Owner Josh Morris presents some things to think about when choosing your adventure provider.
A Risk Management Manual
Each year, millions of travelers arrive in Thailand in search of tantalizing cuisine, exotic culture, and the ultimate adventure experience. Adventure travel offers the opportunity to experience the local Thai landscape through a highly charged, adrenaline-filled, and sometimes life-changing experience. Strong bonds can be formed with guides as they help travelers climb to unimaginable heights, raft through harrowing rapids, dive in underwater wonderlands, and ride through densely forested single track.
A common question from travelers when considering an adventure activity is, “is it safe?” Any business owner (including me) will reply with, “of course it’s safe!” As many travelers are trying climbing, biking or rafting for the first time, they often lack the experience in knowing what is considered standard practice for the activity.
This article offers a simple set of questions to assist travelers in the process of evaluating the service of an adventure provider. We recommend asking these questions of any adventure provider you meet in your travels to learn more about how they think about their business, their people and their clients. If they don’t have answers to your questions, you might think again about using their services.
Travel in Thailand is known by many to be one of the world’s most affordable, comfortable, laid back destinations. Many travelers arrive with that expectation in mind. We all know that Asia is inexpensive and what would be a 5 day holiday in Europe can quickly turn into a month in Asia. However, when that mindset is carried through to the adventure sector, it becomes dangerous to travelers and providers alike. Yes, travel in Thailand is inexpensive. Providing safe adventure-based services that leave a lasting positive impact on the development of a community, however, is not.
I am consistently amazed at how little travelers are willing to pay for services such as rock climbing, caving, white water rafting, mountain biking, zip lining and more, even though these activities involve risk regardless of the country you are in. Many of us would never consider using a substandard service in our home countries, yet when we head out on the road, we suddenly lose that awareness of risk. The relaxed culture that exists in SE Asia certainly doesn’t help to encourage travelers to think about safety. (Think motorcycle rentals and the fact that many renters have never ridden one).
I am regularly asked to justify the pricing of our programs. Each time I speak with interested clients, I think more about the value we are trying to offer, both to the customer and to the career development of our staff, as well as our impact on community and the environment. We looked at a number of categories which all contribute to the overall service we deliver and which help us determine the way we price our service.
Risk Management and Safety Training
There is no way around it: adventure sports have risk. That risk is totally manageable, however. Above all,t requires a significant investment in the people and the systems involved in the activity. When addressing risk management with an adventure provider, first and foremost, ask about their insurance policy. There are a number of insurance policies available in Thailand, but they don’t all cover adventure activities and many of them have little available for a claim in the event of an accident. Ask the operator about their first aid certifications and be sure that the certification is from a reputable place. A hospital based CPR class is not the same as having Wilderness First Aid training (most adventure activities are in the wilderness). What are the risk management systems in place? Are there emergency evacuation plans? Are there regular first aid and safety trainings for the team? What are the organization’s policies for managing risk?
How are the employees paid for the services they provide? Do they get a salary or do they receive a fee for the guiding? Ask yourself based on the price of the service, how much could possibly be going to the staff? I think we all agree that if people aren’t being compensated fairly, they will likely be less focused on providing outstanding service with attention to safety.
How many days per week do the guides work on the activity? If they are out there every day, then it is unlikely they will be rested enough to make difficult decisions and manage risk safely. Be sure that the guides are given ample time off and look healthy and rested.
Opportunities for Professional Training and Development of Staff
It’s not enough just to pay staff well. Opportunity for professional development is crucial in giving people the skills they need to do their job. This includes opportunities for advanced training both in country and abroad. Are the staff eligible to travel to other countries for training? Does the organization bring experts in to deliver advanced training? Are the staff working every day of the week or does the company provide regular team and individual trainings? Is there a clear trajectory for employees to develop their career?
Quality of and Frequency of Replacement Equipment
Adventure activities require specialized equipment which is often difficult to source. We depend on that equipment to participate in the activity safely and it is important that attention and respect is given to the equipment. How is it stored? How often is it replaced? Where was it purchased? How often is it used? Be sure your provider can answer these questions without missing a beat. Don’t settle for, “we only use internationally standard brands.” Ask them when they last purchased equipment? Where is the equipment manufactured?
Commitment to the Environment
The Leave No Trace ethic should be engrained in any avid adventurer. Keeping the places that we play in and experience clean will ensure that we have access to them for many years in the future. Ask your operator about their approach to environmental sustainability. How do they package food and water? What kinds of cars and transport do they use? Do they have an environmental policy? What do the staff know about Leave No Trace ethics?
Development of the Resource
What is their commitment to the area where they provide adventures? Do they actively engage in developing the surrounding community? How about maintaining the resource itself? Are there crag or river clean up days? Are they supportive of an active community that is committed to developing the area?
Quality of Services
It’s not all just an adventure. It’s also important to provide excellent customer service. What is the quality of the food? How about the transport? How are the guides dressed? Is attention given to cleanliness? What is the booking process like? Do the staff follow up? Do the reservations staff know what they are talking about? Have they ever done the activity? Look for an efficient, professional booking process and evidence of good accounting.
Do They Love What They Do?
Do your guides enjoy the activity they are teaching you? Do they do the activity in their free time, or is it just a job? Do they live an active and healthy lifestyle? Do they know what other adventurers are doing in their field?
QUESTIONS TO ASK AN ADVENTURE PROVIDER
- What is your company’s insurance policy, and why did you choose that one?
- What level first aid certification do the staff members have? How frequent are your safety and first aid trainings?
- How do you deal with an emergency? Are there emergency evacuation plans, accident reports, risk management systems in place?
- Are your employees paid by salary or by guide fees? How much do they make?
- What opportunities for professional development does the company provide?
- Do the employees get time off?
Equipment Quality & Replacement
- How frequently do you purchase new equipment? When is equipment retired?
- Who makes your gear?
- Where is it made?
- What is your system for equipment maintenance and storage?
- What is your company’s impact on the environment?
- What actions is your company is taking to manage your waste production and energy use?
- Are the staff aware of environmental ethics such as LNT?
Development of the Resource
- How is your company involved with the local community? What contributions do you make?
- What is your company’s relationship with the natural area where you work? Do you pay to use it? Do you clean it up?
- What actions are you taking to develop, manage, and/or protect the area?
- Do you educate your clients about the resource and provide opportunities for them to get involved?
- What types of vehicles and facilities does the company use? How are they maintained?
- What food will be provided on the trip and where does it come from?
- Have the reservations and sales staff ever done the activity?
- What are my options to pay for the services?
- and finally: Do You ♥Love♥ What You Do?
If you would like to know how CMRCA answers these important questions, please feel free to contact us and ask any of our staff for their perspective.