* * * * * * * * TERRIE'S (TOURISM) TAKE - BY TERRIE LLOYD * * * * * *
A bi-weekly focused look at the tourism sector in Japan, by Terrie
Lloyd, a long-term technology and media entrepreneur living in Japan.
Tourism Sector Edition Sunday, Jan 22, 2017, Issue No. 880
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+++ Adventure Tourism and Risk Mitigation, Without Strangulation by Rules
As a foreigner living in Japan, I felt rather embarrassed seeing the TV
news reports about an Australian family getting lost in backcountry
(off-piste) snow in Nagano and having to be rescued the following day.
The family can be commended for having the presence of mind to dig a
snow cave and wait out the evening until rescuers appeared, but I do
feel that they could have been more responsible in reading the weather
reports, packing better clothing and supplies, and listening to locals
about skiing conditions in the area.
It was pure luck that they emerged from their ordeal cold but otherwise
unhurt. Indeed, seeing several of the sons on TV as they boarded the
ambulance, they looked just fine and even ready to head back out for
another run. The mom, however, appeared tired and shaken - and perhaps
she alone realized what a close call they had just had.
No supervision or rules, risk, thrills... these are all the major points
of attraction for skiers wanting to stray from established ski fields
and try their luck on backcountry slopes. While rules-tolerant Japanese
are more likely to stick to the patrolled areas and so backcountry
skiers haven't been much of a problem, given how popular it is overseas
and how attractive Japanese snow conditions are, it's no wonder that
Nozawa and other central Honshu locations are becoming the new mecca for
backcountry skiing for foreign tourists.
Experienced backcountry skiers are supposed to be highly sensitive to
the risks. Top of their list is avalanches, not such a major problem in
Nozawa (Hakuba is riskier), awareness of the experience/fitness levels
of others in the group, quality of their equipment, and the weather.
There had been heavy falls of fresh snow over the previous couple of
weeks, cover was deep, and visibility on the day they got lost was low.
I therefore have to assume that given the inadequate preparation done,
they probably shouldn't have been out there in the first place. In that
respect, they're really lucky that Japan has such good cell phone
reception in the mountains. Without that, they may not have made it
back. Others haven't been so lucky and there was one death in 2010 of
someone who was out of bounds in the same area, along with another close
call of an Australian in 2014.
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During the TV news segment a newscaster opined that maybe backcountry
skiing should be banned or at least severely limited, and perhaps on the
face of it this was a reasonable call. Other countries certainly have
rules about skiing out of bounds, typically drawing the line by defining
the consequences of reckless behavior. For example, if you need rescuing
and it's deemed that you were reckless by going backcountry in poor
conditions, you may have to pay for the rescue. This is a pretty good
deterrent, since a rescue can involve several dozen people, equipment,
helicopters, ambulances, and possibly hospital treatment - so you're
looking at tens of thousands of dollars at least.
But on the other hand, probably what drew that family to Nozawa in the
first place was its reputation as a great place to do backcountry skiing
and the sense of adventure. For the Japanese authorities to be too
draconian about these adventure-seeking tourists will strangle the
nation's emerging adventure tourism sector, which promises to become
huge over the next ten years. Adventure-seekers are looking for
experiences they can't get at home, not rigid controls. They come
knowing that there are some risks, and in return for having a great
experience they tell their friends and come back for more. And so far
they are not creating an excessive burden on rescue services.
Adventure travel worldwide is a key driver of repeat tourism. It focuses
travelers on one particular destination and usually involves both
skilled ground crew and sophisticated rental equipment, thus requiring
higher investment and commitment by the traveler than mere
bus-in/bus-out travelers. For this reason, just about every regional
tourism authority in the country is investigating adventure tourism as a
way to tap into the overall inbound travel boom.
"Adventure" can of course mean many things, but generally in Japan it
means potentially risky (thus thrilling) experiences that require some
degree of skill and/or exertion. Currently the most popular adventure
activities are skiing, road cycling, scuba diving, and mountain
trekking. However, rafting, paragliding, bungy jumping, mountain biking,
canyoning, ziplining, and rock climbing are quickly gaining popularity
and Japan has plenty of destinations that can offer such experiences.
Some countries have already been down this road - that of balancing
thrills with spills. One good example is New Zealand, which pioneered
jet boat rides at top speed through narrow and potentially dangerous
river gulleys such as the Shotover river in the South Island. Although
there have been some accidents over the 30 years of operation on the
river, the combination of a single company operator license (imposed by
government legislation) and rigorous training for the boat drivers has
meant just five accidents and one fatality in the last 18 years - all
while carrying more than three million passengers at NZ$145 a head!
New Zealand has developed an excellent adventure tourism industry, worth
NZ$3bn annually, which encourages thrill seekers to travel far beyond
the usual tourist sites and thus distributes those tourists and their
dollars all around the country. One of the key elements to New Zealand's
success has been its willingness to address the adventure tourism sector
negatives head-on and in a supportive manner, rather than try to ban or
over regulate it. Core to the effort has been the 2011 Health and Safety
in Employment (Adventure Activities) Regulations which require operators
to register and to be audited.
http://bit.ly/2jlvAqA (NZ safety act)
The auditing is done by professionals, who judge the levels of risk,
quality of risk mitigation, quality and appropriateness of staff
training, etc. Interesting to see that Bureau Veritas is one of the four
approved safety auditors for the adventure tourism industry there. So if
Japan were to follow a similar path, they could avail themselves of that
expertise from Bureau Veritas here in Japan.
...The information janitors/
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