Adventure travel serious business in new GVSU minor

May 17, 2010
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Grand Valley State University is about to become Michigan’s most fun college with a new minor in adventure travel expected to debut this fall.

Even though required courses include activities such as kayaking and rock climbing, make no mistake, said Paul Stansbie, assistant professor and chair of the department of hospitality and tourism: Adventure travel is big business and getting bigger, and GVSU’s proposed course of study treats it as such.

“One good thing about Grand Valley is that we’re not restricted as much by the bureaucracy, and you’re able to respond to some of these things in a more proactive way,” said Stansbie, adding that plans for the new program are finished and awaiting the signature of the provost. “We’re able to identify these emerging trends and try and look at ways in which we can prepare our students.”

Adventure tourism may account for 20 percent of the leisure travel market, according to a report on the industry by Xola Consulting. In a February survey of 300 adventure tour operators, the Adventure Travel Trade Association found that 70 percent expected business to grow in 2010, and 21 percent expected to stay even.

About half of adventure travel customers are women, and 43 percent are 41-60 years old, the Xola report stated. The majority of adventure travel businesses reported revenue under $1 million, but 21 percent were between $1 million and $5 million.

“You can’t call it a niche any more. More and more people are participating in some form of adventure travel,” Stansbie said.

The category is divided in two — hard adventure and soft adventure — and both are designed for that “adrenaline rush,” he said. Soft adventure experiences are low-risk — if outside ordinary life — from bird-watching to eco-tourism to swimming with dolphins.

“The risk is minimal but the rush that comes from that is perceived to be part of the soft side of adventure travel,” Stansbie said.

Hard adventure can contain some serious risk to limb or even life, such as heli-skiing and mountain climbing.

“People aspire to do this as part of the rush that comes from an experience like that,” he added. “There is a perceived risk of danger, clearly, but most of it is controlled risk.”

The market is so wide that Xola Consulting’s report looked at a range of statistics from the global sporting goods market to binocular sales to women’s active footwear sales, just to get a rough measure.

Pending final approval, the new minor will be available to all majors, not just hospitality and tourism management majors, Stansbie noted. The goal is to look beyond the adrenaline rush and view all aspects of the business, incorporating risk management, natural resources policy, movement science, and health and safety issues.

With the plethora of small businesses in adventure travel, Stansbie said entrepreneurship is on the schedule, as well.

“We clearly want to work with the management side of things,” Stansbie said. “It’s not just the fun of rock climbing, but what is the bigger picture to this?”

The 21-credit minor includes required classes in adventure tourism, tourism and commercial recreation systems, ecotourism, wildland recreation management and skills development, with two choices from among outdoor skills and snowshoeing, rock climbing, large boat sailing and coastal kayaking.

Students then must choose from among nine electives, including international tourism, natural resource policy, ethical recreation, teambuilding, entrepreneurship and small business management, service operations management and first aid.

The courses draw not only from Stansbie’s hospitality department, but from business, movement and natural resources curriculums, as well.

“There are other schools in the state doing classes a little related to it — outdoor recreation, eco-tourism, those kinds of things,” Stansbie added. “We are the one and only actually doing anything specifically on the adventure tourism side.”

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