Outside Business Journal

Safety Guidelines for Adventure Travel During the Pandemic

The Adventure Travel Trade Association has collaborated with the Cleveland Clinic and dozens of outdoor experts to produce the most comprehensive set of travel safety guidelines the industry has seen yet


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Staying safe while traveling is of primary importance for many outdoor participants right now. As summer kicks off, quarantine restrictions ease, and people across the country start planning trips, adherence to a sensible set of safety measures will be critical for containing the spread of coronavirus going into the fall.

But as recently as a week ago, no standardized set of adventure travel guidelines existed for the outdoor industry. It was a problem that Shannon Stowell, CEO of the Adventure Travel Trade Association, says he heard constantly from the organization’s members.

“We were hearing from our destination members that they wanted a set of unified guidelines so individuals and companies didn’t start creating their own and getting it wrong,” Stowell told Outside Business Journal. “They saw the value in having a common baseline. You can imagine the dissonance if each of the thousands of adventure travel companies in the world created a different set of rules. If someone took it to an extreme and started saying ‘our guidelines are safest,’ essentially using safety as a marketing weapon, that would be even worse.”

With that in mind, Stowell reached out to an ATTA member earlier this month—a tour operator who “guides lots of high-level celebrities,” he said—and asked her if she knew anyone influential in the medical community. It turned out that a former executive at the Cleveland Clinic had taken one of her trips not long ago, and she knew how to get in touch with him.

“Once we had that connection,” Stowell said, “we got to work.”

Calling in the Experts

In partnership with the Cleveland Clinic, the ATTA spearheaded a project to compile a comprehensive library of safety guidelines for ten different types of adventure travel trips, from trekking to cycling to rafting, as well as a general set of rules applicable to anyone working in the adventure travel space.

The project was funded by five organizations: Backroads, REI Adventure Travel, the Switzerland Tourism Board, the Japan Tourism Bureau Research Company, and G Adventures. With monies from these groups, the ATTA hired a team of risk management specialists who worked closely with infectious disease experts at the Cleveland Clinic to develop the guidelines.

“We went through many, many rounds of revisions to build the most useful tool we could,” Stowell said. “After our technical team of risk analysts had refined a draft with the team at the Cleveland Clinic, we opened it up to our five funding organizations for suggestions, because they’re all experts in the travel space. After that, we opened it up to all ATTA members for comments. We got over 100 responses back. We considered those, worked them into the guidelines, then sent everything back to the Clinic for review. All in all, the guidelines went through 15 drafts.”

Despite such judicious and thorough editing, the first four sets of guidelines—for trekking, cycling, and rafting, as well as the general travel rules for anyone working in the travel industry—took only three weeks to complete. The other seven activity-specific guidelines will be completed by the end of July, according to Stowell, and will include protocols for camping (including food prep in the field), skiing and snowboarding, staying in/operating small lodges, wildlife safaris, cultural tours and sightseeing, culinary experiences, and small-vessel cruising.

“It just really goes to show what you can accomplish with a lot of dedicated people in a crisis situation,” he said.

A Comprehensive Resource

The guidelines are free to download for anyone working in the travel, outdoor, or tourism industries. Each one is at least a dozen pages long and breaks down best safety practices for adventure travel in extremely thorough detail.

To support these resources further, the ATTA is also hosting a webinar in conjunction with the Cleveland Clinic on June 30 to educate business owners, tour guides, and others about how best to adapt the rules to different product/service offerings and regions.

Finally, the ATTA offers a set of paid digital courses on safety and risk management for travel operators and managers.

“I believe in all of these so deeply,” said Stowell. “There’s no way to eliminate all risk in adventure travel, and we acknowledge that. But we can work to mitigate that risk as much as possible and encourage everyone—ATTA members and their customers alike—to take responsibility.”