Before the pandemic, people were more content with traditional tourist attractions. Walking on the Great Wall of China, viewing the Mona Lisa in the Louvre, or soaking up the sun in the Bahamas historically were the go-to types of vacation activities. Traditional tourism typically includes visiting popular tourist destinations, staying in comfortable accommodations, and participating in leisurely activities like sightseeing, shopping and dining. But now tourism has a slew of new activities, both real and virtual, some risky and others safe, and others in between.

The catastrophic implosion of the submersible Ocean Gate Titan during an expedition to view the Titanic wreckage 13,000 feet below the ocean’s surface not only led to the deaths of all five people aboard but it introduced a global audience to an extreme example of adventure tourism, and the risks that go with it.

On the other end of the spectrum of adventure tourism is virtual reality. Google Earth VR is one example of how users can virtually tour landmarks, like the Eiffel Tower or the Grand Canyon with a full, 360-degree panoramic view from the safety of their living room recliner.

A woman wearing virtual reality goggles points.

And in contrast to both of those emerging frontiers of tourism is immersive adventure tourism that includes activities like hiking or trekking, culture and cuisine tours, wildlife watching, sustainable travel, snorkeling, safaris and cycling. Thrill-seeking travelers are gravitating to extreme adventure tourism with trips involving higher-risk activities that are more physically challenging and mentally stimulating like bungee jumping, white water rafting, and mountain climbing.


Genesis of Adventure Tourism

All of these examples of tourism feature greater interactivity. It’s no longer enough for many tourists to simply see things. Instead, they want all their senses stimulated in an immersive, engaging and exciting experience, driven not only by a personal sense of adventure but also by the perceived extrinsic reward of sharing it on social media.

The main difference between traditional tourism and extreme or adventure tourism lies in the level of risk involved. In response to traveler demand for the latter, many tourism providers are offering interactive experiences, such as guided tours, cultural workshops, and adventure activities that allow travelers to participate actively in their surroundings.

While virtual reality and augmented reality are becoming increasingly popular in the tourism industry, it’s unlikely that they will completely replace other forms of tourism no matter how realistic they become. Virtual and augmented reality experiences can provide a level of immersion and interactivity that is more visually accessible than traditional tourism, but they cannot fully replicate the experience of physically being in a location and interacting with the local environment and culture.

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Additionally, many travelers value the social and emotional connections that come with traditional tourism, such as meeting new people, tasting local foods, and experiencing different cultures firsthand. Virtual and augmented reality are more likely to complement and enhance traditional tourism experiences.


Adventure Tourism: A Growth Market

Adventure tourism has been growing steadily in popularity and, following a pandemic pause in travel, it has exploded over the last couple of years. African safaris, for example, have seen the fastest growth among our Global Rescue members, jumping more than 70% from last year. Hiking and camping trips are up nearly 50% and demand for on- and off-road motorcycle tours is spiking. In the spring of 2023, the Nepalese government issued a record number of climbing and trekking permits for Mount Everest. Exact industry growth figures are difficult to identify but it’s estimated that the industry has grown by up to 15% annually.

A safari vehicle drives away through an African plain as lions look on nearby.

With an increase in riskier traveler activities, there are also questions about safety. Statistics on accidents and fatalities in traditional tourism and extreme adventure tourism can vary depending on the specific activities and locations involved. But regardless of the kind of adventure tourism or the type of extreme activities, there’s no question that the risks travelers are taking are more significant than they were in the past.

In general, extreme adventure tourism activities have a higher risk of accidents and fatalities compared to traditional tourism activities. According to a study published in the Journal of Travel Research, extreme adventure tourism activities have a fatality rate of approximately 0.14 deaths per 100,000 participants, while traditional tourism activities have a fatality rate of approximately 0.03 deaths per 100,000 participants.

Global Rescue conducted a record number of rescues on Mount Everest and in the Himalayas region partly due to the high volume of mountaineers in the area, but a significant increase was due to many climbers and trekkers embarking on journeys for which they weren’t capable or prepared. Rescues of climbers from Mount Everest have been necessary for years, but they’ve become more common thanks to easier access to the tallest mountain in the world.

Rescue operations can be very expensive. Traditional travel insurance policies may not cover extreme adventure tourism activities since they are usually considered high-risk activities that are beyond the scope of standard insurance coverage. Most traditional travel insurance policies have exclusions for activities like scuba diving, paragliding, and mountaineering. And even if the cost of rescue reimbursement is covered by traditional travel insurance the travelers who find themselves in trouble are left to their own devices to get themselves out and submit a claim and pay a deductible.

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Global Rescue, however, offers traveler protection services with no activity restrictions and includes rescue from the point of illness or injury, medical evacuation, medical and security advisory, and destination reports. Individuals facing a medical emergency who do not have Global Rescue protection can incur costs of up to $300,000 or more for rescue and medical transport to their home hospital of choice. With a Global Rescue membership, the cost to the individual is zero.