Adventure tourism in Africa

Authored by: Julia Kathryn Giddy

Routledge Handbook of Tourism in Africa

Print publication date:  November  2020
Online publication date:  November  2020

Print ISBN: 9781138496088
eBook ISBN: 9781351022545
Adobe ISBN:




Adventure tourism has become increasingly important for tourism development, particularly in the Global South including many countries in Africa. The earliest forms of incoming international tourism in Africa would be considered adventure tourism, particularly overland exploration and wildlife ‘safari’ tourism. Therefore, although adventure tourism is not a new phenomenon on the continent, it has recently developed at an exponential rate due to increases in demands for adventure tourism, the growth of tourism in Africa, and the introduction of commercial adventure tourism products. Although most subsectors of adventure tourism can be found somewhere on the continent, the most prevalent adventure tourism products are wildlife tourism, marine tourism, and overland adventures. Tourism, more broadly, is also increasingly emphasized as a means of economic development by most governments throughout Africa. Adventure tourism is often, a viable product for tourism development in many countries in Africa due to the prevalence of relatively pristine and unique landscapes many of which are ideal for different types of adventure tourism activities. Although the growth of adventure tourism in Africa is seen positively by many, there are a number of challenges to adventure tourism development and concerns that emerge as development increases. This chapter, therefore, discusses the development of adventure tourism in Africa, reviews the literature on some of the primary adventure tourism subsectors, and then delves deeper into some of the primary concerns surrounding adventure tourism development in Africa. It concludes with an overview and possible ways forward.

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Adventure tourism in Africa


Adventure tourism encompasses a wide range of tourism experiences and activities (Rantala, Rokenes, & Valkonen, 2018; Swarbrooke et al., 2003). Traditionally, authors have defined adventure tourism by the associated risk, whether real or perceived (Buckley, 2012; Cater, 2006; Swarbrooke et al., 2003). Subsequently, however, the literature focused more on the thrill, fear, or rush-seeking component of adventure, rather than actual risk (Buckley, 2012; Carnicelli-Filho, Schwartz, & Tahara, 2010; Cater, 2006). In addition, other literature has argued that neither risk nor thrill defines adventure but rather some sense of uncertainty while others have argued that it is related to insight-seeking (Rantala et al., 2016; Swarbrooke et al., 2003; Walle, 1997; Weber, 2001). Although there are a number of definitions for adventure tourism, many of which are relatively broad, for the purposes of this chapter it is defined as a touristic activity or experience which involves some level of risk (whether real or perceived) and often takes place outdoors (Hall, 1992, p. 192). The current growth of adventure tourism has been the result of a number of changes that have occurred in recent years. One such change is the increasing desire of tourists to have interesting and unique interactions with nature (Bell & Lyall, 2002; Giddy & Webb, 2018a). This is a divergence from the passive appreciation of nature previously common in nature-based tourism. Therefore, traditional nature-based tourism experiences have evolved to increase stimulation, often incorporating aspects of adventure (Bell & Lyall, 2002). Another change seen in adventure tourism is the advancements in technological innovation which have allowed a larger number of less skilled tourists to engage in a wide range of adventure activities (Cheng et al., 2018; Puchan, 2004). Both changes have led to the commercialization of adventure. One of the primary focus of much adventure tourism research is on the commodification of adventure which is a result of said commercialization (Kane & Tucker, 2004; Prince & Loynes, 2016; Rantala et al., 2018; Rickly & Vidon, 2017; Taylor, Varley, & Johnston, 2013; Varley, 2006).

Perceptions of the impact of this commodification are varied and dynamic; however commercial adventure tourism is clearly an important emerging tourism market (Carnicelli-Filho, 2013; Fluker & Turner, 2000; Giddy, 2018a). Many developing countries have benefited from the commercial adventure tourism market by developing products in the unique and relatively pristine environment found within many of these places (Giddy, 2018a; McKay, 2016). For example, in Costa Rica, extensive ziplining and canopy tour products have emerged throughout the country and now form an integral part of their tourism offerings. In addition, you can now bungee jump-off at the Victoria Falls, skydive over Mount Kilimanjaro, and kayak down the Nile River (Shearwater Bungee, 2017; Tourism on the Edge, 2017; Yogerst, 2017).

Adventure is often synonymous with tourism experiences in Africa, due to perceptions of the continent as relatively rugged and the tourism activities which are typically associated with the continent (e.g. safaris) (Saarinen et al., 2009). In the case of Africa, we see two primary ways in which adventure tourism has developed. One has been the evolution of specific experiences which fall under adventure tourism and have been relevant in Africa for many years. This includes wildlife safaris, mountaineering (particularly in Kilimanjaro), and scuba diving as well as several others. The second way in which adventure tourism has developed in Africa has been in the emergence of commercial adventure tourism products such as those mentioned above (Giddy, 2018a). However, there are many challenges to increased development of adventure tourism in Africa and questions that emerge as to the real economic benefits as well as management concerns (Giddy, 2016a; McKay, 2013a; Rogerson, 2012).

This chapter, therefore, provides a broad overview of adventure tourism on the African continent. It first discusses the evolution of adventure tourism in Africa from early international tourism which would be considered “adventure” experiences to current manifestations of adventure tourism on the continent. This is followed by an overview of the geography of adventure tourism in Africa. Next, specific sectors of adventure tourism which are prevalent on the continent are highlighted followed by a detailed examination of some of the critical issues facing the adventure tourism industry in Africa, namely, marketing management, adventure tourism employment, and environmental concerns. The chapter then concludes with a look at potential future avenues for research as well as things to consider in the future development of adventure tourism in Africa.

Adventure tourism development in Africa

The history of tourism in Africa is vast and became increasingly relevant during the European colonization of the continent when leisure travel from the developed world began to emerge in Africa (Lwonga, 2011). Much of the early forms of leisure travel to Africa would be considered adventure tourism as elements of risk and uncertainty were commonplace among Western visitors and most of the attractions took place outdoors, fulfilling the basic definition of adventure tourism (Wolf, 1991). There are numerous accounts by early European explorers, however, there also exists significant documentation on the experiences of travelers to Africa, particularly Americans who can clearly be differentiated as leisure travelers or tourists (Dugard, 2003; McCabe, 1883; Vivanco & Gordon, 2006; Wolf, 1991). The accounts by Americans often fit more definitively into the tourism discourse as their journeys are specified as leisure travel. These accounts often discuss the role of uncertainty and risk associated with their experiences and the sense of comradery that develops between fellow travelers (e.g., McCabe, 1883) which are common threads in modern analyses of adventure tourism experiences. One interesting historical study contextualized American travel to Southern Africa, highlighting the commonalities between white Americans and settler communities, particularly those in the British colonies in the region (Wolf, 1991).

More recently, the adventure tourism industry has seen the growth in guided commercial products (Buckley, 2010; Pomfret & Bramwell, 2014; Swarbrooke et al., 2003). These products often replace passive forms of traditional nature-based tourism experiences which have been prevalent in Africa for decades (Bell & Lyall, 2002; Giddy, 2018b). In today’s high-speed world, people are continuously seeking new, interesting, and exciting ways to interact with landscapes and are no longer satisfied with passive appreciation (Giddy & Webb, 2018a). Therefore, adventure products are increasingly being introduced into many unique landscapes throughout Africa. One important example is that of Livingstone, Zambia, which has emerged as Africa’s ‘adventure destination’ due to the prevalence of several commercial adventure operations such as bungee jumping over Victoria Falls and white water rafting down the Zambezi River (Rogerson, 2004). Victoria Falls has long been an important tourism attraction; however, in recent years, tourism in the area has been transformed to emulate the changes in the way that tourists seek to experience nature. Following suit, the majority of commercial adventure activities found in Africa have emerged due to the presence of specific landscapes in certain areas. For example, white water rafting operations exist near large rivers, abseiling is found down steep cliffs and canyoning through accessible gorges. In many cases, these are activities which have long been practiced in these areas by recreationists but have now been transformed into highly commercialized products accessible to a much larger number of people (Beedie, 2001; Giddy, 2018a, 2018b). Many destinations in Africa are suitable for this kind of tourism development, due to the prevalence of unique landscapes which are relatively pristine. Therefore, adventure tourism can be seen as an important tool for economic development in small towns and rural areas of Africa (Giddy, 2016a; McKay, 2013a; Mograbi & Rogerson, 2007; Rogerson, 2005, 2015).

Existing research on commercial adventure tourism in Africa has covered a few different topics, though most is limited to South Africa. Research has noted that the profile of commercial adventure tourists which found significant transformations in the characteristics of adventure tourism participants (Giddy, 2018a). Some important findings were the increasing number of women participating in adventure tourism particularly “hard” adventure activities such as skydiving (Giddy, 2018a). Furthermore, the results demonstrated a trend of continuous participation in adventure tourism, broadly, but relatively little commitment to specific activities, a significant change from earlier studies which showed efficacy and development of communities as important motivators for continuous engagement in adventure tourism (Ewert, 1985; Shoham, Rose, & Kahle, 2000). The motivations of commercial adventure tourists in South Africa have also been analyzed demonstrating the importance of novelty and the interactions with the environment in their decision to pursue adventure activities (Giddy, 2018b; Giddy & Webb, 2016, 2018a). In another study on white water rafting in South Africa, Giddy, Fitchett and Hoogendoorn (2017a) examined the influence of extreme weather on the industry which found operators particularly vulnerable to the increasing changes in weather patterns which have been experienced throughout the country in recent years and have resulted in changes related to seasonality. McKay (2013b) also found that in the case of white water rafting along the Ash River, issues have arisen between the use of the river for commercial tourism versus as a water resource for the local community.

The geographic distribution of adventure tourism in Africa also needs to be considered when discussing its development. The distribution of adventure tourism experiences is relatively uneven, geographically, with the majority of well-known adventure destinations and experiences located in Southern Africa (McKay, 2014, 2016; Rogerson, 2007). Most wildlife adventure tourism takes place in Sub-Saharan Africa in places such as Kenya/Tanzania, Rwanda/Uganda, and South Africa/Botswana/Namibia. The vast majority of research as has also focused on these areas, primarily on South Africa with some research on specific sites for adventure activities, namely Kilimanjaro (Tanzania) and Victoria Falls (Zambia/Zimbabwe) and others on sectors in specific locations, for example, scuba diving in Egypt (e.g. Anderson, 2015; Giddy, 2016a; McKay, 2014; Minja, 2015; Prior et al., 1995; Rogerson, 2004). McKay (2016) conducted a study of the geographic distribution of adventure tourism in South Africa which showed that the majority are found in the Western Cape and KwaZulu Natal provinces. Contrary to expectations, McKay (2016) found that adventure tourism operations were not necessarily clustered around specific landscape features, as is the case in other parts of the world and the continent (e.g. around Victoria Falls). In South Africa, adventure tourism operators were most prevalent in proximity to existing tourism destinations, such as Cape Town and Durban. There is, however, great potential for further development of adventure tourism, particularly in rural areas where natural resources are plentiful and economic development is needed (McKay, 2013a). Clearly, adventure tourism development is uneven across the continent with development potential high but currently untapped in many regions.

A typology of adventure tourism in Africa

Most broad types of adventure tourism can be found somewhere on the African continent (Buckley, 2007, 2010). However, there has been significant emphasis, both in the literature and in practice, on specific subsectors of adventure tourism. Some of the most prevalent subsectors of adventure tourism in Africa are wildlife adventure tourism, marine adventure tourism, and overland adventures as well as mountain-based tourism, particularly surrounding Kilimanjaro.

When considering more traditional forms of tourism to Africa, one of the primary focuses is often on exploration. The earliest exploration in Africa by Europeans paved the way for overland adventures, which have become a staple in African adventure tourism offerings, particularly in Southern Africa (Mathers & Hubbard, 2006). As mentioned above, leisure travel within the African continent has a long history, due to the uniqueness of the continent’s landscapes and cultures (McCabe, 1883; Wolf, 1991). Overland adventure tourism continues today, though the experience is clearly different. Traditionally, overland adventures were reserved for highly skilled, relatively wealthy travelers who sought exploration into the “unknown” (Mathers & Hubbard, 2006). This has transformed in recent years, into highly organized, packaged trips into areas that would otherwise be difficult to access, merging into a long-duration commercial adventure tourism product (Weber, 2001). Today, packaged overland adventures are offered in many countries throughout the continent, while several companies offer cross-border experiences (e.g. Nomad Africa Adventure Tours, 2018; Overland Africa, 2018). The continued development of overland adventures as a tourism product in Africa exemplifies long-term trends that have persisted in the African tourism context. As for literature on the topic, it is relatively limited. The majority references historical experiences, which is discussed earlier. Some more recent narrative texts have emerged which chronicles specific experiences (Mathers & Hubbard, 2006; Mewshaw, 2010). In addition, broad literature on overland tourism has referenced Africa (Vivanco & Gordon, 2006; Weber, 2001). One interesting study, by Mathers and Hubbard (2006), which examines a more modern analysis of American overland tourism experiences in Africa demonstrates how these experiences are primarily driven by complicated emotions of both a desire to conquer (Africa) and a desire to submit (to the experience).

Another important example of long-term trends in African tourism is the case of wildlife tourism, particularly “safari” experiences. Wildlife-based adventure tourism accounts for a significant proportion of international travel to the continent, particularly Southern Africa (Saayman & Saayman, 2008). International and regional tourists travel to the area to participate in safari experiences or wildlife interactions. The extent to which safaris and other types of wildlife interactions can be considered adventure tourism is highly subjective. However, wildlife interaction, particularly with dangerous animals (i.e. the African “big 5”) and/or in open air vehicles are often classified as adventure tourism (Buckley, 2010; McKay, 2016). Many of the concerns associated with safari tourism are related to resource allocation and displacement of local populations, which has been problematic in certain regions, particularly in East Africa (Gardner, 2016). Other research discusses issues concerned with the sustainable development of safari experiences, including proximity to wildlife and issues around carrying capacity (Carruthers, 2007; Tarver et al., 2019). In addition, tourism surrounding hunting falls under the umbrella of wildlife adventure tourism and is a significant market, particularly in Southern Africa (Buckley, 2010; Lindsey, Roulet, & Romañach, 2007). Sport and trophy hunting in Southern Africa has fallen into the spotlight, particularly in recent years with the killing of Cecil the Lion in Zimbabwe and the subsequent media fall out (Macdonald et al., 2016). A fierce debate has ensued as a result, both in mainstream media and in academic literature (Nelson et al., 2016; Novelli, Barnes, & Humavindu, 2006). Initial reactions showed strong opposition to sport and trophy hunting, particularly among exotic and endangered animals (Nelson et al., 2016). However, some evidence has emerged, particularly in recent academic studies, which demonstrates the potential benefits of trophy hunting, particularly for local economies (Baker, 1997; Lindsey et al., 2006; Lindsey, Roulet, & Romañach, 2007). If properly managed, trophy hunting can generate significant income which can be used both to support conservation efforts and also to benefit local communities (Baker, 1997; Lindsey, Roulet, & Romañach, 2007; Novelli, Barnes, & Humavindu, 2006).

Mountain-based adventure tourism in Africa is primarily concentrated on expeditions up and around Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania. As the tallest mountain in Africa, there is a long history of mountaineers attempting to conquer Kilimanjaro (Salkeld, 2002). However, as is the case with most adventure tourism experiences and highly evidenced in similar tourism sites, such as Mount Everest (Nepal, 2003; Raspaud, 2014), there has been a significant growth in the number of people trekking up Kilimanjaro in recent years (Minja, 2015). Organized mountaineering experiences up Kilimanjaro have become prevalent and the parallel development of tourism surrounding the mountain has emerged (Anderson, 2015). As a result, a number of studies have emerged which examine the effects of this growth in mountaineering tourism around Kilimanjaro. The two primary avenues of research are on the influence of tourism development on economic development in the area and the environmental impacts of tourism on the mountain ecosystem. In the case of the latter, some work has focused on the implications of climate change on the mountain ecosystem and subsequently on tourism (Frömming & Undine, 2009; Mafuru, Wakibara, & Ndesar, 2009; Minja, 2015). Some have noted the impacts of the melting ice caps on top of the mountain on tourist routes up the mountain, as well as the safety of tourists (Frömming & Undine, 2009). Others have discussed broad environmental impacts caused by tourism, common in trekking and mountaineering tourism such as the introduction of alien species, trampling/trail erosion and waste disposal (Hemp, 2008; Kaseva & Moirana, 2010; Mafuru, Wakibara, & Ndesar, 2009; Minja, 2015). Trail erosion and the introduction of alien species appear to be significant problems impacting the mountain ecosystem. However, in contrast to research conducted on Mt. Everest, waste disposal appeared to be relatively efficient on Kilimanjaro with estimates of 94% of waste removed (Kaseva & Moirana, 2010). This is due to the efforts of porters, who carry the waste of tourists off the mountain in large quantities, which brings up socioeconomic and employment concerns (Mafuru, Wakibara, & Ndesar, 2009). The other body of research on socioeconomic implications of tourism around Kilimanjaro demonstrates that significant benefits have emerged for local communities from tourism development in the area (Anderson, 2015; Mitchell, Keane, & Laidlaw, 2009). Packaged tourism experiences on Kilimanjaro and throughout Tanzania have demonstrated particular benefits in terms of extended stays and high expenditure among international tourists (Mitchell, Keane, & Laidlaw, 2009).

Marine adventure tourism is also prominent throughout Africa, related to tourism development and the emergence of commercial adventure tourism products. Scuba diving is one common activity, which can be found in many locations throughout the continent, though is particularly significant in island destinations such as Mauritius, Mozambique and Zanzibar (Lew, 2013). In addition, well-developed diving industries can be found in South Africa and Egypt (Geldenhuys, van der Merwe, & Slabbert, 2014; Giddy & Rogerson, 2018; Hawkins & Roberts, 1993; Lucrezi, Saayman, & van der Merwe, 2013a; Lucrezi, Saayman, & Van Der Merwe, 2013b; Mograbi & Rogerson, 2007; Prior et al., 1995). The majority of research on marine tourism, and diving, in particular, is focused on the environmental impacts of diving, particularly on reef systems (Hasler & Ott, 2008; Lucrezi, Saayman, & Van Der Merwe, 2013b; Prior et al., 1995). In addition, some literature exists on general trends in dive tourism of specific locations and the characteristics of divers (Giddy & Rogerson, 2018). Some important literature exists on the potential benefits of dive tourism to local economies and local economic development. Mograbi and Rogerson (2007) found that in the town of Sodwana Bay, a popular dive destination, although most of the dive companies are white-owned and/or managed, the local community sees significant benefits in terms of job creation. In addition to the dive operators themselves, dive tourists also utilize secondary tourism assets, which again, can drive local economic development.

Critical issues facing adventure tourism in Africa

There are several critical issues facing the adventure tourism industry in Africa (Giddy, 2016a; McKay, 2013a; Rickly & Vidon, 2017; Rogerson, 2007). Two significant issues, which are prevalent throughout the world but are particularly significant in the African context are challenges and concerns surrounding human resource development within the adventure tourism industry and environmental management in the context of adventure tourism development. Africa, clearly, has a long history of adventure “tourism”; however, academic literature only began to emerge on the topic in more recent years. The importance of tourism, more broadly, in Africa has become increasingly apparent as tourism now forms a major component of economic development initiatives in most African countries (Dieke, 2003; Rogerson, 2005, 2012). With respect to adventure tourism, a number of challenges have been highlighted in previous research, three of which are discussed in detail in the section below, namely marketing of adventure tourism destinations/products, adventure tourism employment and environmental management of adventure tourism in Africa (Giddy, 2016a; McKay, 2013a; Rogerson, 2007).

Despite the wide range of adventure experiences offered throughout Africa, and particularly in certain locations, there is a lack of marketing of these places as “adventure destinations” (Rogerson, 2007). The Tsitsikamma region of South Africa and Livingstone in Zambia are two examples of destinations that offer a number of unique adventure activities. However, marketing strategies of the destinations as a whole are limited (Giddy & Webb, 2016; Rogerson, 2004). Research has shown that in the commercial adventure tourism context, tourists increasingly seek out destinations where they are able to participate in different activities (Giddy, 2018b; Giddy & Webb, 2016, 2018a). However, tourism development and marketing often fail in this regard. In some destinations, many activities are offered, but marketing is not cohesive, often neglecting to highlight the number of activities available in specific areas that might be of interest to adventure seekers (Rogerson, 2004). In other cases, one specific adventure sector is well-developed, but there is no initiative to introduce additional activities that might encourage tourists to stay longer and utilize other tourism resources. An example of this is seen in Gansbaai, South Africa, known for its shark cage diving with great white sharks (Dobson, 2007). Although a number of different shark cage diving companies operate in the area, there is almost no other significant tourism development. This means that the town, itself, is not necessarily benefiting from the significant tourism which occurs within it.

Human resource development and management has been listed as a critical issue in adventure tourism more broadly (Giddy, 2019; Williams & Soutar, 2005). Some of the primary issues are related to the standardization of adventure guide qualifications as well as regulation of the minimal existing standards. These concerns are prevalent in Africa as well, though often at a more basic level of lack of adequate training among adventure guides (Giddy, 2016a; McKay, 2013a). This coincides with the lack of regulation of adventure tourism operators in Africa, which can have serious safety implications (McKay, 2013a). Several injuries and fatalities have occurred due to improper management, untrained guides, and faulty equipment (MacGregor, 2000; News24, 2012; NSRI, 2015; Saal, 2017). However, a number of other issues emerge in the African context. A major concern, in terms of employment in Africa specifically, is the demographics and origins of adventure tourism owners and employees and adventure operators’ relationships with local communities (Giddy, 2016b; Mograbi & Rogerson, 2007; Rogerson, 2007). Although tourism, particularly adventure tourism, is frequently discussed in terms of its ability to economically uplift poor communities, particularly local communities surrounding tourist attractions, this rarely occurs. Rogerson (2007) has shown that, in the case of South Africa, nearly all owners and managers of adventure tourism operations are white and, for the most part, provide very few employment opportunities for members of the local community. One of the primary issues noted by adventure tourism operators, at least in the Southern African context, is the lack of necessary skills of local populations (Rogerson, 2007). This, then, links to the need for training programs in order to minimize this discrepancy in the adventure tourism workforce.

Some research has shown that the majority of training among adventure tourism operators is done in-house (Giddy, 2016b). Although, in many cases, this approach appears logical, due to the varying nature of different activities and the unique context of local landscapes; some baseline qualifications should be prevalent among anyone operating in an industry where risk is inherent (Williams & Soutar, 2005). For example, the need for basic first-aid qualifications has been noted to be of particular importance in the adventure tourism context, where real dangers are often present (Bentley & Page, 2001). This becomes even more significant in the context of commercial adventure tourism, where participants are ill-equipped to deal with hazards and often rely almost entirely on guides to ensure their own safety (Holyfield, 1999; Mackenzie & Kerr, 2012). Currently, South Africa has existing policies for registering as a tour guide which is guided by the Tourism Act. However, adventure tourism employees are often not qualified tour guides but rather employees of companies that provided specific activities, though there are a few exceptions (Giddy, 2016b). Some training programs have emerged specifically for adventure guides but there is no requirement for basic training for those employed by the aforementioned operators (Adventure Qualifications Network, n.d.). Therefore, adventure tourism employees require significant training by operators, which is largely done in-house and often relatively ad-hoc (Giddy, 2019). Adventure tourism is highly specialized, though wide-spread throughout South Africa with significant potential employment opportunities. Requiring guides, including those employed by operators of specific activities, to engage in a training program, specifically for adventure tourism, which also includes aspects of first aid, would be beneficial, not only to those who seek employment in the industry. Such requirement would also reduce the burden of training by employers as it now falls almost entirely on operators to ensure staff is adequately trained. In addition, instituting training programs would allow for increased regulation and minimum standards for adventure tourism operators, reducing the potential for injuries and/or fatalities.

A third major concern facing adventure tourism in Africa is environmental management. This has been highlighted in some research discussing challenges facing adventure tourism, globally (Rickly & Vidon, 2017; Williams & Soutar, 2005), but has also been substantiated in the case of South Africa specifically (Giddy, 2016b; McKay, 2013a). One of the reasons environmental management is of significant concern in the African context is due to the unique and often fragile environments in which adventure tourism takes place. Research has shown the increasing importance of interactions with nature in the motivations of adventure tourists in Africa (Giddy & Webb, 2016, 2018a). However, the environmental attitudes of both tourists and staff tend to be relatively low (Giddy, 2016b; Giddy & Webb, 2018b). This is problematic and highlights an important issue in the environmental sustainability of many adventure tourism operations. It is of particular concern in the African context due to, one, the importance of the unique features of the natural environment in attracting tourists and two, the lack of regulations and/or enforcement of environmental regulations to assist in sustainable environmental management efforts (Giddy & Webb, 2016; Gossling et al., 2008; Mafuru, Wakibara, & Ndesar, 2009). Currently, however, environmental protection is often neglected in the name of economic development. More urgent steps need to be made in creating environmental legislation that deals, specifically, with tourism development, and also ensuring that legislation is enforced.

Apart from the importance of preserving natural environments, more broadly, the issue, in the adventure tourism context, which has been witnessed in other parts of the world, is that increased development can result in the destruction of the primary attraction of the tourism product (Nepal, 2003; Njoroge, 2014; Spenceley, 2005). Therefore, the implementation of environmental management techniques is necessary to ensure the sustainability of the vast majority of adventure tourism products found in Africa. Already, there is evidence of the degradation of certain attractions such as Kilimanjaro (Hemp, 2008) and many reef systems in which scuba diving occurs (Gossling et al., 2008; Hasler & Ott, 2008). In addition, changing global climate patterns have already had significant impacts on tourism in Africa, more broadly (Giddy, Fitchett, & Hoogendoorn, 2017b; Hoogendoorn & Fitchett, 2016). In the case of adventure tourism, more specifically, changing weather conditions can have severe impacts on operations due to their reliance on specific natural features. Giddy, Fitchett, and Hoogendoorn (2017a) found that the 2015 drought which hit parts of South Africa, significantly impacted the white-water rafting industry, causing the closure of several operations. Therefore, the fragility of the natural environment and the vulnerability of adventure tourism operations to changes in natural features, landscapes, and resources need to be more carefully considered in tourism development strategies which often prioritize economic development.


Adventure travel experiences have a long history in Africa, beginning with early explorers to the continent, seeking out adventure experiences, and the subsequent leisure travelers which followed from the western world (Vivanco & Gordon, 2006). Clear leisure tourism has been documented particularly for American travelers who sought to experience “wild Africa” (McCabe, 1883; Wolf, 1991). Many of the experiences would fall under current definitions of adventure tourism and are therefore the earliest documented evidence of adventure travel on the continent. However, development of adventure tourism across the continent has been relatively uneven since, both geographically and in terms of products offered. The majority of adventure tourism experiences offered still fall under wildlife adventure tourism and related to experiencing and interacting with the unique wildlife prevalent throughout the continent, namely “safari” experiences, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa (Buckley, 2010). There is, however, great potential for adventure tourism development in many parts of the continent due to the unique and varied landscapes, many of which remain relatively pristine, and therefore ideal for adventure tourism experiences. Therefore, adventure tourism should be considered as a potential tool for economic development, particularly in rural areas. In addition, often minimal investment is needed, particularly in terms of infrastructure development, as adventure tourists typically seek “rugged” tourism experiences (Lian Chan & Baum, 2007).

The nature of adventure tourism experiences has, however, changed somewhat since the turn of the 21st century, with the rise of a wide range of adventure tourism products, particularly those which fall under the commercial adventure tourism sector (Giddy, 2018a). The emergence of commercial adventure tourism allows (particularly international) tourists to replicate some of the emotional states experienced by early travelers to the continent (Mathers & Hubbard, 2006). Therefore, this will likely continue to develop as a trend in tourism throughout Africa. It would be interesting if future research could delve into these emotional experiences of the “explorer” in the future to determine whether or not similar emotional states to those of early tourists to the continent can be replicated in today’s modern world.

Despite the potential, there are still several barriers to developing adventure tourism in Africa which need to be addressed (Giddy, 2016b; Rogerson, 2007). The first is marketing adventure destinations cohesively and considering a strategic plan for developing compatible tourism products. The second is human resource development and management within adventure tourism, particularly in the promises to benefit local communities. Not only do the training mechanism and standardization need to increase, but also sustainable human resource management practices need to be implemented to deal with this concern. A third concern, which challenges the sustainability of adventure tourism development, is environmental management (Giddy, 2016a; McKay, 2013b). Environmental management has been noted previously as a critical issue facing the industry globally and is often exacerbated in countries of the global South as poor bureaucratic infrastructure exists for creating and managing environmental regulations linked specifically to tourism. Addressing these three concerns will be crucial to ensure the sustainable development of adventure tourism in the region.

Africa is often synonymous with thoughts of excitement, exoticism, and venturing into the unknown, especially for international tourists, all of which are indicators of adventure (Swarbrooke et al., 2003). For this reason, there are a number of adventure tourism opportunities on the continent. Nevertheless, currently they tend to be concentrated and focus on specific sectors. With the growth of tourism on the continent and increasing intracontinental tourism, there is a great deal of potential to further develop adventure tourism, particularly in relatively underdeveloped rural areas. Development of adventure tourism products does, however, need to be carefully planned and consider some of the above concerns particularly in terms of marketing, training, environmental management, and the inclusion of local communities. A great deal of additional research is needed on this important subsector. A broad approach to examining adventure tourism, as an entity, across Africa is of utmost importance in developing a deeper understanding of the phenomenon. In addition, further investigation into adventure tourism linkages with local communities as well as its real economic benefits would contribute significantly to the current academic discourse and assist future development.


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