, the emergency services staff who provided the incident response, and of course not to mention the local Balinese Police who attended – just to name a few, are all deeply affected both emotionally and psychologically. Not to mention the stress of the impact on the reputation of the Balinese rafting industry as a whole.

The blame attributed to tourist accidents will depend on specific situations. In our own research and experience, and the study of Balinese rafting activities, we were surprised to have found that regularly those rafting accidents are often attributed as, “all part of the risk of the rafting experience”. Whilst accidents do occur in the white water rafting activities, we have noticed that on several occasions, some rafting companies have even laid blame on the customers themselves.

They tend to focus on the individual involved, either "for not taking appropriate care in their activities", or even in a couple of other cases, the deceased was either blamed for “being overweight, unfit, or even obese” or otherwise “having consumed much alcohol prior to commencing the rafting activity”. What we found interesting, was there never seemed to be a mention of whether-or-not the deceased victim could actually swim, or not!

This general view of Balinese culture and those individual participants’ themselves, counteracts the desire for regulations and restrictions in these activities and shifts the safety emphasis to education and training at the individual level. However, as demonstrated by accident reports, the role of the adventure tourism operator may be implicated in, or be a contributing factor to an accident or mishap.

For example, the rafting operator may carry some liability for an accident where, as previously mentioned, tourists may have had inadequate guidance or training on the risks involved in the activity, let alone adequate ‘screening’ as a suitable participant in the first place. We heard a participant on our raft express the words, “I can’t swim”, while participating in a white water rafting activity, where there was a very real risk of capsizing, getting stuck under a raft, and potentially drowning.

Research into the causes of tourist accidents in Balinese adventure tourism is limited. However, the literature suggests that many tourist accidents are the result of the unfamiliar nature of the activities undertaken.

This often leads to accident rates at higher levels than compared to the rest of the world. Reports of Balinese rafting accidents involving tourists by the Balinese newspapers and the Bali Tourism Authority Board, have demonstrated that both participants' inaccurate perceptions of the risks involved and errors of judgement made by the employees (or river guides) of rafting operators, are all a potential cause of accidental misadventure, or worse – death by drowning.

These accident reports suggest that a greater understanding of adventure tourists' perceptions, and how adventure tourism operators' influence those perceptions, can aid in the improved facilitation of adventure activities for all participants.

Subsequently, a more comprehensive model of safety & risk management is being offered to the Balinese Rafting Forum community with the hope of it being integrated into a training framework designed to provide a representation of the Bali adventure tourism training process from the perspectives of increasing both the safety of river guides and that of ‘all’ rafting participants involved in enjoying a ‘safer’ way of conducting and managing risks involved in rafting operations on Bali rivers.

ROLE OF INSTRUCTORS & RIVER GUIDES IN ADVENTURE TOURISM ACTIVITIES
In defining uncertainty and challenge, the Senior Rafting Instructor (or each River Guide) should explain how to cope with some risks (eg. holding on to your paddle and the raft safety line if you fall out of that raft during a rapid descent). Similarly, it may be necessary for the River Guide to ‘talk up’ other risks involved with white water, to simply raise all participants' levels of arousal and to impart a ‘reality check’ of the actual risks involved with white water rafting and a potential swift water rescue.

Rafting instructors can also manipulate participants' levels of anxiety and fear through withholding information (eg. failing to mention that an oncoming rapid presents no real danger whatsoever), or as in several cases a Bali rafting guide stated that the Ayung River is a “safe” river. Of course, there is no such thing as a ‘safe’ white water river system in the world, let alone in Bali.

To manipulate successfully participants' levels of arousal, instructors require the ability to judge participants' perceptions of control and fear. A rafting instructor, for example, might plan the level of actual risk to which a participant should be subjected. This planned risk exposure can depend upon factors including participants' ages, cultures, previous comments or even their behaviours.

Presumably, this level of risk exposure will provide the appropriate experience of risk (eg. low risk exposure for an elderly Chinese tourist who can’t swim very well, or a high-risk exposure for a group of young netball players from Australia who can all swim exceptionally well). The rafting instructor's ability to judge participants' perceptions of the adventure is significant given that adventure tourists are likely to have widely varying backgrounds, skills, fitness levels and even language abilities.

For example, we were recently involved with a rafting company where the main Senior River Guide gave the initial (very brief) ‘safety briefing’ to the entire HUGE massive group of nearly 150 people in our group, where the vast majority of nervous participants were talking, giggling, and not even listening to this guys very broken English, trying to compete with them, and yet nobody even seemed to care. This both confused us and concerned us, with this ‘style’ of poor group management techniques being used by this particular rafting company – that seemed to be more intent on the en-mass tourism industry, and not necessarily on the quality and the safety of the eco-adventure experience potential.

Where rafting instructors fail to do this, the potential exists for dangerous swift water rescues to be compromised, and also less-than-effective risk management practices to prevail, as has been done over many decades here in Bali.

(Part 3):  THE OPERATORS' RISK ASSESSMENT IN ADVENTURE TOURISM
Adventure tourism is one manifestation of the broader phenomenon of adventure recreation. A number of researchers in the field of outdoor recreation have supported the central role of risk as a determining feature of the adventure recreation experience. Definitions of adventure recreation often mention the deliberate act of seeking risk through participation in an activity set in the natural environment.

The concept of ‘risk’, however, carries a number of alternative meanings. Risk typically refers to the prospect of some kind of loss, or the realization of an unwanted outcome or consequence. The assessment of risk in a given situation requires identifying its nature and circumstances of occurrence, estimating its likelihood and attendant consequences, and evaluating whether it is acceptable or should be controlled. In the evaluation of risk, tourism operators should consider both the views of those able to manipulate and control the risk and the views of those subject to any consequences that arise from it.

Adventure tourism operators would be expected to possess an appropriate level of expertise concerning the nature of risk in the activity and the type of clientele that the activity attracts. Using this information and knowledge, operators can judge whether the risks inherent in the activity are acceptable.

The operator should also consider the perceptions of risk held by the relatively less experienced participants in the adventure tourism activity, as these perceptions will have a determining influence on clients' adventure experiences, and whether or not this is a ‘positive’ outcome or potentially a totally ‘negative’ experience.

CLIENTS' RISK PERCEPTIONS & RISK ACCEPTANCE
The intangible nature of humans seeking out risk recreation activities has often been justified as, "human beings have invented the concept 'risk' to help them understand and cope with the dangers and uncertainties of life". In any case, individuals must make subjective judgements of risk to facilitate appropriate choices of behaviour in any given situation, even though individuals might base these judgements on an objective, cautious, or even a self-managed risk assessment. These subjective judgements of these risks will often consequently be based in-turn, on any individual's own subjective ‘perception’ of those same risks. Individuals will either make a good judgement, or they will not. Both choices will ultimately have various consequences of those choices. We all agree on this part.

However, in high-risk adventure tourism activities, this ‘perception of risk’ is both a cognitive and an emotional response to the environment. A number of factors influence this response including experience in the situation, personality, age, gender and even culture. Researchers in psychology and sociology have made important contributions to the understanding of risk-perceptions as they might apply to risk-recreation activities. For example, individuals often tend to perceive less risk in behaviour that is voluntary, under their own personal control, or even that which is undertaken as part of a group. Adventure tourists typically will undertake activities voluntarily and as part of a group. The level of a participant's personal control in the activity, however, will vary between individuals and activities.

If an individual's perceptions of the risk in a desired adventure tourism activity indicate that it is acceptable, then they will be likely to do the activity. If these perceptions of risk are flawed or biased or if critical information is absent, then the individual may encounter risks in the activity that were unexpected. Where the individual is unprepared for this unexpected risk, the result could be a negative psychological experience caused by mishap-induced fear or embarrassment, or an accident resulting in physical injury. In structured adventure tourism activities, the avoidance of these situations rests with the activity's structure and the interaction between this design and the responsibilities of instructors and guides.

In planning the structure, the operator will be mindful that adventure tourists are often drawn to activities that involve risk, excitement, fun and challenging adventure. The operator is then required to provide the dual aims of adequate safety and an ‘adventurous’ experience appropriate to client needs and desires. The interactions between risk management planning and the expectations of participants, is explored further in the next post.

(Part 4):  IMPLICATIONS FOR FURTHER SAFETY & RISK MANAGEMENT DEVELOPMENT FOR THE BALINESE ADVENTURE TOURISM INDUSTRY

Realistically, structuring adventure tourism activities demands a high level of expertise on the part of both Balinese tour operators and all of their employees. Adventure tourism operators must also possess the ability to assess and manage both the actual risk and also those risks that are ‘perceived’ by their clients. Appropriate safety levels obligates risk management at a margin appropriate to both individual and to group competencies. Now this, surely is a complex decision-making matrix!

Within this safety margin, each tour operator will attempt to meet their clients' desires for fun, excitement, arousal and feelings of achievement. However, variations between individuals, whether influenced through cultural, psychological or other influences, results in the possibility that clients will not have their expectations of ‘adventure’ met. This could be, for example, through a lack of challenge or a challenge that is distressing and dangerous. To facilitate these kinds of client assessment, a number of research areas are suggested below.

Now here’s a couple of potential PhD’s for some aspiring academics or students. Further research could investigate how adventure tourists actually ‘perceive’ risk. For example, do some participants perceive their own vulnerability to risk differently to other participants (eg. through holding higher competencies and feelings of control?). Do others put relatively more faith in a tour company's adherence to safety standards? How do social, cultural or psychological characteristics influence subjective appraisals of the dangers in the activity?

As previously mentioned, some potential reasons for individual differences in risk perception include personality characteristics, levels of personal control and the influences of group dynamics. In affecting risk perceptions, these factors may carry varying weights and work in combination for different individuals. These issues could lend themselves to exploration through qualitative style research. Research findings could then provide an explanatory basis for any gaps between participants and outdoor instructors (or river guides) in adventure tourism activities.

A second area for potential investigation potentially concerns the type and level of interaction between outdoor instructors and participants necessary to provide an accurate assessment of clients' adventure perceptions and expectations. Specifically, questions could examine how cues given by instructors (eg. verbal persuasion versus modelling) influence participants' expectations, feelings of control and the conditions of their chosen adventure. Research using a quasi-experimental approach with challenge conditions as the dependant variable under a range of different treatments would be appropriate. The answers provided to these questions could well determine which cues can and should be manipulated in order to provide a much superior adventure tourism product.

A third focus of potential future research concerns the preparation of participants for the adventure. To alert participants to the type of challenge that they will face in the adventure, outdoor instructors could provide a wider scope of information at the pre-adventure briefing. Techniques such as videos of previous trips, informal conversations with instructors or placing more emphasis on the importance of safety gear could increase participants' vigilance of the real dangers in the activity. This could result in those participants becoming mindful of requirements for competency needed to control the real risks in the upcoming adventure.

Furthermore, outdoor instructors could emphasise the ability of participants to make their own choices regarding the type and length of participation. If participants have an astute knowledge of the true risks involved and feel that they choose to undergo them freely, then they will be likely to concentrate more and gain intrinsic rewards from feelings of control in the adventure.

Lastly, the use of some form of a standardized safety & risk management framework as a tool for understanding which gaps (if any) are associated with the underlying causes of accidents could provide significant information to the Balinese adventure tourism industry. Where a gap is found to be consistently associated with accident occurrences (eg. participants typically enter an activity with expectations of fear well below that which will be generated through the real physical risks), standard operating procedures could be recommended to facilitate the closure of those gaps.

For example, a stricter medical screening of suitable applicants, determine if can a participant actually swim, appropriate clothing & suitable footwear whilst rafting on a river, clearer pre-activity safety briefing & demonstrations of possible situations (eg. a flipped raft), practice participant rescue scenarios on dry land, and also discuss potential mishaps that ‘could’ occur to participants before the activity.

STANDARDIZATION OF THE BALINESE ADVENTURE TOURISM INDUSTRY - AN ONGOING STRUGGLE OF EGOS
If more Balinese adventure tour operators adopted some form of an industry-developed and widely accepted safety & risk management framework, surely this will aid in the further development of greater safety standards for the Balinese adventure tourism industry as a whole? These standards could be based on objective safety criteria specifying hazards pertaining to particular classes of activities (eg. grade 2–3, or grade 4 rapids).

In many cases, activities could be standardized using existing classification systems that rate the difficulty of specific settings (eg. grading of difficulty for participants using the low, medium, high, challenging or extreme levels from one through to six). To gain employment at each standard, outdoor instructors or river guides could be required to achieve various accreditation at specific levels of competencies in both ‘hard skills’ (technical) and ‘soft skills’ (people & group management) and perhaps even better still – in specific locations or settings (eg. for a specific river system).

International tourists would become aware of this system and be provided with information regarding classification of individual activities. Activities could be structured to convey specific information to participants, this being dependent on the advertised difficulty level rating. Similar to the instructors, participants could also be provided with basic 'certificates of achievement' which would allow them to progress through activities with increasing levels of difficulty. In effect, the adopted system could determine entry standards at each level of various adventures for operators, instructors and also participants.

Such a system could be useful as a marketing strategy (particularly regarding safety assurances) and through this strategy increase participation rates (as tourists aim to match increasingly higher self-efficacy levels and higher adventure attainments). The system could also signal to participants’ pursuing ongoing or progressive “what’s next” adventure activities, thus potentially providing a much safer and a more optimal match of the supply & demand of progressive and challenging options within the Balinese adventure tourism industry.

It is envisaged that this system could work as an Industry-driven (voluntary) regulatory code that could be adopted by all adventure operators (with benefits). If carefully marketed, the system could also act as a barrier to entry for this standardised system to non-associated operators. For example, those dodgy Bali rafting operators who have neither appropriate levels of safety & risk management practices, nor adequate employee expertise, nor even appropriate staff health & welfare safety standards, let alone their participants’ safety uppermost in mind.

As a final point, it is our hope that each of these posts (Parts 1 – 4) will stimulate further thinking and research into all the aspects of the fast growing phenomenon of the Balinese adventure tourism industry, particularly white water rafting, not only in Bali, but elsewhere throughout the whole Indonesian region. Greater understanding of this vitally important safety component of the adventure tourism industry will also benefit International tourists as well as adventure tour operators, with the potential to increase the tourism industry's potential for success, as well as increasing the safety and risk management practices of individual tour operators. Food for thought?

[Adapted from the research work by Damian Morgan*, PhD]
* Damian Morgan is a researcher with the Department of Management, Monash University, Australia.


About the Author: Andrew has actively been involved in the youth development & outdoor adventure industries over the past 37 years. He has been involved in managing several businesses in the adventure tourism industry including: the Western Venture wilderness-experience program, Corporate Adventure Training, Wilderness Ventures, Outdoor Adventure Network, and is also a senior rafting instructor & trainer with the WYLD Camps Project - a wilderness youth leadership development project working with 'at-risk' youth & their families here in Western Australia.

Interested, want more? See more of our posts about ongoing safety & risk management issues sadly lacking on the island of Bali... on our Facebook page blog.