Career Spotlight: Ecotourism – Adventure Travel Is a Growing Business

Source: CareerPro News

Thousands of North Americans who think their lives have become too boring have taken up activities that take them away from the ordinary. An estimated 80 million people hike, climb, backpack and dogsled into remote locations each year.

Since many don’t have the skills to do these things on their own, it makes for some good opportunities for those who can guide them safely into the unknown. These people are called adventure travel guides.

Hitting the Road

How do you start? Gather your camping, diving and kayaking gear and hit the road. “See some of the world and mix in as much hiking, biking, kayaking, climbing and scuba diving as you possibly can,” says Bryon Howard, owner and operator of an adventure travel company. “Do this for as long as you can without your friends and family calling you a bum — usually two to four years.”

Granted, it will take more than a free spirit and the ability to hike and kayak to become a successful expedition guide, but it’s a good start. The opportunity to realize this goal is very real. Adventure travel is on the rise and has become big business.

“Based on demographics, adventure travel will continue to grow until about the year 2015,” says Howard. However, there are indications that it will become increasingly costly and limit many destinations to the upper classes. Extensive time and planning will be required to get to the most unspoiled and remote locals.

The pattern of advanced reservations and costly entrance fees is already being felt in major attractions like Yosemite, Yellowstone and the Grand Canyon.

On Your Own or With Help

With this expected growth, there’s a need for skilled guides to lead energetic souls from the concrete jungle to uncharted wilderness. But this doesn’t necessarily translate into career positions.

“Most tour companies are small to medium-sized, and their guide positions are mostly seasonal and subcontracted,” says Carolyn Hill. She’s the manager of The EcoSource.

“And keep in mind that ecotourism promotes hiring local, in-country guides. Professionally trained locals often make better guides because they have intimate knowledge of the local culture, flora, fauna, and know how to work the system when logistical problems arise.”

Where does that leave you? Right in the thick of things if you can make yourself marketable. There are two paths you can follow: you can guide for someone else or you can start your own adventure travel business.

Working for an existing company is the most logical first step. In order to get a job, you may need more than practical experience, however. In other words, you may need some formal training too. Many colleges have created adventure travel diploma programs in recent years. Do your research and consider enrolling in a program that suits you.

When you’re looking for a job, be sure to research the companies you’re applying to. Find out how long a company has been in business and how long it has been running particular trips that you wish to guide. Request a catalogue and detailed itineraries of those trips. Finally, ask for the names and telephone numbers of past clients and call them. You won’t be doing your career any favours by signing on with a shoddy operation.

You’ll be expected to bring some basic credentials to the table before you’ll be hired by a reputable organization. The adventure travel industry is highly specialized, requiring a great deal of practical experience and specific skills. Indispensable skills include:

In-depth knowledge of the areas where you’re leading groups
Training in travel and tourism
First aid, CPR and emergency wilderness medicine if you guide expeditions into remote areas
Preparation in communications, negotiations, leadership and conflict resolution
Specialized academic or professional credentials — qualifies you to lead a tour to a particular ecosystem or culture
Compensation is directly related to experience and expertise. “Average guide fees range from $80 to $100 per day with a stipend for expenses,” says Hill.

If working for someone else isn’t your style, you may want to consider starting your own business running specific adventure trips. You’ll have the opportunity to do things your own way, but this luxury doesn’t come without a cost. You’ll need additional talents:

Knowledge of customs regulations and required paperwork — passports, visas and vaccination certificates
A working knowledge of currency exchange rates
Proficiency in accounting, business management and marketing
Computer and Internet expertise
Experience with the intricacies of booking flights and ground transportation

“Be realistic!” says Ken Lee, owner and operator of an adventure travel company. “Although it’s very rewarding, lots of people think it’s just a lot of play time and traveling. They don’t consider the countless hours of reading, computer, fax and phone time it takes to create just one good trip.”

There’s a lot to know and learn, but resources are available. A variety of schools offer two- and four-year programs that provide you with training in adventure travel, tourism, recreation management and ecotourism. Howard’s company offers volunteer internship opportunities for people trying to break into the industry.

“We pay some costs and teach seasonal interns everything they need to know to offer excellent guest services in sea kayaking, biking and walking expeditions,” says Howard.

It seems people working in the adventure travel business control their own destiny. “Adventure travel is currently one of the hot buttons in travel — one of the fastest growing segments,” says Charles Goeldner, professor of marketing and tourism at the University of Colorado. “As long as adventure travel delivers value it won’t decline.”

Net Sites

The International Ecotourism Society
One of the most informative ecotourism sites


Adventure Travel Trade Association
An organization dedicated to the adventure travel businesses

The Specialty Travel Index
A searchable site listing adventure travel tour operators

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