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article ts

Adventure tourism tourist studies


© 2004
sage publications
The freedom to play with reality London,
Thousand Oaks and
New Delhi
Maurice J. Kane vol 4(3) 217–234
DOI: 10.1177/
University of Otago, New Zealand 1468797604057323
www.sagepublications.com

Hazel Tucker
University of Otago, New Zealand

abstract Definitions of adventure tourism and the supposed motivators for the
experience of adventure tourism focus on the concepts of risk, danger and
adrenaline. Risk and danger relate to a potential for injury and loss. Tourism on the
other hand indicates fun, exciting events and safe experience. The focus of this
article is to explore the relationship between participants’ emic experiences and the
adventure tourism theories prominent in current literature. This exploration is based
on observation of participation, conversations and in-depth interviews with nine
tourists on a 14-day white-water kayaking tour of the South Island of New Zealand in
February 2002. The interpretation of these tourists’ experiences, their understandings,
and the response to these stories expand the scope and importance of concepts
prominent in adventure tourism. Participants play with the reality of their experience
through stories of freedom, identity and status.

keywords adventure tourism emic experience experience stories kayaking freedom


play reality

Introduction

With a few strokes I was an oar’s length – a spear’s length – from the panicked ani-
mals [migrating Caribou on the coast of northern Canada]. I could see moisture on
their noses, watch the muscles in their shoulders, feel the splash of saltwater as they
ran past. In my imagination I was a Sioux riding bareback among stampeding bison;
I was chasing mammoth toward a cliff with flaming torches; I was in my sealskin
kayak, hunting caribou. But in reality I was a tourist, so I backed away to keep my
camera dry and took pictures. (Turk, 1998: 104)

This short extract demonstrates some of the ways an adventure experience can
be lived, remembered, and storied. Jon Turk’s concluding ‘reality’ that he ‘was a
tourist’ is an anomaly considering that this passage appears in an autobiography 217
218 tourist studies 4:3
focused on his life as an adventurer. Attempting to kayak round Cape Horn,
rowing the Canadian Arctic’s Northwest Passage, dog sledding or sea kayaking
across Baffin Bay between Canada and Greenland, would be considered by most
as the experiences of an adventurer, not a tourist. Turk highlights the ambigu-
ous relationship between the individual’s experiences of touristic adventure, and
how others understand the stories they present of these experiences. Influential
in others’ understandings is the risk element of adventure, which is central to
definitions and marketed presentations of adventure tourism.
The focus of this article is the exploration of the relationship between the
lived experience of adventure tourists and the ideas of adventure tourism
prominent in current literature.Walle (1997) has already suggested that the defi-
nitions of adventure tourism, derived from risk-centred recreational models, are
inadequate in describing the experience of adventure tourism.This is a reason-
able critique given that risk is defined as the potential to lose something of
value, while tourism is correlated to achieving a safe experience (Martin and
Priest, 1986; Bauman, 1996).Would tourists pay for an adventure experience of
risk if the potential to lose were the only or dominant feature?
The purpose of this article is to address these issues by focusing on the emic
experience of participants on a two-week white-water kayaking tour of the
South Island of New Zealand.The marketed highlight of the tour was two days
of experiencing the prestigious, helicopter-accessed kayaking (heli-kayaking) on
the West Coast, a kayaking environment usually reserved for the professional or
expert amateur kayakers due to the remote access and kayaking difficulty. The
nine tourist participants were all citizens of the United States of America, well-
educated, high-earning professionals with considerable package adventure travel
experience. An interpretation of the participants’ ‘lived experience and stories’
will be presented, and as Jon Turk did at the beginning of this introduction, it
will demonstrate how they negotiate the experience of simultaneously ‘being’
adventurers and tourists.The interpretation will explore their freedom and con-
straints in playing with their ‘experience stories’.The storied images of the tour
participants influenced how others would perceive this experience, how adven-
ture tourism is perceived, and how the participants wish to be perceived in
the future.
Before moving on to the case itself, it is useful to situate this adventure tour,
albeit briefly, within the historical context of adventure travel and tourism.

From adventure to tourism


As its semantic origins indicate, the word travel was derived from an experience
of ‘painful or laborious effort’ (Tulloch, 1995: 1651). Historically, travel involved
venturing into the unknown, uncertain of return or the challenges that would
be encountered.The growth of travel, and travel for pleasure, was stimulated by
the reduction of uncertainty, initially from explorers’ accounts but significantly
in Europe through the published route guides and serialized publications of the
Kane and Tucker Adventure tourism 219

ruling elite on their Grand Tours. By 1800, participants in this formulaic travel
were of the new genus: the ‘tourist’ (Black, 1985; Hibbert, 1987).
The 1800s saw the commercialization and packaging of travel with tourists
not only including the ruling elite, but also intellectuals and even manual
workers. Role distinction was demanded; those not wishing to be of the genus
‘tourist’ sought to be associated with the original genus ‘travellers’. Travellers
went further, to more exotic places, for longer, and to participate in some
activity (Buzard, 1993). From these initial stages tour operators sought to pro-
vide the environment and experience their clients desired.These early pleasure
tourists (or adventure travellers) followed Burton and Livingston to Africa, as
today’s adventure tourists follow Hillary and Tenzing to the top of Mt Everest
and Admunsen, Scott and Peary to the Poles. The saturation of information
about the previously distant unknown, coupled with technologies to react to
and manage the uncertainties of nature have mitigated the scope of the chal-
lenge and adventure inherent in travel.Technological advances in transportation
have reduced time spent in the act of travelling and increased the comfort levels.
The physical act of travelling, especially in long-haul air travel, has become
commonplace tourism experience while adventure is associated with destina-
tion experiences, the activities or events at the destination.With the travel aspect
now relatively safe the challenge has become to control the risk and discomforts
in adventure activities. As Bauman (1996) suggests: ‘In the tourist world the
strange is tame, domesticated and no longer frightens; shocks come in a pack-
age deal with safety’ (p. 29). The management of these ‘safe shocks’ requires
the operators of package adventure tours to restrict and guide the activities
and tourist.
Comparatively, adventure tourism as an academic focus attracted little atten-
tion until the early 1990s. The early tourism theorists, such as Boorstin
(1961/1964) and MacCannell (1976/1999) focused on the mass tourist and
structural meta-themes, be it the experience of a pseudo-event or the search for
authenticity in modern life.A theoretical focus and differentiation developed in
research between the ‘contrived’ experience of the mass ‘tourist’ and the more
‘authentic’ experience of the ‘traveller’ (adventure tourist). There have since
been a plethora of conceptual models, mostly focused on the ‘traveller’ (the
adventure tourist who goes further, to more exotic places for a purpose) pursu-
ing an experience quest for the sacred, the other centre, meaning, values, roman-
tic gaze, pre-commodity whole or serendipity (Cohen, 1979; Meyersohn, 1981;
Graburn, 1983; Przeclawski, 1985; Urry, 1990; Selwyn, 1996; Tucker, 2003).
These theorists, however, did not provide the tourism field with a definition of
the adventure tourist or adventure tourism. The most prominent definitions
were derived from research in the field of recreation.
Within the field of recreation, especially in the 1980s, recreational models
were developed where recreation experience involving adventure was corre-
lated to the experience of risk (Meier et al., 1980; Ewert, 1985, 1989; Martin
and Priest, 1986; Ewert and Hollenhurst, 1989). The ‘positive valuation of risk
220 tourist studies 4:3
and danger’, in effect the potential to lose something of value, was seen as what
differentiated adventure recreation from other leisure experiences (Brannan et
al., 1992). The influence of adventure recreation theory is indicated in Hall’s
(1992: 143) statement that adventure tourism was a commercial activity ‘cate-
gorized by the deliberate seeking of risk and danger’. He defined adventure
tourism as:
A broad spectrum of outdoor touristic activities, often commercialized and involving
an interaction with the natural environment away from the participant’s home range
and containing elements of risk; in which the outcome is influenced by the partici-
pant, setting, and management of the touristic experience. (p. 143)

Hall’s definition appears to weave the terms commercialization, management,


distance from home, and touristic through a generic definition of adventure
recreation, retaining risk as the central experience element. As in many areas of
tourism there is no definitive definition of adventure tourism, but many subse-
quent definitions have retained the centrality of elements of risk through active
outdoors participation in wilderness or exotic, away from home locations (Sung
et al., 1997; Millington et al., 2001; Swarbrooke et al., 2003).
The dominant focus on risk in adventure recreation, and one would suggest
also in adventure tourism, obscures some of the other experiences of those
involved, such as problem solving, testing skills, meaningful social interaction,
stress management, fun, exhilaration, excitement, and accomplishment
(Mitchell, 1983;Vester, 1987; Robinson, 1992; Ewert, 1994).Allen Ewert (1994)
a recreational theorist, went so far as to suggest that ‘risk taking per se may play
a less central role in explaining why individuals choose to engage in risk [adven-
ture] recreation’ (p. 5). However, risk remains a central tenet of adventure
tourism definitions, predicating that subsequent adventure tourism research has
focused on this element (Berno et al., 1996; Cloke and Perkins, 1998; Morgan,
1998, 2000; Fluker and Turner, 2000).
Of note is that these theoretical definitions of adventure tourism originate
from the outdoor recreation area focused on its potential negative outcomes.
Adventure experience, however, appears to have been an integral component in
the development of travel and a prominent component in distinguishing tourist
experience and products. The contextual setting of this article is within the
main tenets of many definitions of adventure tourism, being of tourists’ par-
ticipation in active outdoors (wilderness) activity.

Is risk that important?


Two articles in particular have influenced the focus and structure of the present
study’s research by seeking to expand the conceptual models for the experience
of adventure tourism. The first was Alf Walle’s (1997) article ‘Pursuing Risk or
Insight’ which looked outside the recreational field and drew on the North
American transcendental movement, inspired and championed by Ralph
Kane and Tucker Adventure tourism 221

Emerson (1803–82) and Henry Thoreau (1817–62).Walle (1997) suggested that


the experience of adventure tourism, set within a natural environment, was ‘a
quest for personal insight or enlightenment’ (p. 280). The insight was to be
gained not by facing or overcoming of risks in nature but in the experience of
nature in itself. The enlightenment allowed people to discover themselves, to
learn what is real and truly important. Walle suggests that Thoreau’s non-
conquering experiencing of nature was in search of the elusive insight that
could not be obtained in the ‘mundane work-a-day world of civilization’
(p. 272). Insight appears as a similar concept to the exclusive authenticity, which
those alienated in modern society seek through the experience of tourism
(MacCannell, 1976/1999). In Walle’s idea of the non-challenging experience of
nature, the risk element was far from a central tenet. Although Walle’s article
demonstrates the potential for a different theoretical interpretation, Weber
(2001) suggests that insight, as risk, is just one of multiple features that could add
to the understanding of the experience of adventure tourism.
Weber (2001) argued that the definitions and research until that point had
been centred on outdoor adventure recreation, ignoring the tourism aspect,
especially the experience of the overland traveller. She proffers that overland
travellers experience adventure, if defined by the traits of risk, uncertainty and
insight, yet are not involved in outdoor recreational activities, just basically
sightseeing.Weber describes multiple features, contexts and tourist-specific fac-
tors that influence the potential experience of adventure tourism. Given this
complexity, the research direction Weber suggests is a focus on the emic or indi-
vidual perspective of the tourist.This approach, she suggests, would allow for a
more complete understanding of adventure tourism. Emic in this sense ascribes
value to the individual’s experience, even if the researcher or outsider would
prescribe a different value to that experience.The researcher seeks the tourist’s
ideas, thoughts and expressions through both communicated understanding and
observation of the experience. Interpretation of others’ experience is an
ambiguous art, with a variety of methods and dilemmas that will be discussed
in the following section.
Certain leisure, sports and recreational studies, which have included but were
not focused on their tourism contexts, have explored the participants’ experi-
ence.These ethnographic studies of climbing, rugby, skydiving, windsurfing and
endurance racing draw on a wide range of theoretical frameworks (Donnelly
and Young, 1988; Green and Chalip, 1988; Celsi et al., 1993;Wheaton, 2000; Kay
and Laberge, 2002a, 2002b). Their experience interpretations present concepts
of identity formation, social worlds, sub-cultures, and activity ‘career stages’.The
focus of these studies was on the images and stories of participants. Of note in
Donnelly and Young’s (1988) research was that the participants’ stories of iden-
tity were constructed for two distinct groups:‘members of the larger society and
members of the sub-culture [activity social world]’ (p. 224).
What both Weber and Walle and subsequent research in sport, leisure and
recreation have provided is innovative ways to advance the understanding of
222 tourist studies 4:3
adventure tourism and its experience, especially when activity focused. This
article’s adventure tourism case, the tourist participants, and the methods used
will now be described.

The context, the tourists and the methods


Central to this study’s context is tourist participation in an outdoors recreational
activity, in this case, white-water kayaking, from an intermediate to advanced
level, with novel helicopter access to remote wilderness areas.The tour was con-
ducted in the South Island of New Zealand, over a two-week period in
February 2002. It was an all-inclusive tour (with food/accommodation/equip-
ment) for nine clients (plus myself as researcher) staffed by two kayaking guides
and two cooks/drivers. It followed a circular route from Christchurch, the
largest South Island city over two-thirds of the island, travelling approximately
1500 km. Kayaking between two and eight hours was undertaken on 11 of the
14 days, in 13 different river locations.
The marketed and central focus of the tour was the prestigious helicopter-
accessed kayaking (heli-kayaking) on the West Coast, although only two days in
the middle of the tour were scheduled for heli-kayaking. The prestige of heli-
kayaking comes from adventure videos and articles that presented the West
Coast of the South Island as ‘the hottest extreme kayaking destination on the
planet’ (Canard, 2000: 15). This image can be attributed to three factors:
the quality of the kayaking, the novelty of helicopter access, and endorsement
of the elite kayakers featured in these articles and videos (Kane, 2002). The
international kayaking elite, in New Zealand for the world freestyle kayaking
championship in 1999 followed New Zealand kayakers and explored many
wilderness rivers on the West Coast. It was the exploits and images of the
kayaking elite that established the West Coast as a prestigious kayaking destina-
tion. As history and Grant (2001) have suggested, activities-focused adventure
tourists often follow in the well-published footsteps of adventure heroes.
The nine tour participants – two females and seven males – were all citizens
of the United States of America (USA), with seven residents in the state of
California, one in Georgia and one in Florida.They ranged in age from 32 years
to 55 years, with three under 35 and five between 42 and 48. They had all
attended some form of tertiary education (university), and they would be cor-
rectly described as being in the higher socioeconomic strata of USA society.
There was a wide range of kayaking experience and skill levels. One participant
had limited kayaking experience outside one previous kayaking tour, while one
had kayaked at a national level and been involved in kayaking for 35 years.
Excluding the least experienced, all participants kayaked regularly in the north-
ern hemisphere summer and were either in an organized kayaking club or had
a wide circle of kayaking friends. All had been on this type of kayaking tour
before, with four of the participants having been on over five such tours.
Five participants had also been in 2000 on a tour together and planned to do
Kane and Tucker Adventure tourism 223

another international tour together in 2004–5.They also had participated in one


domestic week-long kayaking trip together in 2001. They regularly kayaked
with local kayaking friends and within their clubs. In terms of distance travelled
and financial costs (approx. US$4500) this tour was significantly greater than
most participants’ previous tours and indicated a major investment in kayaking.

Methods of interpretation: art and action


The participants’ investment in this tour was in anticipation of the future lived
experience of adventure tourism, an experience that was to be a continuum of
ephemeral moments. Their understanding of this experience was both con-
structed in anticipation, in lived action and, subsequently, in descriptive images
and word stories.The stories of understanding are not perfect reflections of lived
experience. Lived experience, Crotty (1998: 43) would suggest, is ‘pregnant with
potential meaning’ which has been interpreted in stories.There is a recognition
of the individual’s perspective of the experience yet this is referenced to ‘shared
understanding (social constructs), practices, language and so forth’ (Schwandt,
2000: 197).
The participants’ understandings and the research interpretation were and are
dynamic, no one true experience or interpretation of adventure tourism was
waiting to be discovered. Interpretation is more than a process, it is an art, in
which the researcher has the central crystallizing role of transforming partici-
pants’ lived experiences and understandings into, in this case, this article
(Richardson, 2000). The interpretation or ‘voice’ of this article indicates that
choices were made, experiences presented, others discarded, in the process of
‘voicing’ a lived experience (Coffey, 1999).The value of this article – its ‘voiced’
interpretation – is in the domain of the readers. Critical to a positive valuation
is the transparency of the research choices, the sophistication of conceptual
understandings and the application of methods that inform the interpretation.
This article’s interpretation was developed from a strategy of inquiry that
sought to ‘stud[y] behaviour from inside a system’, focused on the participants’
‘emic’ experience, which was both personal and shared (Weber, 2001: 372).The
primary method for this was observation of participation, which facilitated and
was complemented by the methods of unstructured conversations and more
structured individual interviews.The first author, and primary researcher in this
case, had the local knowledge and skills of a guide, often participating like a
tourist, yet focused on research. He was introduced to the participants as
a researcher. His previous experience was from a professional perspective,
as kayaking instructor, video participant and guide. He retained a high level of
kayaking skill, close personal friendships with the ‘elite hero kayakers’ and expe-
rience of many prestigious kayaking destinations. His understanding of the
kayaking social world was more complex than that solely gained through his
researcher role.
The research involved travelling with the participants, sharing accommoda-
tion, meals, social events and kayaking rivers. Observation involved noting
224 tourist studies 4:3
expressions, actions, non-actions and comments of individuals and recording
these in a note book, usually at the end of each day, but also frequently as things
transpired. Conversations were similarly noted down. The more structured
method of ‘individual interviews’ was conducted and audio-taped at convenient
times through the tour, from day three to day 12.The interviews, as Maykut and
Morehouse (1994) advised, were ‘conversation[s] with a purpose. . . [and with a]
format consisting of a detailed set of questions and probes’ (pp. 79, 83). The
questions sought the participants’ understandings of adventure and adventure
tourism, phrased in relation to this tour experience but realizing that past expe-
riences would influence understandings. The interviews allowed ideas and
thoughts to be explored, especially in the probing section, where the inter-
viewee often asked questions. In this way it was a stimulating process where
knowledge was constructed in collaboration. Direct participants quotes from
these interactions are prominent in the following sections (presented in inverted
commas) and significant in this interpretation.
In the use of these methods and the presence of the researcher contributed
to the participants’ experience, their conversations and their process of under-
standing.The participants’ experiences were contrasted to other participants on
the tour, the guides, and the researcher, in a continual process of understanding.
The interpretation and analysis of information was a continual and intrinsic
process throughout the tour, yet much of this article’s interpretative formulation
was from transcribed notes and audio-tapes subsequent to the tour. This post-
tour analysis involved repeated readings and comparison of participants’ inter-
views, which were related to field notes of conversations, observations and
memory.Through this process, themes of understanding and abstract constructs
were identified. It was an art of choice, like finding meaning in poetry, where
meanings were both found and discarded (Rose and Webb, 1998). Like the
rivers on which the tour was focused, there were times of confusing rapids,
bends in direction and periods of calm, where the themes of understanding
were clarified, diminished, expanded or transformed.
The interpretation of this lived experience presents a complex ‘reality’,‘some-
where in the middle between that of the man [women] in the street and that of
the philosopher’ (Berger and Luckmann, 1967: 14).This article presents the way
things were understood by participants, yet these understandings are really the
sense the researcher has made, the voice given to this interpretation of experi-
ence (Crotty, 1998).This voice is focused on the interpretation of the nine tour
participants’ lived experiences of adventure tourism.

The lived experience of the tour


With the West Coast heli-kayak rivers as the pinnacle of the tour, the experi-
ence flow was segmented into three sections, anticipation, pinnacle experience
and post-pinnacle reflection. Anticipation is themed to the initial period of the
tour as participants established themselves and their tour identities.The pinnacle
Kane and Tucker Adventure tourism 225

focus of heli-kayaking dominated the middle of the tour and is themed to par-
ticipants’ understandings of adventure.The latter period of the tour experience
is focused on participants’ storied images reflecting an ‘adventure difference’. In
the following sections the direct statements of participants will be presented
in the text in inverted commas.

‘Just a bunch of kayakers’


Cara’s description of the group to an outsider, as ‘just a bunch of kayakers’,
reflects the focus of much of the social discussion, and the currency of identity
formation within the group. Kayaking experience and knowledge provided the
currency of identity formation within the group. Discussion and comparison to
known home environments, the kayaking lore from videos and magazines and
previous trip experiences dominated. There was general comment as to a new
river’s size, colour or volume or comparisons, such as Robert’s comment, ‘that
looks a lot like northern California’, or Shane’s,‘that river looks just like down
in Chile’. The discussion focused on previous tours and the potential of this
tour.This corresponds to Schmidt’s (1979) research into guided package tours,
where she found that although ‘tourists often find themselves in conversations
with each other about home . . . A more acceptable topic of conversation
among tourists is their experience as tourists’ (p. 461). The discussion of signi-
fiers of general social status was initially absent, as Bruce expressed: ‘how did I
do this trip with you for three days and not know what you do [profession]?’.
This behaviour is indicative of what Foster (1986) described as a ‘short-lived
society’ where a strong common interest, limited time, and a packaged daily
routine, limit broader social interaction. The participants defined their inter-
group identity and status based on the common focus of kayaking.
There was a unique language, phrasing and understanding within the group’s
interactions as participants verbally and visually presented themselves as
kayakers. Initial replies to locals’ questions often had appendage of ‘we’re here to
kayak’, supported by displays of logo distinguishing clothes, hats, bags and the
tour van topped by kayaking equipment (Celsi et al., 1993). The visual display
of kayaking identity differentiated this tour group from others and high-
lighted their commonality. An indication of the importance of displaying the
kayaking identity was in the initial first-day activity, which was a visit to a local
kayak shop to purchase New Zealand kayaking items (Donnelly and Young,
1988; Elsrud, 2001). The kayak identity was also presented through stories of
past experience, many relating to relationships with famous guides and kayak-
ing heroes, on previous tours or skills courses. Shane’s experience of seeking
out skills then progressing through commercial kayak tours provided a
typical example:

We realized we were pretty crappy boaters, so we decided to go take some lessons.


We went down to Nantahala [a Tennessee-based kayak centre and school]. We
went, took the beginner, intermediate and advanced courses at Nantahala for three
226 tourist studies 4:3
different years and that opened up the South East . . . I [then] kind of worked my way
up from the intermediate trip to the advanced trip down there [Costa Rica].

Shane went on to describe the social environment, where stories of experienc-


ing prestigious rivers and rapids or persevering in difficult situations were
intrinsic to the kayaking identity:

Kayakers like to sit around and talk about ‘where have you been? What rapids have
you done? What, you know, near escape from the jaws of death have you encoun-
tered?’ It’s part of the experience!

The group discussions and the corresponding identity representations presented


were physically legitimized on the river. The initial river experiences provided
little challenge, and correspondingly had limited guide input. Although the
guides and drivers coordinated logistics, with the group focus on kayaking,
the social environment, inclusive of guides and drivers, was as Cara described
‘just a bunch of kayakers’.There were unique pre-kayaking routes, such as greet-
ing the rivers, warm-ups and gear checks and, at the appropriate time, a joking
banter on individuals’ skills, performance or lack of either. Similar social be-
haviours have been observed in both focused tour groups and in many sports,
leisure and recreation social worlds or sub-cultures (Foster, 1986; Donnelly and
Young, 1988; Green and Chalip, 1988; Lyng, 1990; Celsi et al., 1993;Wheaton,
2000; Kay and Laberge, 2002a, 2002b).
The initial lived experience of this tour was focused on the social dynam-
ic of the group, a group on a package tour, confined by the routines of a short-
lived society but sharing in the unique ethos of a kayaking focused.They were
expressing their sub-culture identity as kayakers and establishing their intra-
group relationships, anticipating the focal challenge of this tour, the adven-
turous heli-kayaking.

‘Adventure tourism as I understand it is . . .’


The participants understood adventure as a spectrum of experiences from rou-
tine to extreme.The middle period of the tour in which the two heli-kayaking
rivers were kayaked was anticipated as providing the extreme component of the
tour experience. On their spectrum of experience they were kayakers having an
adventure experience, more extreme and close to the edge than routine. The
heli-kayaking rivers of the West Coast epitomized this, the ‘hottest extreme
kayaking destination’ and the pinnacle of their adventure.These two heli-kayak-
ing rivers differentiated them from tourists, from adventure tourists, and from
kayakers at home. They were travelling adventure kayakers. It was paradoxical
then that this was also the kayaking experience during which they were not ‘just
a bunch of kayakers’, but distinctly tourists controlled by the tour guides. A
paradox inherent in the concept of adventure tourism.
It was at this pinnacle of the tour experience that the interpretations of
adventure and adventure tourism were most observably delineated.The partici-
Kane and Tucker Adventure tourism 227

pants evaluated their adventure experience in relation to features such as new-


ness, unknown, challenge, risk, participation, success, excitement, fun and play.
Within their social world of kayaking, participation in the new and unknown
increased the challenge and the positive extreme status.The challenge was nego-
tiating the river rapids and their own confidence in success. Robert likened it
to ‘piecing the puzzles together, like a chess game’, while Cara saw the chal-
lenge as ‘working up the courage to do it’. On the heli-kayaking rivers the
guides managed the challenge, reducing uncertainty in the unknown and con-
sequently the extreme status. The tour’s social norm of all being travelling
kayakers was replaced with demarcated roles. On the heli-kayaking rivers guides
pieced the puzzle together, directed who could paddle specific rapids and
required participants to follow set routes. As amateur kayakers and tourists the
participants deferred to the professional guides.
It was not the lack of skill, but rather the tourism context that required this
‘challenge’ management. Bruce commented: ‘we like trips like this, but I do
think it, it makes it relatively tame as adventure goes to have somebody who can
tell you for every rapid, “go right, go left”’. Several of the other experienced
participants agreed but considered their preference to be for a safe experience
and the guides’ control guaranteed this outcome. A feature recognized in
Schmidt’s (1979) subtitle for package tourism as ‘insulated adventure’ or
in Bauman’s (1996) more contemporary understanding of the tourism product:
‘shocks come in a package deal with safety’ (p. 29). As Cara concisely describes:
‘somehow it seems safer to do adventure tourism than it does to do adventure’.
As Hall (1992: 143) stated, commercialization of adventure recreation
required the ‘management of the touristic experience’. Providing the tourist
experience with the ‘package deal of safety’ was a significant component of the
guide’s role, especially on the more challenging rivers. Some of the participants
openly recognized this management process, the reduced scope this provided
for challenge and experience of adventure, with its inherent potential for fail-
ure or loss. As Allan commented of the guides: ‘they’d be irresponsible if they
put us in a risk position’. Yet the consensus was that the nature of their pack-
age adventure tour provided rather than moderated the adventure.The package
tour provided the mechanism and logistics to experience adventure kayaking.
As Cara commented:‘it seems easier if somebody plans the logistics.They know
where they are going . . . they take us there’. The package tour allowed Shane
to ‘fit a lot of fun into a short time period’ and in Rachel’s opinion, freed her
from ‘do[ing] any preparation, or anything myself. Someone just taking care of
us, it just makes it easy’.
It was the participation in the activity of kayaking that distinguished their
experience as adventure. Eric saw kayaking as his ‘medium if you will, to expe-
rience adventure while essentially a tourist . . . a high skill medium . . . [involv-
ing] instantaneous and constant decision making about management of risk
[uncertainty]’. Many of the adventure activities other tourists participated in,
such as bungee jumping and scenic flights, were viewed, as Eric critiqued, as
228 tourist studies 4:3
‘having little personal control’. As a kayaker, Bruce felt he was not totally put-
ting himself in someone else’s control: ‘you have choice’. There was agreement
on the importance of the intent, style and the purpose of the tour. It inferred
they must be adventurous people. Even if their experience of heli-kayaking was
controlled and moderated, it was still the pinnacle of their tour, validating their
understanding of themselves as travelling adventure kayakers. David expressed
the strength of kayaking ethos and sub-cultural identity: ‘just the people that
you’re with create the adventure’.
The structure of their tour provided the freedom to participate in new, excit-
ing kayaking, while the kayaking itself provided freedom in personal control.
The participants discounted the organized structure and packaged nature of
their tour, highlighting instead the freedom and novelty of kayaking. It was a
freedom in relation to kayaking peers at home, unable to experience this pres-
tigious destination and a freedom in relation to tourists not adventuring
through kayaking. It provided, as Elsrud (2001) had suggested, a freedom that
valued through difference, a freedom to be a travelling adventure kayaker. Once
the pinnacle experience of heli-kayaking had been lived, the final period of the
tour was focused on the participants’ stories of their experience, a freedom to
contrast and reflect an adventure difference.

Reflecting an adventure difference


The concept of difference – unique, distinct and separate – was integral to the
participants’ understanding of themselves, their kayaking social world and their
experience on this adventure tour. The descriptive ‘adventure tourist’ was not
one the participants identified with, as Rachel’s negative tone and phrasing in
describing adventure tourists demonstrates: ‘a bunch of middle-class, middle-
aged people out somewhere they wouldn’t normally get to go’.Yet this descrip-
tion was representative of the tour participants. A feature Rachel jokingly
acknowledged with a ‘like us’ shortly after the previous comment. The kayak-
ing activity and the prestige of the tour destination provided the perspective of
adventure difference. It was a difference valued and contrasted against two dis-
tinct audiences: their peers in the kayaking social world and non-kayakers
(Donnelly and Young, 1988; Green and Chalip, 1988; Wheaton, 2000). As Phil
commented: ‘I don’t look at myself as, you know, as an adventurer, ah . . . but I
know because of where I go and what I do I would be looked upon in that
way’. Phil was commenting on the perspective non-kayakers have of him, yet as
a kayaker he was not adventurous. As Cara commented considering her kayak-
ing peers’ perspective:‘I wouldn’t say that they think of us as adventurers, oh no,
they think we’re lucky’.
Within their kayaking culture, differentiation was constructed from the myth-
ical prestige of the destination of the West Coast of the South Island.The image
of this destination provided status, as Shane described as he anticipated return-
ing to his kayaking club:‘everybody’s antenna goes up and they start grilling you
about what it was like’. The images participants were retaining on their digital
Kane and Tucker Adventure tourism 229

cameras and the stories they were already telling perpetuated the destination’s
prestigious images. Interestingly, Eric, Shane and Bruce, who were more expe-
rienced and already had kayaking status, did not so freely compare their
experience to the prestige myth.The heli-kayaking rivers were at very low flows
and the sections kayaked only required a moderate skill level, they were not the
river sections that had provided the West Coast with such kayaking status.Yet
Shane indicated how novelty also differentiated them in the kayaking culture:‘I
mean “Helicopter Kayaking”, I’ve never had a helicopter pick me up and drop
me off on a creek run before’.
The relationship between novelty and kayaking knowledge provided an
increased freedom for the stories to be presented to the general public. In con-
templating how their stories would be perceived by non-kayakers, participants
concurred with Robert’s comments that ‘people can’t grasp why I do what I do
. . . just can’t understand it’. This lack of understanding was displayed in how the
participants thought they were viewed by non-kayakers:
Oh they think I’m insane. (Phil)
They . . . like, think I’m crazy. (Rachel)
Oh my work peers think I’m as nutty as a fruitcake. (Eric)
I think they view it as a very dangerous sport and some wild streak in me. (Shane)
Non-kayaking peers see it as risk and a danger. (Cara)

These descriptors were considered positively by participants. It differentiated


them and characterized their identity and association with a distinct social
world (Celsi et al., 1993; Kay and Laberge, 2002a, 2002b). As Rachel explained:
‘they say “Oh yeah Rachel went to such in such, oh she was stupid to do that
. . . but you know she went!” They want to live vicariously through me’. The
participants’ stories to non-kayakers are of the ‘traveller’, providing images of
experiencing uncertainty, danger and risk.
In the discourse of tourism differentiation as a traveller is valued.The stories
for both kayaking peers and non-kayakers were not to be stories of a package
tour.They were stories that focused on kayaking and especially on the pinnacle
of West Coast heli-kayaking. They were stories that authenticated the antici-
pated and prestige myth of the destination, and were constructed around a nar-
rative of adventure. They were stories of travellers who, as Phil
autobiographically phrased it, ‘take the chance and go out and do something
different’. They were stories that were just forming in the latter stages of the
tour but were to be the memories retold in the future.

Play, freedom and reality


The participants’ memories and stories, as with this interpretation, will have
continued, changed and developed after the conclusion of the lived experience.
230 tourist studies 4:3
Three interwoven themes were identified as central to this interpretation; play,
freedom and reality.The participants had played the game of tourism, there was
a freedom in the storied image of this experience and these storied images pre-
sented their reality of the experience.
The first theme of this interpretation is encapsulated in the term ‘play’:
It’s play for adults. (Shane)
Like being a kid again, and playing a game. (Allan)
Adventure is the freedom of being a child at play. (Robert)

Play provided the ability to imagine, playing with their tour experience, the
roles played and the images presented. Feifer (1986: 270) had described this
aspect of the late-20th century tourist, the ‘post-tourist’, as ‘playful’ behaviour.
The aspect of play was further theorized by Urry (1990) as behaviour within
‘tourism [as] a game, or rather a whole series of games with multiple texts and
no single, authentic tourist experience’ (p. 100).
This idea of a playful game did not have all the freedom Robert suggests. For
a tourist, like a child at play, there are constraints, rules and notions of a suc-
cessful game. It was an experience played out within the context of the game
of tourism where fun, excitement and safety are the foundations of success.
These are expected experiences in tourism, the creativity of the type of game
or style of play differentiate this tourist success. This was a game of adventure
tourism where the creative playfulness of the participants was in playing adven-
ture roles.As travelling adventure kayakers, within the insulation structure of the
package tour, differentiated themselves from other tourists.This playful game of
differentiating, yet retaining the foundations of tourist experience, is at the core
of niche tourism products such as this tour. Participants’ sought multiple expe-
riences; package tourist, kayaker, adventurer and traveller, in the roles they
played.The playing of these roles facilitated a freedom in the storied images to
be presented in the future.
In the storied images of this tour the participants’ freedom was in what was
told and what was left untold. In the roles they had played they could not re-
live the authentic experience of their heroes, the elite kayakers. They were
always within the context of a package tour, although playing the roles of travel-
ling adventure kayakers. Their freedom came in discounting the packaged
nature of their tour experience, the controlled routine and limiting social inter-
action. Their stories instead were emphasizing the participation, challenge and
control of kayaking. It was a freedom that differentiated them from the ordinary
and routine of tourist experience. It even differentiated them from the tourists
who adventured through bungee jumping or rafting. Through kayaking the
participants portrayed themselves as active, purposeful, in control and free
adventurers.
Yet this portrayal could be misunderstood as crazy, insane, [and] extremely
dangerous by non-kayakers. It was mainly in their kayaking social world that the
Kane and Tucker Adventure tourism 231

kayakers’ freedom in storying their experience around the sport was valued and
appreciated. The prestigious heli-kayaking of the West Coast enhanced their
kayaking identity, their commitment to its ethos and their status as kayakers.The
participants’ freedom came in being Feifer’s (1986) resolutely realistic tourists.
They understood the game of tourism and in playing gained the freedom to
promote the aspects of their tour experience that enhanced their social stand-
ing.The structure of the package tour experience is not important if the differ-
entiating adventure image or prestigious heli-kayaking are dominant in stories
of the tour experience.The participants had negotiated the tourist role, freeing
their stories of experience from the theoretical realities that contrast package
and adventure experience.
In the combination of package adventure tourism the theoretically in-
terpreted potential of adventure and package tourism experience contrast.
Adventure implies valued, authentic, uncertain experience, while package
tourism implies a controlled, insulated, ordinary experience.The experience was
lived, a ‘real’ experience of adventure tourism for the participants. It was an
experience lived within a package tour, directed and controlled by the guides,
yet they strived to diminish the appearance of this structure. The participants’
storied realities authenticated the destination and their kayaking adventure
heroes, yet they did not claim to be authentic adventurers. Each participant had
a different ‘real’ lived experience and multiple storied images of its reality which
will change and develop with additional experience and each re-telling. The
reality of their tour experience was in comparison to others’ experience, what
was strange and familiar, the known and unknown. The audience of these
storied images will authorize and authenticate the reality of the participants’
tour experience.The importance of this peer-authorized reality will reflect the
participants’ commitment to the social world in which it is authorized.
The participants’ experience of this package adventure tour was a negotiation
of the playful game of tourism, in which there is a freedom to story the expe-
rience of reality in comparison to others’ tourist experience.

Conclusion
Adventure tourism is now, as it possibly was in the initial expansive growth of
modern tourism, a signifier of who you are, who you would like to be and who
you are not. The package adventure tour provides the opportunity to be, or
appear to be, adventurous within the packaged safety of being a guided tourist.
At its core the experience allows for the construction or importantly in this
case, reaffirmation of identity, through presenting stories of experience. The
audience of these stories will see them as ‘tourist stories’ in contrast to normal
life; ‘differentiating tourist stories’ in contrast to others’ tourist experiences or
‘kayaking stories’ of belonging that affirm status in the kayaking social world.
The interpretation of this article is that participants in package adventure
tours are ‘free’ within a touristic discourse to ‘playfully’ construct experience
232 tourist studies 4:3
stories of ‘reality’. Indeed in contemporary adventure tourism the niche pack-
age adventure provides participants with experience journeys in which there is
potential to choose identity, or in other words, a freedom to play with reality.

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mauri c e j. kane is a doctorial candidate at the University of Otago with extensive


experience in the adventure tourism industry. His research interest is in perspectives of
adventure both in the tourist context and also in wider New Zealand society and these
perspectives’ inter-relationship. Address: Department of Tourism, University of Otago,
P. O. Box 56, Dunedin, New Zealand. [email: kanma614@student.otago.ac.nz]

haz e l tuc ke r , also at the University of Otago, is a senior lecturer in the Department
of Tourism. Her research interests include tourism and social change, representation and
experience, and heritage interpretation. Her latest publications include ‘Living with
Tourism: Negotiating Identities in a Turkish Village’ (2003) and ‘Tourism and Post-
Colonialism’ (2004). Address: Department of Tourism, University of Otago, P. O. Box 56,
Dunedin, New Zealand. [email: htucker@business.otago.ac.nz]