In today’s Finshots, we explain why people are pushing the limits of tourism and the associated problems.

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The Story

“Experimental vessel”, “not approved or certified by any regulatory body”, and “constructed of materials not widely used in human-occupied submersibles”.

Those were risks printed on the waiver form for the doomed Titan submersible. Oh, and it also apparently mentioned death thrice on page one.

But none of these deterred the 4 tourists from signing the dotted line. Everyone wanted to dive 12,500 feet below sea level. Everyone wanted to undertake a 10-hour trip to catch a glimpse of the wreck of the iconic Titanic. Everyone wanted to say, “I did it.”

Unfortunately, it didn’t end well for anyone this time. The extreme adventure went extremely wrong.

But such forms of adventure tourism aren’t new. People have read such waivers in the past and gone ahead, signed them anyway. Many have lived to tell the tale. Do you think when Dennis Tito became the first tourist to head to the International Space Station in 2001, he just waltzed in and buckled his seatbelt? No way. He would’ve probably signed dozens of similar waivers.

And you have to wonder — why do people indulge in such life-or-death experiences?

Well, since we haven’t participated in such inane adventures, we don’t have the answer. But we did some digging to find out.

And for some, it’s about the status associated with a dangerous and expensive trip. It’s about the bragging rights at the next party. After all, how many can claim to have travelled into space or seen the ruins of the Titanic? It’s a conspicuous show of wealth.

But for others, it might be more than the money and prestige. This is what Tomaž Rotar a Slovenian oral surgeon told the Financial Times.

“…whether it’s to go deep under the sea, or to climb very high, or to run very far. It’s a kind of sickness, like a venom in your veins that makes you want to go. Because you want that beautiful feeling that comes when the danger is over and you know you have achieved something. And then you don’t even know how you lived before that, so you go back and you do it again.”

And that means, disasters such as the implosion of the Titan submersible won’t probably even hurt such adventure tourism. In fact, the risk of death might even make such extreme trips more attractive

For instance, when one of the top skiers in the world died while skiing in France in 2006, other people quickly wanted to ski there too. When two people died in a round-the-world yacht race in 2015, applications for the race shot up the following year. And when climbers died trying to ascend Mt. K2 in the winter of 2021, even more people attempted to summit the second-highest peak and arguably a harder climb than Everest.

For these tourists, “To go, or not to go” is not the question. The only question is — when to go.

And while these folks are pushing the frontiers of what can be called tourism, just know that you and I probably have also been part of adventure tourism in our own little way.

Yup, we may not have the money or gumption to trek to the South Pole or climb K2, but apparently, adventure tourism could even involve something as simple as going on a safari. I mean, you could go to the zoo to see wildlife. But zoos are inauthentic. They keep the animals in cages and it’s very safe. But if you hop onto an open jeep in Africa (do a Safari of sorts), you’re left without the safety barriers. You’re exposing yourself to the dangers of interacting with animals in their territory. There’s a sense of danger. Or think of going to see a shark in an aquarium versus getting into a cage in the open sea where you’ll be face-to-face with those massive jaws.

People are craving these authentic tourist experiences. And the end result is that the adventure tourism industry is booming. If you include both these ‘soft’ and ‘extreme’ travel expeditions, it’s already worth over $300 billion. And by the end of this decade, it’ll probably hit $1 trillion. Niche tour operators in this space are grinning ear to ear.

And it’s even spurring new industries in the process.

We’re talking about entities that describe themselves as operating in the ‘emergency travel management’ domain. What they mean is that if you’re an intrepid explorer, you can pay them an annual fee of a few hundred dollars and they’ll come get you in case you need to be evacuated during one of your adventures. And if you’re someone who likes living life on the edge and plan to travel to really dangerous locations, then you pay them a few thousand dollars and they’ll send you ‘military special operations veterans’ to get you out of the fix.

So yeah, you can see how adventure tourism is going to get bigger from here. People want authentic and unique experiences. And even the prospect of death isn’t scaring them away.

But there’s one more thing. A problem actually. And we’re not talking about the risk to life. We’re talking about the pollution a certain subset of tourism often leaves in its wake, of course.

Just look at Antarctica. In 1996, around 7,400 tourists landed on the continent. This year, it is expected to hit 100,000. Now let’s ignore the CO2 emissions to get there. Okay, if you’re interested, we’ll tell you. Just know that the average per-passenger emissions during this trip is the same as the carbon pollution that the average human produces in an entire year. That’s crazy. But apart from this, each tourist arrival apparently leads to a snow loss of 75 tonnes.

Or look at Everest and the problem of litter. On average, each climber generates 8 kg of trash. And most of this is left behind on the mountain. It’s known as the highest garbage dump in the world.

Imagine these problems at scale now as adventure tourism picks up. It’s not a pretty sight. Is there a profitable business idea that can solve this adventure tourism conundrum? We don’t know.

The only thing we can say is that adventure and extreme tourism is here to stay. And if you're ever planning on one, make sure you stay safe!

Until then…

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