Are slow adventures going mainstream?
Updated: Apr 5, 2021
Slow travel is getting more and more attention from TV and magazines, is this a good news?
Is it just me or slow travel, adventure travel and explorations are getting more and more attention from mainstream media, moving away from that niche, close knit community that attracted me a few years ago? Every time I open the newspaper, I always find new adventure ideas, something that not long ago was exclusive domain of dedicated magazines and social media groups. Is this just a temporary result of being forced to spend more time indoors or are we actually witnessing a genuine shift in the way people want to spend their free time?
Just as an example, when I started paddleboarding about 5 years ago, I was often looked with curiosity, constantly stopped by people asking me what I was doing; fast forward to summer 2020 and the market went crazy, boards were impossible to find and buy and the Thames was full of new paddlers. Something similar is also happening in the travel industry, with new activities and adventure focused tour operators coming up, offering experiential holidays and the words "green" and "sustainability" seem to be omnipresent in most marketing campaigns, not only in the travel industry.
I often find myself wondering whether this is good or bad for the slow travel and adventure community and so far I'm still in two minds about it. Far from wanting to sound elitist, I don't think that fast growth is always positive, especially when I see companies and brands purely taking advantage of the new trend for marketing reasons while, in reality, their values and and beliefs couldn't be any more far away from ethos of this movement.
A wider slow travel (and in general more adventure / outdoorsy) community definitely generates several positive effects for both participants and destinations involved:
from the physical and mental health perspective, there is a clear benefit in being more active and in spending more time outdoors, reconnecting to nature;
economies of regions and communities traditionally not part of the mainstream touristic routes , will get new life and opportunities;
rediscovering old traditions and cultures that otherwise would have gone lost;
being a low impact, low carbon footprint type of tourism, it's good for the environment;
a shift from the consumerism mindset to a more experiential one, focusing on creating memories rather than buying stuff
While the positives aspects are quite easy to identify, it is important in my opinion to be aware and address the negatives too:
a quick growth of tourists influx in destinations not necessarily set up to handle them, can actually be quite harmful for the local community itself. The mind goes back to the images we all saw last summer with thousands of tourists arriving in the south of England, leaving garbage everywhere and towns lacking basic infrastructure to manage those numbers;
overtourism and gentrification, with destinations too eager to capitalize on the new attention received and willing to trade part of their own identity in order to appeal to the taste and necessity of tourists;
inevitable increase in waste production in destinations lacking the facilities to dispose correctly of them;
lack of proper training and general outdoor education in the "new adventurers"; as an example, again last summer we had a few cases of high risk situation with beginners paddlers on the Thames, mainly because of lack of basic knowledge and training;
the risk of adventures becoming commoditized: think about the pictures we see every year of queues of climbers, trying to summit Everest
As you can see, the solution is not as clean-cut as it might have seemed.
Personally I believe that at the moment we are still in a phase where the positives offset the negatives but it is crucial that the growth is managed properly in a critical and sustainable way. This requires a combined effort of users and destinations, always aiming to maintain the right balance between people, profit and planet.