Adventure Travel as a keyword phrase and as sub sect of the tourism industry has taken off exponentially in the past 15 years. The term encompasses an array of travel activities, themes and concepts in almost every region of the world. Adventure Travel means going beyond the realm of visiting places and sightseeing, it means exploring, interacting and experiencing these places in fun, active, spiritual, educational, “you name it”, ways.
Because of its prevalence there have been both improvements and declinations in certain regions of the world that have established businesses that cater to the adventure travel aficionado. This piece does not touch on every aspect of the subject, though it does visit several pertinent points regarding it. The overarching theme will be the particular stance of Duende Mayan Jungle Tours, and how the company’s philosophy embodies concepts and ideas that should be pervasive with the adventure travel industry as a whole.
What the majority of the travel industry once considered to be the ultimate vacation (an all-inclusive stay at a beach resort or cruise) is now passé. In the past 20 years the world has completely turned on to traveling to exotic places in extraordinary ways. The majority of adventure travel deemed tours and excursions deal with some sort of physical activity in either foreign or domestic land. Whale watching in Baja California, Diving in Micronesia, Climbing Mount Kilimanjaro, all of these are examples of what people are doing on their travel vacations. And as the adventure travel industry expands, more and more unique activities and destinations are added to the mix of extraordinary travel.
Adventure Travel Industry
This expansion has both positive and negative ramifications. The positive have mostly to do with a wider selection of options for travelers from which to choose. The negative has mostly to do with over-saturation of tour operators in certain regions of the world, meaning environmental impact. In reference to the positive attributes that develop from an expansion of the adventure travel industry, it is as aforementioned a consumer benefit. As the industry expands, travelers are provided greater and more varied opportunities in a section of the adventure travel industry of their interest. This may mean lower prices and higher quality of service and tours. Competition has a tendency of forcing the average tour operator to scale up in terms of customer service and product quality. On the other hand, if the industry expands unequally and over-saturates a certain geographical region, the affects and impact the industry could have on that region could be catastrophic in terms of the environment and cultural society.
Tikal, Guatemala serves as a prime example of both effects. As one of the most sought after destinations of the Mayan World, Tikal offers to the adventure travel aficionado an opportunity to see and explore incredible archaeological treasures, zip-line across lush jungles, hike, bike and horseback to nearby remote jungle ruins. A surge of tourists have and continue to congregate around the Tikal national park area, due, in large part to the growing number of tour operators in the area…only a few of which are local.
In a world that is largely feeling the effects of globalization, regions once untouched are being commercialized as much as the mp3 players and boy bands. Tikal and the surrounding Mayan ruins are becoming those commercialized mechanisms of globalization, adventure travel as a keyword and concept drives the marketing.
Enjoying Adventure Travel
And with this foreign idea and investment, much of the culture is beginning to change. The indigenous Maya who are slowly but surely adopting, “adventure travel” into their everyday vocabulary are changing their way of life, either by becoming involved in the process or “selling out”. Large “adventure travel” corporations are setting up business in the Tikal area without any prior orientation to the community. Without naming names, there have been several tour operators that have taken excessively large groups through the jungles and to small indigenous communities that are not prepared, nor equipped to handle the ecological or cultural impact of foreigners. A paradox is formed by the interaction: cultural differences and misunderstandings are created by the forced and brief integration between the foreign presence and the locals. The locals have no other way of knowing what the foreigners are like other than this interaction. Any chance of genuine interchange and learning is foiled by the inadequacies of large tour operators that just care about making money by bring large groups through these beautiful and delicate communities.
Furthermore, locals are left little choice with what to do with either their land or way of life when tourism takes over. Corporations buy the land from locals at cheap prices, hire the locals for a very low wage, and turn the area into a Mayan Disneyland. It is no wonder these communities sometimes become hostile, or at least develop a dislike for foreign tourism.
In the wake of it all, how does Duende Tours’ differ? Well, it’s not only the application, but furthermore the vision of “adventure travel” that Duende Tours promotes which makes the company an eco tour pioneer among tour operators. Not only does Duende Tours minimize impact by capping the number of travelers, – 10 maximum- it also has a history within the community; both co-founders have extensive experience within the community: one lived with the jungle community of Guatemala for 5 years the other has traveled within the community for over a decade. One can be sure that the tour incorporates the utmost sensitivity and respect for the ecosystem and community of the Mayan jungle. Beyond this key point, Duende Tours promotes the idea of human ecology. This idea takes “adventure to a philosophical level, one premised on “preserving and conserving” that which was experienced in the jungle: the flora, fauna, archaeology and, of course culture and community. Duende Tours has always clearly stated their position on expanding into a money-making machine….it doesn’t exist. They are an eco-friendly business for the people and places they visit, and nothing else.