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Chile is the Top Sustainable Adventure Tourism Destination!

According to the recently published Adventure Tourism Development Index conducted by the Adventure Travel Trade Association (ATTA), the George Washington University and Vital Wave Consulting, Chile now ranks as the number one sustainable adventure tourism destination amongst developing countries. This will come as no surprise to the many thousands of visitors that already flock to Chile each year to take advantage of the fantastic adventure opportunities offered up by the dramatic natural landscape. For everyone else, here’s the lowdown on the facts!


What is Adventure Travel?

You could argue that any vacation somewhere new is a bit of an adventure, so how do we know what really counts as true adventure travel? ATTA defines it as any trip away from home that lasts over 24 hours and includes at least two of the following activities:

  • Interaction with nature
  • Interaction with culture
  • A physical activity

In Chile that might involve sea kayaking in Patagonia, hiking the Paine Circuit, rafting the Maipo river, horseback riding in the Andes, cycling through Torres del Paine National Park, snowboarding in the Valle Nevado... Well, you get the idea!

What’s the Link Between Adventure Travel and Sustainability?

Adventure tourism is one of the fastest growing sectors in the travel industry, an economic area which is booming in general. In fact, from 2009 to 2010 the adventure tourism sector saw 17% growth. And according to the ATDI report, one company that provides a booking engine services for adventure companies noted that the number of travellers accessing tour operator websites to book trips increased from 8% to 18% between 2010 and 2011, demonstrating that interest continues to grow year on year. With so much potential for growth, it’s important to ensure that the industry develops sustainably and doesn’t detract from the ability of future generations to enjoy these activities.

On top of this, adventure tourism is innately linked to the natural world that supports it, so it’s in a unique position to set the trend going forward in terms of conservation and sustainable development. Adventure tourism not only can do more to encourage people to conserve the natural environment by fostering an appreciation of the natural word, but to ensure it’s own survival as an industry it must protect the environment that provides the stage for so many of these activities.

How is Sustainable Adventure Tourism Judged?

The report assesses each country against the ten criteria. Once each country has been assigned a mark for each of the below factors, the points are totted up and arranged in order of total scores. The criteria are:

Sustainable Development - The judges use unemployment statistics and environmental legislation to assess how sustainable a country’s development is. Chile’s low levels of unemployment plus its high environmental performance indicates that it’s development is very sustainable.

Safety - Tourists are naturally more attracted to countries that are considered safe. Countries with low levels of corruption, no travel warnings and a high level of transparency score highly in this category.

Natural Resources - This category is graded on population density, the length of the coastline, and the ratio of coastline to total area of the country. With a low population density, 6,435 kilometres of coastline, and as the longest country in the world in terms of length to width ratio, it’s easy to see why Chile scores highly here!

Health - Countries with a high number of hospital beds and a high number of doctors per inhabitant score highly in terms of health. This is important to sustainable travel as a country with a good healthcare system is more able support adventure travellers.

Entrepreneurship - This is essential to sustainable development as new businesses and startups must have the right environment in order to thrive. Chile is renowned as one of the most attractive places worldwide to invest and start a new business.

Adventure Activity Resources - It would be an almost impossible task to mark countries on all of their adventure activity resources, so the study focuses on the presence of forests, grasslands and drylands as indicators of adventure resources. In Chile, all of these environments can be found in Patagonia alone, never mind the rest of the country!

Humanitarian - The human development of a country is judged by factors such as life expectancy and the presence and activity of NGOs and charitable institutions.

Infrastructure - This includes both hard infrastructure such as roads, airports, lodgings and trails, as well as soft infrastructure such as the availability of maps and information, and the number of tour operators.

Cultural Resources - This is calculated by counting the number of UNESCO World Heritage Sites and protected areas in a country. Chile counts the churches of Chiloé, the port at Valparaíso, Humberstone and Santa Laura Saltpeter Works, Rapa Nui National Park on Easter Island and Sewell Mining Town amongst its UNESCO World Heritage Sites and has many protected National Parks.

Image - In this study, a country’s image is based on the opinion of a panel of adventure travel experts who all have more than 5 years of experience in the adventure travel industry. They use their wealth of experience to judge how desirable the country is considered as an adventure tourism destination.

What Does This Tell Us About Chile?

When the Adventure Tourism Development Index was launched in 2009 Chile appeared at number six in the list, rising to 3rd place the following year, and finally topping the list for developing countries in the most recent study. Throughout this three year period it has remained the only Latin American country in the top ten for either developing or developed countries.

This shows evidence of a trend of improvement and advances in Chile that looks set to continue into the future. As Shannon Stowell, president of ATTA, remarks “It is encouraging to see Chile’s rise to number one; their stable economy, wealth of adventure activities and dedication from their tourism boards on nature-based travel, indicate an understanding of the long-term value of well-managed adventure travel.

Chile even holds its ground when compared to the country that tops the list for sustainable development among developed countries, Switzerland, demonstrating that it’s more than capable of playing in the big leagues. It’s worth noting that Chile ranked even higher than Switzerland with regard to Natural Resources and Image as judged by industry experts, and only scored slightly less in terms of Adventure Resources.

In 2011 tourism represented a 2.9% direct contribution to Chile’s gross domestic product, and this is expected to rise by 3.9% a year between 2012 and 2022. As long as Chile continues to succeed with its implementation of sustainable tourism, there’s no reason to believe that both Chileans and adventure travellers can’t continue to reap considerable benefits into the future.