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"CLOSE TO THE EDGE”- CRITICAL ISSUES FOR ADVENTURE TOURISM OPERATORS IN BALI

Posted by Andrew Stuart on

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"CLOSE TO THE EDGE" - CRITICAL ISSUES FOR ADVENTURE TOURISM OPERATORS IN BALI

In recent years, there has been explosive growth in adventure tourism, with large numbers of consumers seeking novel, challenging and exciting adventure experiences while on holiday in Bali.  Specialized adventure tour operators (and some not-so-specialized) have emerged to cater for this demand, with a diverse range of commercialized activities now available.

Adventure tourism demand is predicted to grow at around 15 – 20% per year (Bali Post), and as demand grows, adventure tour companies are urging consumers to go higher, harder, stronger and longer to gain the “ultimate” experience.  Unfortunately, despite this growing demand, symbiotically there are large numbers of 'new' companies joining the adventure industry in Bali, especially white water rafting, and this is putting more pressure on existing operators, natural resources, and even 'space' on the rivers.

As a result, competitive market pressures are forcing adventure tourism operators to cut corners in order to remain financially viable, and issues such as sustainability of natural resources come to the fore.  It is our contention, as you will see in the numerous following posts, that many adventure tour companies in Bali are operating “close to the edge” in terms of their operating practices, indicating a short-term perspective for their own industry.

Balinese adventure tour operators need to address the critical issues of: protecting the natural environment; protecting tourists from potential risks; and protecting long-term market share through better understanding of their adventure customers' needs and wants.  If these adventure tourism operators address these issues now, it will help to provide a long-term and sustainable future for this sector of the tourism industry. 

PLAYING WITH RISK? PERCEPTIONS OF RISK & MANAGEMENT IMPLICATIONS OF THE RAFTING TOURISM INDUSTRY IN BALI

Adventure-based tourism is a rapidly expanding market segment within Bali. It is suggested that adventure tourism and its related expenditure contribute multi-billions of dollars annually to the Balinese economy alone. However, recent high-profile tragedies in Bali adventure tourism might suggest that participation certainly does not come without its RISKS.

Existing research and world-wide literature would suggest that the pursuit of these risks is a central attraction of these outdoor adventure activities. However, drawing on research conducted in the self-styled ‘Adventure Capital of the World’ (Queenstown in New Zealand), researchers suggests that this is a simplistic view of the adventurous travellers motivation for participant.

The research shows that rather than demanding actual risks, participants engaging in commercial adventurous activities like white water rafting, primarily seek fear and thrills. The most successful adventure tourism operators are those that have reduced their actual risk levels whilst effectively commodifying the thrills within.

Whilst at the same time, safe-guarding their patrons with the highest quality of risk management practices and also highly trained staff in group management techniques. This is a company that is going to be operating successfully in Bali for the long-term, which has their patrons as the highest priority, and NOT like many of the others that just seem to be so focused on the money-making side of 'en-mass' tourism.

On the face of it, the rapid growth of the Balinese adventure tourism industry over the last two decades seemingly counters the development of the 'safe' provision of rafting activities; this is because adventure tourism satisfies a tourist’s desire to engage in risk-taking behaviors. But do tourists really wish to face a real and likely possibility of injury occurring to them? No, of course not, and so they shouldn't EXPECT to drown on a white water river whilst on holiday in Bali, nobody would.

We argue that most adventure tourists seek simultaneously 'safe-guarded' and yet exciting experiences. However, holiday makers do want to engage Bali adventure tourism operators who WILL provide them with suitable adventurous experiences by managing the range of inherent hazards and risks involved to an ACCEPTABLE and manageable level that is fun and engaging, and NOT life threatening.

Thus the responsibility of the Balinese commercial rafting operator to minimise the opportunity for loss to as-low-a-level as possible, is not only an ethical one, but also ensures long-term business sustainability for the long haul. Sadly, within Bali, this does NOT seem to be the case. For there have been numerous drownings on the Ayung River over the past few years, and sadly these deaths seems to keep occurring each and every year!

For arguments sake, where a Balinese rafting company CANNOT even determine whether or not a participant can actually 'swim', let alone survive a capsize on a white water system like the Ayung River, then sadly these unnecessary drownings will continue to rapidly rise, to a grossly unacceptable level, mainly due to poor risk management practices by these rafting activity service providers.  And yet, once-again, to reiterate the point - these Bali rafting drownings keep occurring each and very year! Why is that so? Food for thought?

As a final point, it is our hope that each of these blogs 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. 


About the Author:  Andrew has actively been involved in the youth development & outdoor adventure industries over the past 38 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, the Outdoor Adventure Network, Outdoor Gear Australia 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 to read more of our articles about ongoing safety and risk management issues sadly lacking on the island of Bali?  Check out more at the bottom of our blog page HERE.