Passion drives adventure tourism boom

ECO-TOURISM may have been the buzzword in the ’90s, but adventure tourism is staking a claim to be the leading contender for the WA tourism dollar in the next decade.

Adventure tourism has blossomed in WA for various reasons.

p Advances in technology have made daredevil feats much safer.

p Personal passions for extreme sports have turned into profitable business ventures.

p Landscapes lend themselves to all manner of activities.

p The desire to do something dangerous.

“People just want something else to do on a tour rather than just sitting on a bus looking out a window,” said Jenny Dale, owner/operator of Redback Safaris.

“They want to get closer to everything and have a look, and they are more into the physical activities.

“It goes for both the younger and the older age groups. We’ve had 80-year olds sand boarding.”

Krishna Strickland, general manager of multi-award winning adventure company Skydive Express, agreed, saying her clients had perfectly good reasons for jumping out of planes.

“People enjoy stepping out of the comfort zone of their normal jobs and homes,” she said.

Ms Strickland said this went double for tourists.

“The tourists who are out here on holidays are the people who will do things they would not do at home,” she said.

“They figure, ‘I’m away so it’s an opportunity to do something different.’”

And there is certainly no shortage of choices. There is a wide range of adventure activities for sale in WA, from white water rafting to sky diving to rock climbing.

Many of the businesses currently operating in this area started as a result of the personal passions of their founders. Although as Tom Suffling, owner/operator of River Gods Paddle Adventures, points out, some businesses currently operating in the market have arrived more out of facsimile than fantasy.

“We wanted to take mates out, but they couldn’t paddle out so we put them in rafts,” said Mr Suffling, who started white water kayaking as a kid.

“My mates used to say to me, ‘people would pay you to do that’.

“The first few years were quite good because we didn’t have competitors … we didn’t have a lot of overheads either.

“But now there’s a lot more competition. Every man and his dog wants to jump on.

“People are doing things that make no business sense, like doing the same tour at the same price point and duplicating tours.”

Mr Suffling puts the copycat companies down to the immaturity of the industry and says he’ll just wait until the second comers get bored, go away and find something else to do.

Tourists make up 75 per cent of Mr Suffling’s business, a story familiar to many of WA’s adventure activity operators.

Redback Safaris’ Jenny Dale said 80 per cent of her business came from overseas tourists.

When she bought the business several years ago there was only one tour, to the Pinnacles. Now Redback Safaris offers a host of adventure tours, taking in everything from sand boarding in the South West to climbing gorges in Kalbarri, snorkelling with sea lions and exploring caves.

“It’s an expanding industry because it is what people are looking for,” Ms Dale said.

“There are so many attractions in WA that are just so vastly different. It is very appealing because there’s not a lot in the tourists’ own countries like that.

“Tourists just love it. It is the idea of getting in there and doing things, especially things like snorkelling and swimming with dolphins.”

But it’s not just tourists who are pushing things along for these adventure companies. Hordes of locals also are more than keen to open the envelope.

Extreme Tours WA owner/operator Jim Virtue said almost half those who booked on his hair-raising sea sprints were from WA.

“No one else was doing it. We thought it was a good idea to see how Western Australians took to it,” Mr Virtue said of his 90-kilometre-an-hour dashes across the water off our coast.

“Bosses were taking people out to lunch on our tour. All these people were saying, ‘why don’t we do this?’

“I think the extreme sport jig has taken off. People want something exciting to do.

“I think a lot of people are stressed out these days. Everybody seems to be working just to pay bills. It’s just a stress relief.”

Mr Virtue said the demand for adventure tourism activities was on the rise. He even thinks a theme park featuring “stupendous” rides would take off.

And it seems that there are no age limits to a thrill either.

“We had an 83-year old great grandmother on board. She had a wow of a time.” Mr Virtue said.

And while most adventure tourism businesses say the majority of their customers are in the 20 to 25-year old age bracket, there are plenty of reports of skydiving and abseiling grandfathers and grandmothers.

But, whether they’re young or old, tourists or home-grown heroes, something spirited is definitely stirring in WA and local businesses are not about to let it go untapped.

There’s a consensus that WA adventure owners need to work together to keep marketing and pushing WA as an adventure destination.

“Tourists are not going to come to WA to do just one thing,” River Gods’ Tom Suffling said. “They want to do several things, such as white water rafting, sky diving, rock climbing.”

To this end, seven WA adventure businesses came together two years ago to form a symbioses group, Wild Wild West (WWW).

Under the WWW banner, each of the businesses involved can market its product in conjunction with the others. This means a tourist can book one trip or tour that includes skydiving, diving, white water rafting and rock climbing in the one package, rather than looking around for things to do, or worse still, presuming there are no other adventure activities to be found in WA.

“Between the lot of us we can afford to put out a brochure all over Australia and Europe,” Mr Suffling said.

“It raises the whole aware-ness of adventure activities you can do in WA.

“Our only real competition for adventure tourism in WA are things like north Queens-land.

“The only way to compete is to form things like the Wild Wild West group, which can promote WA as a package with a number of activities that people can do. So they come to WA for adventure tourism.

“We’re getting more and more bookings for travellers through the Wild Wild West group.

“That’s what people like the WATC should have been doing years ago.”

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