Motivating factors for Adventure Tourism

People are motivated to undertake adventure tourism activities for different reasons.  Some may enjoy the anticipation of an unknown or uncertain outcome.  This could be undertaking something new and unfamiliar or the presence of a perceived danger in the activity.  This element of risk involved in an activity might be relished by some and feared by others.

There needs to be a degree of challenge in an activity for it to be considered adventurous.  A challenging event might have an element of danger, unknown outcomes and degree of difficulty.  This will attract different participants to the activity based on their expectations and willingness to cope with challengers.

There also needs to be a perceived reward on completion of the activity. This is usually the sense of meeting a challenge and pushing themselves beyond their usual comfort zone. This is referred to as an intrinsic reward, as it comes from within. There may also be extrinsic awards such as a trophy.  An example, would be gaining a place in a white-water kayaking race.

A sense of escapism is also important for an activity to be considered adventurous. This is why most adventure tourism operations occur in natural areas.  In this way people can feel that they are really escaping from their normal lives. A person might experience heightened senses, an Adrenalin rush or a sense of calm following the experience.  Again, it is important to remember that adventure can mean different things to different people.  Sailing a boat around the Greek Islands may seem adventurous to some but not to others. 

Adventure Activities

Activities associated with adventure can be categorized into the following:

  • Physical – eg. hiking, mountain-biking and hang gliding
  • Nature-based – eg. bushwalking, birdwatching
  • Cultural – eg. pilgrimages
  • Travel/Exploration – eg. long-distance sailing, Silk Road treks.

These activities form niche markets within the tourism industry based on the activity undertaken and their setting.   They can vary in their “adventure” rating.  Guided garden tours would be considered not to be very adventurous, whereas camping in the Andes would be considered extremely adventurous.

Limitations and Risks

Most adventure tourism takes place outdoors in natural settings, such as rivers, oceans, cliffs, forests, snowfields and caves. Being outdoors heightens the sense the tourist is ‘getting away from it all’. Natural attractions provide the perfect venue for many adventure activities – the cliff, river or other natural feature – has an inherent element of adventure. Moreover the attraction is ‘free’ (i.e. the tourist operator does not have to pay to create the attraction).

The remote location of many adventure tourist destinations can present problems:

  • Facilities are more costly to develop and maintain.
  • Staffing can be a problem, as staff often do not wish to live a long way from schools, shops, social opportunities etc.
  • There may be limited transport services and access roads to the facility.
  • Supporting facilities such as medical services, shops etc. are usually limited.
  • Land use restrictions are likely to be more stringent than those in developed areas, which means visitor numbers, tourist activities, and building development will be subject to tight planning regulations.

Many wilderness areas are in environments that experience climatic extremes (eg. monsoons or cyclones, heavy winter snows, extreme summer heat), which means that visitor numbers fluctuate dramatically through the year. In some areas, operations close during the ‘off’ season.


While travel insurance is important for all travellers, for those purposely travelling for adventure, it is extra important to obtain specialist travel insurance. The risk of being injured especially in a remote and/or third world location is very real.  Failure to obtain insurance could be life threatening.  There are many companies that offer specialised travel insurance such as World Nomads.  If travelling on a tour, it may be possible to organise group insurance.

Soft and hard adventurers

Soft adventurers usually take part in activities with a perceived risk but low levels of risk requiring very few skills. The experiences they enjoy usually necessitate no previous experience and are relatively safe. Examples include; bird watching or an organised hiking tour. Participants may feel a need to escape from the routine of city life and wish to discover excitement in a controlled environment.

Hard adventure tourism

The original hard adventure tourists can be thought of as the original mountaineers such as Sir Edmund Hillary.  As opposed to soft adventurers hard adventurers enjoy activities with high levels of risk requiring more advance skills. These adventurers seek the adrenaline rush from taking risks, challenging themselves and exposing themselves to an element of danger. Examples include; mountaineering, canyoning, sky-diving, or going to remote places.

Soft adventure tourism

Soft adventure activities appeal to a larger proportion of people than those considered hard adventure. Becoming a hard adventurer requires a lot of experience and nerve. Individuals with high levels of drive and stamina, emotional stability and low levels of anxiety are more likely to engage in extreme adventure activities.  Soft adventure tourists are more likely to be motivated by educational experiences such as natural history tours, wildlife expeditions and cultural tours.

In Germany, bicycle tourism was adopted as a form of soft tourism.  This became popular in most European Alpine regions.  This type of tourism appealed to those who appreciate the environmental and cultural aspects of their experience. These tours are usually led by a guide.

Risk taking

It is fair to suggest that risk is a powerful motivator for adventurers. People often associate risk as a hazardous component of adventure. However, it is also associated with positive outcomes. Someone may go on a trek in Australia desert region which involves a number of risks such a getting bitten by a snake or facing dehydration due to the heat. At the end of the trek the person may feel a sense of achievement having survived this dangerous trip. This is a positive outcome.

The ways in which people view risks is dependent on the level of experience they have as well as the type of activity they are taking part in. For example, people with experience in mountain climbing activities perceived the risk as challenge and not a danger. Sometimes who is a novice may experience an uncomfortable fear at the risk perceived. Once this person builds on their experience in this type of adventure they will view the risk as a more positive risk.

It is important that even with hard adventure tourists that a person’s perception of risk is not exceeded during the activity.  If this occurs it will lead to negative feelings towards the activity and a resultant disenchantment with the activity.

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