What is extreme tourism?
Extreme environment tourism involves dangerous landscapes often with a difficult climate, and remote places that are sparsely settled or not occupied at all. Increasing numbers of tourists are attracted to extreme environments where they can take part in adventurous activities such as rock climbing, paragliding and white-water rafting.
Extreme environments are spread across the globe and cover a wide range of locations including mountains, deserts, rainforests, caves and ice covered terrain. Adventure activities involve an element of risk and people often chose such a trip for the adrenaline rush. Examples include ice-diving in the White Sea, north Russia, with almost freezing temperatures, and travelling across the Chernobyl Zone of Alienation in Ukraine, the area devastated by nuclear contamination in 1986. In Jamaica such activities include climbing waterfalls and cliff-diving. Adventure tourism is one of the fastest-growing types of tourism in the world.
The target market
Adventure tourists look for physical challenges and risk. They are often around 30 years old, unmarried and without children, have high-powered jobs and a god income – these trips are expensive. Groups are small and distances great. However, there are enough wealthy individuals with a taste for something completely different to allow this sector to grow. It will never be large but in some areas it is increasing in significance. Most companies advertise on the internet rather than by brochure.
Little investment is needed to set up such trips. The usual costly expenses of building hotels and roads are irrelevant. Part of the experience is to sleep ‘rough’ and travel over untouched landscapes. This tourism sector is growing rapidly in Peru, Chile, Argentina, Azerbaijan and Pakistan. Northern Pakistan is one of the most mountainous and difficult landscapes in the world and even its risky political situation as the base of Al Qaeda terrorists adds a thrill for some.
Small-scale tourism began in Antarctica in the 1950s when commercial
shipping began to take a few passengers. The first specially designed cruise
ship made its first voyage in 1969. Some 9,000 tourists in 1992-93 have now
grown to 37,000 in 2006-7 and to 46,000 in 2007-8. This is thousands more than
the scientific workers and their support staff who are there temporarily for
research purposes. Over 100 tourist companies are involved. In 2006, 38.9% of
visitors were American, 15.4% British, 10.3% German and 8.4% Australian.
Tourists from the northern hemisphere usually fly to New Zealand or Argentina,
taking their cruise ship onwards for one or two weeks. Smaller boats take them
ashore at key locations for short visits, mainly to the peninsula or nearby
Small boat cruising
The environmental impact of an individual tourist is much greater than that of a
researcher. Landing sites are chosen for a special feature, so they quickly
become honeypots. More than 99% of Antarctica is covered with ice, so little is
left for tourist activity. Few visitors go on the ice.
Tourists only spend a short time ashore, but the impacts do not always reflect this. They want to visit the most picturesque and wildlife-rich areas. The impact is uneven but in places too great. Animals, especially penguins and seals, are disturbed by
more than a few people. Not used to humans, they do not like to be touched. If
they leave as a result, they may abandon eggs and young.
There have been accidents when ships have struck uncharted rocks or ice floes.
The great majority of shipping in Antarctic waters is tourist-based. Oil spills
are becoming an increasing hazard for wildlife. Tourist ships must discharge all
waste materials well away from the shore of Antarctica.
All tour operators are members of IAATO, which directs tourism to be safe and
environmentally friendly. Around 100 companies are involved. In line with the
Antarctic Treaty, tourism is an acceptable activity in Antarctica – it is the
scale that has to be controlled. Visitors are not allowed to visit Sites of
Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs) in order to conserve precious wildlife and
landscapes. Bird Island on South Georgia is one example.
Although tourist numbers have increased rapidly in Antarctica, protection remains a
priority. A permit must be gained for any activities on the continent. No ship
carrying over 500 passengers can land in Antarctica. Never the less, there is
concern that larger ships will eventually be allowed to land and that the volume
of tourists will be beyond sustainable limits.