Kane M and Tucker H (2004) 'Adventure tourism. The freedom to play with reality', in Tourist Studies, 4 (3): 217 - 34.
[This is a study of people on an adventure tourism package to do 'heli-kayaking' in New Zealand. This involves kayaking on a number of remote rivers which had recently been publicized by elite kayakers -- you get taken in by helicopter. The whole package included less elite activities, although rivers were also pretty low even in the elite spots.]
Adventure experiences can be best understood by seeing what the participants make them, in particular, how they manage the paradoxes of packaged adventure tourism. The usual literature on adventure tourism stresses risk and its management, but there are other pleasures. The emphasis on risk tended to come from adventure recreation in the first place.
Adventure tourism grew as the risk and uncertainty of actual travel became minimised. Commercialization also led the distinction between tourist and traveller. There was an early interest in travel in the footsteps of actual explorers and heroes. Adventures finally came to be offered at the end of routine travel, where it became inevitably a matter of managing risk -- '"shocks come in a package deal with safety" [quoting Bauman]' (219). Early research on tourism tended to focus on matters such as authenticity, or tourism as a search for some special experience -- the 'quest for the sacred, the other centre, meanings, values, romantic gaze, pre-commodity whole or serendipity' (219). Adventure recreation, on the other hand introduced the pleasures in risk and danger.
Adventure tourism however offers other pleasures -- 'problem-solving, testing skills, meaningful social interaction, stress management, fun, exhilaration, excitement and accomplishment' (220). Risk-taking as such may be less central for participants, although it remains prominent in the literature.
Other pleasures have been suggested for 'active outdoors (wilderness) activity' in particular (220). Some have been suggested by early work on the romantic and transcendental nature of travel in a natural environment, delivering insight or enlightenment, and allowing 'people to discover themselves, to learn what is real and truly important' (221). There are close links with the notion of authenticity [including a founding contrast with the evils of industrial civilisation].
Generally though, there is a need to study the participants' experience [and a number of useful looking studies in a variety of sports are cited page 221]. This study draws from those the notion that experience goes through a number of stages, and that participants' stories are directed both at other participants and also outsiders.
[The demographics of the participants and other details are provided 222 - 223] their experience was to be studied 'in anticipation, in live action and, subsequently, in descriptive images and word stories' (223). These understandings a dynamic and subject to change, so are the researchers'. Given these elements, 'The value of this article... is in the domain of the readers' (223). The researchers did participant observation, unstructured conversations, and more structured individual interviews. Kane in particular was already an expert kayaker instructor and guide. Although interpretations were recorded at the time, much of the analysis took place afterwards... 'it was an art of choice, like finding meanings in poetry, where meanings were both found and discarded' (224). [There are some direct quotes from the participants, which we are meant to see as particularly authoritative].
It is possible to describe the experience of the participants in terms of 'anticipation, pinnacle experience and post pinnacle reflection' (224). In the first stage, some identity formation took place within the group, based on 'Discussion in comparison to known home environments, the kayaking lore from videos and magazines and previous trip experiences' (225). There was no concern with status outside of kayaking. Belonging as a kayaker was indicated by the display of equipment, stories of past experience, references to famous kayakers, and eventually performance on the rivers. These included 'unique pre-kayaking routes [sic], such as greeting the rivers, or warm ups and gear checks and... joking banter on individuals' skills, performance' (226).
The two days kayaking in remote areas were seen as the pinnacle experience. This help the participants distinguish themselves as adventurers, different from mere adventure tourists, and different from ordinary kayakers. Common terms to evaluate the experience included reference to 'newness, unknown, challenge, of risk, participation, success, excitement, fun and play' (227). In fact, this was also the most heavily guided part of the tour as well. Some participants saw it as being too tame, but saw regulation and safety as necessary in commercial tourism. It was common for participants to see such regulation as providing rather than moderating adventure, however (227), providing all the necessary equipment and organization to deliver the experience. Kayaking in particular was seen as involving personal control and choice, compared to activities such as bungee jumping. Kayaking in the remote areas was contrasted with kayaking at home.
After the pinnacle experience, participants were able to 'contrast and reflect an adventure difference' (228). They rejected the label 'adventure tourist' for themselves and emphasized the differences as above. This was a high status destination, enabling a distinction from ordinary kayaking, stressed especially by the less experienced [although the rivers themselves were not actually that challenging]. Stories were also prepared for non-kayakers -- those of 'the "traveller", providing images of experiencing uncertainty, danger and risk' (229). In both cases, elements of the package tour were downplayed, focusing on kayaking and the pinnacle experience, and 'constructed around a narrative of adventure' (229).
The main themes in these changing stories were 'play, freedom and reality' (230). Kayaking and adventure is seen as play for adults, play within the rules of the game of tourism, which itself expects participants to have fun and enjoy adventure. The contradictions of package adventure tourism simply permits participants to play different roles, and to emphasis preferred ones in stories told afterwards. Thus participants were 'discounting the package nature of the to experience, the controlled routine and limiting social interaction... [and]... emphasizing the participation, challenge and control of kayaking' (230). These experiences differentiated themselves from normal kayakers and from other adventure tourists. Participants were fully aware of their freedom to reinterpret their activity in the game of tourism, and this is how they interpreted the contradictory experience. The authors insist that these are still real experiences, and that that 'The audience of the storied images will authorize and authenticate the reality of the participants' tour experience' (231).
Overall, packaged adventure tours still permit people to appear to be adventurous and safe at the same time. Experiences complex enough to enable an number of constructions be placed upon it as stories of experience. This freedom to play with reality is the main attraction.
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