Focus: Extreme Tourism

Adventure Capital

Jul. 11, 2017

The extreme tourism industry, loosely defined as travel to engage in physically risky sports or other activities that might take one “out of their comfort zone,” is expected to grow by 45.99% by 2020. Some of the most popular pastimes include sky-diving, bungee jumping, whitewater rafting, gorge walking, and mountain biking, and while Europe dominates the adventure travel market, attracting more than 40% of the total market share in 2016, emerging regions such as Latin America and Sub-Saharan Africa are stepping up their game.

Zambia, specifically the Zambezi river basin, affords the desired aesthetic backdrops, natural infrastructure, and accompanying wildlife for potential extreme tourists. The infamous bungee jump over the Victoria Falls, ranked one the world's 15 highest, is also one of the cheaper options on the global market, coming in at an average of USD150 per jump. In recent years, scores of adventure activity providers have set up shop in the area, with increased competition lowering costs, and forcing companies to bring inventive new offerings—like lunch with elephants—to the table.

One adventure operator on the Zambia-Zimbabwe border, Shearwater Adventures, estimates that 14,000 people participated in at least one of its activities—a historic bridge tour, a bridge slide, a bridge swing, or a bungee jump—in 2016. Currently, the Victoria Falls attract on average 350,000 tourists per year, with nearly all of these guests partaking in some form of adventure tourism. Shearwater estimates the extreme tourism market in the Livingstone region to be worth USD5 million per year.

However, according to Daan Brink, Managing Director of Livingstone's Adventure, another operator from the area, “the potential for extreme adventure activities in the area is enormous, but restricting regulations in an overregulated tourism industry makes developments unattractive to current businesses and new investors alike. The result is that Livingstone has yet to reach its full potential.”

The Adventure Travel Trade Association (ATTA) in collaboration with George Washington University, debuted the Adventure Tourism Development Index (ATDI), rating countries on their extreme travel potential, with Zambia coming in fourth in Sub-Saharan Africa after Botswana, Mauritius, and Rwanda, and just above South Africa. In general, however, Sub-Saharan Africa lags behind other regions, especially in terms of government backing for sustainability in the industry, entrepreneurship, branding, and tourism infrastructure.

Zambia could follow the example of regional leader Botswana, which has reported a large drive from both its public and private sectors to expand the sector, with prime offerings in luxury safaris and eco-tourism and a “high value, low impact” strategy building an elite brand, while still maintaining an emphasis on adventure activities that can be enjoyed at the Kalahari Desert and Okavango Delta.

The other area Zambia would do well to focus on is its brand, as Felix Chaila, CEO of the Zambian Tourism Agency, notes. “The first thing is to highlight adventure tourism as one of our specialized niches. It is important not to be too generic in the way we package our tourism offerings. On the one hand, there is leisure tourism, which attracts one market and deserves a dedicated marketing strategy; on the other, there is adventure tourism, which is its own entity. We want to promote Livingstone as the adventure capital of southern Africa.”

Successful branding strategies in countries such as Peru, New Zealand, Kyrgyzstan, and Australia have been instrumental in boosting these countries' respective adventure tourism markets. Nepal's national tourism board is exploiting its world-famous, natural landscapes, with a Naturally Nepal logo that features graphics of snow-topped peaks under the tagline: “Once is not enough.”

Zambia has much of what is required to become a leader in the world's extreme tourism market, but now needs to begin utilizing its natural resources to its advantage. If the country can harness the potential of the industry, extreme tourism could make a sizeable contribution to overall tourism figures. What is more, extreme tourism is a tried-and-tested method for extending the length of a tourist's stay in the region, in turn increasing GDP flow, employment opportunities, and strengthening the industry in the long term.