Can Adventure Travel Save Communities From Economic Leakage and Industry Consolidation?

Tourism is growing. According to the UNWTO international travel has increased 4% this year and accounts for 10% of the world’s GDP. Adventure Travel has also been rapidly growing, increasing from $89 billion in 2010 to $263 billion in 2013. As history has shown, when an industry grows and becomes mainstream, more people enter wanting a slice of that pie, including large corporations. So the question is; how can adventure tourism maintain its integrity and ethos to the communities it serves, while continuing to expand its reach? In search of the answer, this past October we interviewed four top level tourism operators from South America at the Adventure Travel World Summit, in Alaska, to gain the perspective of what is happening on the ground:

Watch the interview with Camila Barp from Gondwana Brasil:


Sebastian Grisi

Marketing and Sales, Magri Turismo

La Paz, Bolivia

Give a brief overview of your company:

Magri Turismo is a 43-year-old company that has been in the family since its inception. We own Ecolodge La Estancia, which abides by environmental ethics using solar energy, recycled rainwater, composting, passive architecture. Magri Turismo works with “Hormigón Armado” by supporting Technical Training Program Project that aims to support underprivileged shoe shiners and their family members through scholarships for technical skills courses. We set out a personal ethics code that aims to promote the environmental, social, cultural, and ethical development of the company and its stakeholders. Magri Turismo desires to be recognized for its integrity and is currently implementing a project that protects the natural reserves in the amazon region.

Describe the ethos of adventure travel & the ecotourism industry – how does this differ from mainstream travel?

Adventure travelers are much more interested in the places they visit than the mainstream travelers. They want to learn more about the places, local communities and try to be very cautious on the terrain they are travelling. It goes much further than taking “pictures”

As adventure travel & ecotourism become more mainstream, do you see a risk or threat to your adventure travel ethos?

There is probably no way to stop mainstream tourism, but there are many effective ways to protect everything mentioned already. Training in all levels possible is the best way to protect! Trainings from CEOs (in travel agencies, tour operators, hotels) down to guides, drivers, etc. If everyone taking part in tourism, adventure tourism and ecotourism are trained and prepared, they will also pass this wisdom to the end consumers and everyone involved in this activity.

What do industry leaders need to do to continue the adventure travel ethos? What type of methodology would be most effective?

Training, adapting ourselves to global changes, implementing new technologies, be prepared to whatever could happen! Try to integrate more communities to be part of adventure tourism and try to create a “green” mind!


Raffaele Di Biase Cuomo, Head Guide & Director

BirdsChile, Adventure, Birding & Nature Tours

Puerto Varas, Chile


How can communities that rely upon tourism stop economic leakage (money not staying in the community)?

We all go to the communities to speak about how good it could be for them to get into tourism. But we don’t do a follow up. We need to dedicate more time to the communities that we work with. This cannot be only a “sell & buy” relation, this must  go much farther having a strong and durable relation of understanding, growing and partnership where we share with the communities our experience and skills to make their business sustainable and solid. Today with the pressure and competition, many operators are cutting costs and guess who are the first to be affected?

Do you think there are economic impacts on communities and on your business from industry consolidation? Any other positive or negative impacts from this?

We are experiencing so far positive economical impacts. Customers are one step forward and many of them are trying to not be swallowed by the new adventure travel mainstream. They are being more analytical in their decisions and the quest for a real experience. The risk is still very high, but the biodiversity also has a voice, and the communities have a voice – both of which are louder than ever thanks to the spot that adventure travel has gained in the past years.

What do industry leaders need to do to continue the adventure travel ethos? What type of methodology would be most effective?

Leaders of the adventure travel industry must become real activists. We cannot be scared to say that our companies are activists in protection, conservation and regeneration of the cultural and natural identity of our country. We must lead our communities, be involved in their projects, dedicate time to spend with them, be in the field and in the first line supporting the good practices and report the bad ones. We must keep our souls connected to the land that we use for living. Even if that means we have less travelers, we will surely have better ones!

Have you observed industry consolidation in you community? If so, what have been the economic impacts on the community and on your business? Any positive or negative impacts?

The travel industry is growing but it is still seen as a distant activity in many communities. And often only as a simple economic opportunity that can provide a potential income, not as a life changing activity that must, in the first place, improve and guarantee the community’s quality of life.

At BirdsChile we are being benefited by the constant increasing numbers, but at the same time we are extremely worried about the fact that we see the industry and the government mostly concerned about numbers of visitors. There is no measure of the impact that these numbers are having and will have in the communities, or in the natural habitats involved. I would like to have for my country less travelers but better ones!


Rafael Mayer, Founder

Say Hueque

Buenos Aires, Argentina


Describe the ethos of adventure travel & the ecotourism industry – how does this differ from mainstream travel?

The main difference between adventure travel and ecotourism and mainstream travel is the way in which the travelers are interested in approaching the destination. Adventure travel and ecotourism focuses on the local culture (people, food, music) and experiencing nature in a conscious way. Travel companies specialized in Adventure Travel are truly interested in the experience that they can deliver to the traveler, while mainstream travel usually the main goal is to take the tourists to different highlights in a short period of time. Adventure travel and ecotourism goals are much deeper in terms of the relationship between the visitor and the destination. Adventure travel intends to help experience the destination in a meaningful angle. We’ve been in the business for the last 18 years organizing trips in Argentina & Chile. We’ve noticed a big increase in the interest of clients in prioritizing getting to know the destination’s essence, rather than visiting a lot of places in a short time. Travelers’ interests are changing quickly, and fortunately, towards a much more authentic and meaningful way of knowing a new destination.