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Adventure Travel Guides are Leading the Pack

When people feel the need to get a bit of excitement in their lives, who do they call? Adventure travel guides! These guides help people hike, climb mountains, go on backpacking trips, even dogsled into remote locations.

Most people don't know how to do these things by themselves, so they need a guide. Adventure travel guides help their clients have trips that emphasize adventure and getting off the beaten track.

Becoming the Guiding Light

Experience is essential for adventure travel guides. Get out there on backpacking and hiking trips. Learn everything you can and remember: safety first!

Some colleges have adventure travel diploma programs. Ask about the program at a college near you.

Having first aid training is a must. You'll also want to research any required certifications for your geographic location and travel specialty. The type of training you'll need will depend on the type of tours you want to lead.

"A history/culture guide? A whitewater guide? A bike touring guide? Each will be different," says Peter Grubb. Grubb is the president and founder of an adventure tourism company in Idaho. "Also, every country is different. Ecuador has very high standards and qualifications and in general the guides are much more knowledgeable than the typical U.S.-based adventure guide. Surprising, yes? But very true."

It helps to really know the area your clients will be exploring. Companies tend to hire locals as they want people who have intensive knowledge of the local area, its ecosystems and wildlife.

The pay for guides varies. Grubb says adventure guides make $60 to $150 a day, while others say they can make a little more. But many guide positions are seasonal or sub-contracted, so work can be sporadic.

"Depending on where you are working and the type of trips, an experienced, certified guide can make up to $165 to $185 per day," says Jim Martin, an expedition director at an adventure tourism group.

You could also start your own adventure tourism company -- but you'll have to do some homework first. If your adventures will take you to a different country, you will need to understand customs regulations and paperwork, along with vaccine requirements and currency exchange rates.

You also need to have a good knowledge of booking flights and ground transportation. Then there's all the things required to run a profitable business such as marketing, hiring, and bookkeeping.

Is Demand Shrinking?

Predictions earlier in the decade suggested that adventure tourism would become quite costly. As a result, many destinations would be limited to the wealthy.

That is "absolutely not" true, says Jessica Helsley. Helsley works with Grubb at his adventure tourism company. "There is a wide spectrum of outfitting companies out there, each providing different experiences at different prices. Some companies offer a very posh nature experience where your pillows are fluffed and coffee served to you each morning. With other companies, you will set up your own tent and do your own dishes after dinner. There is an experience for every price range."

Another concern about this industry was that as time went on, extensive planning would be required to get to the most unspoiled and remote locales. But Grubb says that hasn't changed -- extensive planning has always been required and is the nature of the adventure travel experience.

"By definition, if a place is remote and unspoiled, it has to be hard to get to," says Grubb.

Martin says that because air transportation can get people pretty much anywhere these days, and because demand to see exotic places is rising, unspoiled places are becoming harder to find. He says this is unfortunate.

"Getting to the most unspoiled locations has become more difficult because we keep destroying that which we touch as humans. It's not like the wilderness is elusive, it's just disappearing. Demand to see wild places is rising, but that demand is fuelled by a desire to get right to the best spot and not have to work to get there."

Weathering Bad Economic Times

So, what about that economy? It's certainly a factor in this industry. Travel is often one of the first cuts in personal budgets when times get tough.

"It's difficult to say overall, but it appears demand has decreased," says Martin. Grubb says that although the last couple of years have been tough, things are looking up now.

Brenda Holder leads walking tours in the Rocky Mountains. "Because what we do is very specialized, it seems we have not really been hit by the recession," she says. "We've diversified our skills into many areas that are part of guiding, but are more on the educational side of things, such as teaching wilderness and remote first aid, aboriginal survival skills -- I am Metis -- and other aspects of instruction."

Helsley says that people are just as interested in an adventurous getaway when money is tight. They just look for ways to cut the costs.

"The demand for whitewater rafting has remained the same," says Helsley. "After all, who could pass up the vacation of a lifetime? However, what has been affected is the length of the trip. Where families were easily affording five- and six-day trips before, they have been tending towards the one-to-three-day trips now."

Pack Your Bags!

Martin feels the short-term outlook for the industry is fine, but the long-term will see some changes, and they'll involve the industry doing some shrinking.

He says his company is already getting more requests for shorter trips to see wild animals. He feels that this is a result of the quality of media today: because we are given more and more impressive images of wildlife, people tend to think that it's easy to just hop out there and see amazing things happening at any given time.

"Demands are higher than ever now for immediate satisfaction," he says. "Adrenaline without commitment."

Grubb feels the outlook for the industry is "excellent." He says that people are tiring of what he calls "mass tourism" -- cruises, bus tours, beach resorts.

"All research shows people want more meaningful, more educational, more experiential travel," says Grubb.

"In my eyes, the industry outlook is extremely good," says Holder. "Many people are taking a greater interest in the environment and want to have a firsthand look at what that may mean to them."


The International Ecotourism Society
One of the most informative ecotourism sites

Outdoor Industry Association
An American trade association for companies in the "active outdoor recreation business"

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

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

ROW Adventures
A good example of a U.S.-based adventure tourism group

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