Safety first in adventure tourism
|By MARTIN SNEDDEN - 09 May 2013|
I know I’m on a hiding to nothing sticking my head up to defend the safety culture within New Zealand’s adventure tourism industry in a week that the coroner has passed down his verdict on the cause of the Fox Glacier crash which took nine lives, some of them international visitors. The families are naturally still grieving and have an absolute right to strongly express their views.
But some things have to be said.
It’s clear that avoidable safety errors either directly caused or contributed to the Fox Glacier crash. But the emotion around this, something which will almost certainly recur when the results of the Carterton ballooning accident investigation are made public, shouldn’t prevent media and public recognition of the fact that significant safety improvements have been initiated and embedded within the industry since the results of the 2009-10 Labour Department adventure safety review became known.
Adventure tourism inherently carries risk for participants. No amount of risk management can eliminate this. But the customer has an absolute right to expect that processes are in place to eliminate avoidable risk. Sadly, that wasn’t the case in the Fox Glacier crash. No one is trying to defend these types of accidents, but we are focused on applying the learnings as quickly and effectively as possible.
‘Adventure Safety’ is one of five major strategic priorities for TIA, which has close to 400 adventure and outdoor operators amongst our 1500 members. We have two skilled senior staff dedicated fulltime to delivery of this strategy.
In early 2011, the Department of Labour contracted TIA, with the support of Outdoors New Zealand, to create a website dedicated to safety in adventure tourism. SupportAdventure.co.nz, launched in May 2012, is the first website of its kind in the world. It includes comprehensive safety information and advice, and acts as a safety information and benchmarking tool for operators and regulators. It has come from the industry and is now being used regularly by operators.
Since 2011 TIA, using the skills and experience of a number of senior private adventure operators and other experts, has embarked on a detailed and intensive process to create world-leading adventure safety guidelines customised for specific activities. The first set of these – covering canyoning, caving and indoor rock climbing – are complete and in use now. The next set – covering heli-skiing, quad-biking, high-wire crossing, and abseiling - are under development and will be launched later this year. TIA will continue this process until all high risk adventure activities have been dealt with.
Whilst these are ‘guidelines’ rather than ‘regulations’, operators know that, in the case of an accident investigation, their actions will be judged against these standards. The fact that these guidelines have been developed in concert with, rather than in isolation from, operators has given them much greater accuracy, credibility and speedy acceptance by operators.
A key difference between guidelines and regulations is their ability to be changed quickly in light of new information within a dynamic sector.
In addition, both TIA and Outdoors New Zealand have provided strong support and advice to the Labour Group (now within the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment) and to operators on safety initiatives around the new adventure activity regulations, such as external auditing, registration, and drug and alcohol testing.
Over and above this, since the Fox Glacier crash changes have been made and are still ongoing in the adventure aviation sector. CAA regulations have been tightened. Safety awareness has heightened.
In the 2009-10 Labour Department review, there was recognition that most operators were responsible and safe but that a much better nationwide risk management framework must be established. Operators did not resist those findings and have enthusiastically been part of the subsequent and on-going change process. These operators know that primary responsibility for the safety of their customers rests on their shoulders.
The inaugural ‘Great Adventure’ adventure and outdoor tourism conference is another sign that the industry is becoming more cohesive. Safety, and the events of this week, are firmly on the radar of all conference delegates. These operators are proud of what they have achieved for tourism in New Zealand and they know their future reputation and success is inextricably tied in with them showing to the world that this is a safe industry.
This is work in progress. There is much still to be done. But, within the emotion of these incredibly sad and avoidable accidents, please don’t underestimate what has already been, and what is currently being, achieved.
Other recent blogs
- The Great Adventure — 13/03/13
I clearly remember the day in September 2009 the Prime Minister called for a review into safety within the adventure tourism and outdoor commercial sector.
- New regional tourism information will aid operators — 18/01/13
New regional tourism information launched in late 2012 will be invaluable to help TIA members in their business planning.
- Martin's December Blog — 3/12/12
Market intelligence will be a key strategic priority for TIA in 2013. Watch Martin's blog.
- Martin's blog October — 19/10/12
Watch this update from TIA CEO Martin Snedden
- Update from TIA CEO Martin Snedden — 17/08/12
Watch this update from TIA CEO Martin Snedden
- Meet new TIA Chief Executive Martin Snedden — 15/06/12
Martin Snedden introduces himself and talks about why he has joined TIA.
- Big strides for adventure tourism — 18/05/12
Adventure tourism has been under the gun in recent weeks, but we are confident it’s a world-class sector committed to strengthening safety systems...
- Integration packs a punch — 5/04/12
Bigger is not always better, but in the case of the integration of TIA and the NZ Hotel Council, it certainly is. The two organisations officially integrated on 1 April, heralding a new era for the tourism industry…
- Making the most of Mondays — 1/03/12
For most Kiwis, long weekends are great for short breaks, to catch up with family and friends or to simply relax from the daily routine.
- 2012 – a year of action and innovation — 5/01/12
Rugby World Cup aside, many tourism operators will have breathed a sigh of relief to see the back of a tumultuous 2011. Let’s aim to make 2012 a year of action and innovation and get our industry firmly back in the saddle.