Adventure Travel Guide Qualifications & Performance Standard – I. Introduction

I. Introduction

The Adventure Travel industry has grown rapidly in the last few decades, expanding from an estimated $89 billion in 2010 to $263 billion in 2013 with an estimated four out of ten international travelers incorporating adventure activities into their travel plans.[1] With such rapid growth, greater numbers of businesses and guests are entering the marketplace, and the industry needs clear guidance with respect to adventure travel guide qualifications and performance.

Adventure travel guides and tour leaders are at the crux of the adventure travel experience. They provide for the safety of adventure travelers, ensure the overall quality of the guest experience, and ultimately deliver and safeguard an adventure travel company’s reputation. An excellent guide in one destination can raise the bar for the industry, while a less competent guide in another can just as easily set the industry back.

Despite the importance of quality adventure travel guiding, recent research confirms the absence of a global standard specifically for adventure travel guides. Although numerous types of standards and quality assurance systems with relevance to adventure tourism exist, none directly address the range of qualifications necessary for excellent adventure travel guiding. For example, many people in the industry may be familiar with standards and quality assurance systems such as these:

  • Technical standards for specific activities such as white water rafting, rock climbing or mountaineering
  • Hospitality and guest service standards
  • Quality systems to regulate attractions and venues
  • Quality guidelines for interpretation provided by guides
  • State and national training requirements for guides
  • ISO Safety Standards for Adventure Tourism

From this list, only the ISO safety standard for adventure tourism (ISO 21101 and TR 21102)2 addresses adventure travel specifically, and none of these standards or quality assurance systems covers all the aspects necessary for excellent adventure travel guiding.

In the absence of a global qualification and performance standard, a variety of approaches to managing adventure travel guiding can be found around the world. While in some countries there are no active standards at all, in other countries one can find detailed government regulations specifying training requirements in order to receive a national adventure guide certification. Many destinations also have guide associations, which may establish their own training and operating standards. In addition, the commercial sector has over time established its own codes of operating, requiring that guides at a minimum receive specialized certifications for technical activities such as rafting, kayaking and climbing. However, these certifications are not well publicized, or understood by travelers and not enforced, except by companies through their individual hiring practices.

In an effort to support the industry as it continues to expand and professionalize, the Adventure Travel Trade Association (ATTA) has initiated this Adventure Travel Guide Qualification and Performance Standard. The standard was developed between the months of November 2014 and March 2015, by a group of 22 industry professionals organized by the ATTA. Working group participants came from 16 countries and included guides, business owners, and industry partners. The full list of participants can be found at the end of this document.

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