In February, the Adventure Travel Trade Association and the International Institute of Tourism Studies at The George Washington University released their annual Adventure Tourism Development Index, a joint project that ranks countries according to their potential as adventure/nature travel destinations.
The survey is not an opinion poll. It uses data produced by a variety of organizations, including United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, Transparency International and the U.S. State Department, along with the input of advisory boards to score adventure travel destinations in 10 categories, or pillars, including safety, transparency, economic freedom (or what the index calls "entrepreneurship") and natural and cultural resources. What spurred the report was a desire to clarify certain ideas about adventure and nature tourism, and to encourage destinations to take a fresh look at how they think of and develop their resources. The project doesn't recommend or prescribe specific activities but identifies principles, such as the preservation of natural and cultural resources. Economic freedom is one of the weighted factors in the basket of indices because adventure travel depends on people who develop fringe ideas — snowboarding, for example — that may take time to work their way into the mainstream.
The Adventure Tourism Development Index ranks countries in two categories: developed and developing, based on the countries’ U.N. designation. Here is the Top 10 in each for 2009. Complete rankings can be found here.
1. Slovak Republic
3. Czech Republic
3. New Zealand
4. United Kingdom
"The best adventure activities," said Christina Heyniger, president of Xola Consulting Inc., which advised on the report, "often seem to spring from little local businesses. So to have adventure markets you have to provide fertile ground for small businesses."
The report is aimed at both travelers and host countries, Heyniger said. "As a consumer, what you find is places that maybe you hadn't thought of [as adventure destinations]," she explained. "As a government, you can see that maybe you hadn't thought of yourself as an adventure tourism destination, but hey, it looks like you've got some of the raw materials to make that happen. We wanted to create quantitative measures, and we created a list to get people's attention.
"We can't enforce anything, but we can move the sway of public opinion."
The index divides the world into developing and developed countries, using U.N. designations. Some of the index results are surprising. The top three developing countries in 2009 were the Slovak Republic, Israel and the Czech Republic. All three scored highly for their sustainable development practices, "adventure activity resources" (a measure of environmental stewardship) and entrepreneurship. The top three developed countries — Iceland, Switzerland and New Zealand, respectively — were less counterintuitive.
The report is available at here.