Adventure Tourism Safety – Kiwis Have Their Say

Better safety & regulation in some countries

Yesterday we wrote about the highly critical UK inquest into the death of Emily Jordan, who died river boarding in New Zealand in 2008. We also blogged about Kawarau Jet Boat being fined $35,000 for safety breaches.

There have been many more deaths and serious injuries since Emily died. Has anything changed since then?

The government is introducing new registration and auditing regulations in October but it will be three years before they take full effect. In the meantime is there much of a heightened safety awareness among tourism operators or is it business as usual?

Today we thought we’d look at the attitudes New Zealanders have towards their “Adventure tourism” sports in New Zealand and how that may be influencing the safety culture within the country’s  $4 billion  industry and in the wider community.

A while back the NZ Herald asked the following question of their readers. Remember that many of the fatal  ‘accidents’ in this industry occur because of operator negligence (e.g. forgetting to tie off a bungy rope) not having simple safety equipment (e.g. the correct life jacket, or a rescue rope) errors of judgement, lack of training and poor appreciation of the risks involved.

These are not complicated, or expensive, issues and it doesn’t take much effort to rectify them. Why then is there all the fuss about ‘safety detracting from the experience’

Does wearing a seat belt and checking your tyre pressures make driving any the less enjoyable or more expensive? Why should paying to jump off a bridge, or jet around on a lake, be any less safe. Shouldn’t the paying punter expect the operator to take as much care as is reasonably practicable? Enjoying New Zealand is supposed to be all about you. 100% Pure You, not 100% Pure Profit

Death is the ultimate downer on a good day out.

Does NZ’s adventure tourism industry need more regulation?

Bomux (Auckland City)

“Adventure” is not a word that qualified in most cases where accidents occured. There is no difference between bungy jumping in South Island or going to Rainbow’s End in Auckland.

This is not adventure, this is entertainment. People pay and queue for the big thrill of their life and they are entitled to do so within a safe and highly regulated structure (I would expect). Walking on a glacier or climbing a mountain can be classified as “adventurous” since you cannot control the elements.

But let’s face it, all the fatal accidents that happened this year or the year before are due to human error, lack of preparation from the operators, lack of regulation and compliance to any safety rules, lack of equipment, etc. Adventure is tramping in the jungle knowing that a tiger might eat you alive.

Adventure is not jumping from a bridge knowing that a stupid Kiwi instructor might have forgotten to attach you to the rope. Ingenuity anyone? Apparently not.”

Hamilton Physics (New Zealand)

“No more regualtion is really required. All regulation will do is add expense and drive people away. The reason that they are ‘adventure’ sports is because there is an element of risk involved. You can reduce the risk, but you can not remove it. If you do remove it, then most people won’t want to do it any more.

One sport I am trying to get started in NZ has an industry best practice of a 2% fatality rate. And that is with safety systems in place like you would not believe. 1/3 of all trips have a serious problem. So what? Going to Everest has a 10% fatality rate. If people know the risks and chose to take them and contribute to any search and rescue (by tax or donation), then we should just butt out. It’s their life, not the governments (well not yet anyway.)”

Opinion8d (Waitakere City)
Yes they do. We cannot continue to kill tourists (local or foreign) at the rate we are at the moment. People don’t mind taking a measured risk sometimes, but it has to be measured, not “let’s leap into the void and hope we don’t break our necks”, which appears to be the ‘rule’ that some operators practice their particular brand of ‘adventure tourism’ under.
Logical (Rotorua)

There is definitely no need for legislation. This is “adventure” and those people who chose to undertake these activities are expecting there to be some level of adrenaline rush or excitement and risk. If they are not then they should come on the “lamo tourism” trail.

Regulation should not be necessary. Businesses who offer these services can gain a competitive advantage by voluntarily developing systems that manage the risks and can market themselves on the basis of their reputation.

If we let Government keep on adding in regulations we may as well do away with free enterprise and stop pretending to be a democracy and have a totalitarian state.

Outdoor Freak (Auckland City)
I completely agree with those that mention risk.

There are always risks in the outdoors; some activities have more than others.

However, what does need to change is the lax attitude by some operators towards explaining these risks and ensuring they do everything in their power to minimise them.

I have experienced first hand very poor safety standards with several operators in this country; two separate incidents come to mind where injuries were sustained by the groups I was with due to very poor judgement calls by the guides.

It would be interesting to know how many tourists sustain injuries.I suspect it would be quite high. Probably impossible to quantify however, as most would go unreported.

The adventure tourism industry definitely needs to lift their game and lose the “she’ll be right”, macho approach.

High staff turnover is one of the biggest problems in the sector, so paying staff better wages and attracting professional guides as opposed to those who simply want to play in the outdoors for a season would be far more meaningful than yet more legislation.

What adventure tourism operators need to realise is that other countries also offer these sports and have far lower casualty rates. They have a sound grip on safety and the mitigation of risk and aren’t an expensive 24 hour plane ride away from home. The She’ll Be Right attitude isn’t acceptable overseas.

After all, this is a holiday for many people, not a death wish.

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Jet ski /Jet Boat on the Kawarau River – coroner’s inquest begins. 19 May 2011