Terrie's Take 880 (Tourism Edition) -- Adventure Tourism and Risk Mitigation, Without Strangulation by Rules

Terrie's Take terrie at mailman.japaninc.com
Sun Jan 22 21:56:43 JST 2017

* * * * * * * * TERRIE'S (TOURISM) TAKE - BY TERRIE LLOYD * * * * * *
A bi-weekly focused look at the tourism sector in Japan, by Terrie 
Lloyd, a long-term technology and media entrepreneur living in Japan.

Tourism Sector Edition Sunday, Jan 22, 2017, Issue No. 880

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+++ Adventure Tourism and Risk Mitigation, Without Strangulation by Rules

As a foreigner living in Japan, I felt rather embarrassed seeing the TV 
news reports about an Australian family getting lost in backcountry 
(off-piste) snow in Nagano and having to be rescued the following day. 
The family can be commended for having the presence of mind to dig a 
snow cave and wait out the evening until rescuers appeared, but I do 
feel that they could have been more responsible in reading the weather 
reports, packing better clothing and supplies, and listening to locals 
about skiing conditions in the area.

It was pure luck that they emerged from their ordeal cold but otherwise 
unhurt. Indeed, seeing several of the sons on TV as they boarded the 
ambulance, they looked just fine and even ready to head back out for 
another run. The mom, however, appeared tired and shaken - and perhaps 
she alone realized what a close call they had just had.

No supervision or rules, risk, thrills... these are all the major points 
of attraction for skiers wanting to stray from established ski fields 
and try their luck on backcountry slopes. While rules-tolerant Japanese 
are more likely to stick to the patrolled areas and so backcountry 
skiers haven't been much of a problem, given how popular it is overseas 
and how attractive Japanese snow conditions are, it's no wonder that 
Nozawa and other central Honshu locations are becoming the new mecca for 
backcountry skiing for foreign tourists.

Experienced backcountry skiers are supposed to be highly sensitive to 
the risks. Top of their list is avalanches, not such a major problem in 
Nozawa (Hakuba is riskier), awareness of the experience/fitness levels 
of others in the group, quality of their equipment, and the weather. 
There had been heavy falls of fresh snow over the previous couple of 
weeks, cover was deep, and visibility on the day they got lost was low. 
I therefore have to assume that given the inadequate preparation done, 
they probably shouldn't have been out there in the first place. In that 
respect, they're really lucky that Japan has such good cell phone 
reception in the mountains. Without that, they may not have made it 
back. Others haven't been so lucky and there was one death in 2010 of 
someone who was out of bounds in the same area, along with another close 
call of an Australian in 2014.

[Continued below...]

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During the TV news segment a newscaster opined that maybe backcountry 
skiing should be banned or at least severely limited, and perhaps on the 
face of it this was a reasonable call. Other countries certainly have 
rules about skiing out of bounds, typically drawing the line by defining 
the consequences of reckless behavior. For example, if you need rescuing 
and it's deemed that you were reckless by going backcountry in poor 
conditions, you may have to pay for the rescue. This is a pretty good 
deterrent, since a rescue can involve several dozen people, equipment, 
helicopters, ambulances, and possibly hospital treatment - so you're 
looking at tens of thousands of dollars at least.

But on the other hand, probably what drew that family to Nozawa in the 
first place was its reputation as a great place to do backcountry skiing 
and the sense of adventure. For the Japanese authorities to be too 
draconian about these adventure-seeking tourists will strangle the 
nation's emerging adventure tourism sector, which promises to become 
huge over the next ten years. Adventure-seekers are looking for 
experiences they can't get at home, not rigid controls. They come 
knowing that there are some risks, and in return for having a great 
experience they tell their friends and come back for more. And so far 
they are not creating an excessive burden on rescue services.

Adventure travel worldwide is a key driver of repeat tourism. It focuses 
travelers on one particular destination and usually involves both 
skilled ground crew and sophisticated rental equipment, thus requiring 
higher investment and commitment by the traveler than mere 
bus-in/bus-out travelers. For this reason, just about every regional 
tourism authority in the country is investigating adventure tourism as a 
way to tap into the overall inbound travel boom.

"Adventure" can of course mean many things, but generally in Japan it 
means potentially risky (thus thrilling) experiences that require some 
degree of skill and/or exertion. Currently the most popular adventure 
activities are skiing, road cycling, scuba diving, and mountain 
trekking. However, rafting, paragliding, bungy jumping, mountain biking, 
canyoning, ziplining, and rock climbing are quickly gaining popularity 
and Japan has plenty of destinations that can offer such experiences.

Some countries have already been down this road - that of balancing 
thrills with spills. One good example is New Zealand, which pioneered 
jet boat rides at top speed through narrow and potentially dangerous 
river gulleys such as the Shotover river in the South Island. Although 
there have been some accidents over the 30 years of operation on the 
river, the combination of a single company operator license (imposed by 
government legislation) and rigorous training for the boat drivers has 
meant just five accidents and one fatality in the last 18 years - all 
while carrying more than three million passengers at NZ$145 a head!

New Zealand has developed an excellent adventure tourism industry, worth 
NZ$3bn annually, which encourages thrill seekers to travel far beyond 
the usual tourist sites and thus distributes those tourists and their 
dollars all around the country. One of the key elements to New Zealand's 
success has been its willingness to address the adventure tourism sector 
negatives head-on and in a supportive manner, rather than try to ban or 
over regulate it. Core to the effort has been the 2011 Health and Safety 
in Employment (Adventure Activities) Regulations which require operators 
to register and to be audited.

http://bit.ly/2jlvAqA (NZ safety act)

The auditing is done by professionals, who judge the levels of risk, 
quality of risk mitigation, quality and appropriateness of staff 
training, etc. Interesting to see that Bureau Veritas is one of the four 
approved safety auditors for the adventure tourism industry there. So if 
Japan were to follow a similar path, they could avail themselves of that 
expertise from Bureau Veritas here in Japan.

...The information janitors/

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Written by: Terrie Lloyd (terrie.lloyd at japaninc.com)

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