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Adventuring in time of COVID

By Christina Beckmann

Posted: September 2, 2020


While Health and Safety has always been an important consideration for responsible adventure travel tour operators and guides, the COVID pandemic has brought new challenges along with heightened traveller awareness. 

If you’ve been wondering whether your dreams of future river trips, trekking excursions or safaris are forever dashed as a result of COVID, understanding what the professional adventure industry is doing to support the return of these experiences will not only give you the information you need to evaluate future trips wisely, it will also hopefully lift your spirits to see how the industry is responding to help get us all back out doing what we love again soon.

The Adventure Travel Trade Association in partnership with Switzerland Tourism, G Adventures, JTB Tourism Research and Consulting, REI Adventures and Backroads recently released a set of Adventure Travel COVID-19 Health & Safety Guidelines. The guidelines were informed and advised throughout their development by Cleveland Clinic, a world-renowned healthcare provider ranked as a top U.S. hospital in U.S. News & World Report’s “2019-20 Best Hospitals.” 

Detailed guidelines for Trekking, Cycling, Rafting, Camping including Food Prep in the field, Culinary Experiences, Cultural Tours/Sightseeing, Small Lodges, Small Vessels Cruising, Skiing & Snowboarding, and Wildlife Experiences were created, here is a brief overview:

What to expect on your trip:

If you choose to travel with a company that is following these guidelines, you may expect some of these precautions on your trip.

  • You may receive waivers and declaration forms with information and questions relevant to COVID-19, such as your isolation habits, testing outcomes, or existence of signs or symptoms prior to the trip. We advise you to adhere to the company’s policy whilst on the trip to include actions such as maintaining distance, respiratory and hand hygiene standards, and being honest with feeling any symptoms to help protect you and those around you. We’re all in this together, so honesty is key!
  • The use of vehicles to transport groups includes a higher degree of COVID-19 transmission risk. Measures to mitigate this risk may include opening vehicle windows, providing space in between passengers and having passengers wear face coverings. Consider the use of face shields or the use of private vehicles for transportation as additional measures. 
  • Despite all measures, there is always the potential for individuals to develop signs and symptoms of COVID-19 before or during tours. The vast majority of people infected with COVID-19 show minor to no symptoms, however some will go on to develop more serious signs which require admittance to a hospital, or an ICU. For this reason, you may encounter temperature checks and health screenings on your trip. Should you begin to show symptoms on your trip, you should be prepared to isolate or even evacuate. The more remote the activity, the more complex and timely the evacuation. Consideration should be made for manner and method of evacuation. Check to see if  your insurance provider covers this and ask your tour operator about their policies and procedures if this should happen.

How you can prepare:

While the companies and destinations you visit are working hard to mitigate risk, you too have an important role in keeping yourself and others safe while you travel.

  • Prior to booking travel, you may consult with your primary care provider and consult local and official advice to determine whether you fall into a vulnerable or high-risk group and should travel or not.
  • An activity that takes place in a popular area may pose a greater risk of social interaction with visitors or activity participants, thus increasing the chance of virus transmission. Where possible you should consider visiting other, off-the-beaten-path destinations.
  • It is recommended that you have valid travel insurance for the destination and trip type on which you are embarking. The pandemic has added additional complexities surrounding insurance as no policy covers all COVID-19 travel risks so check your policy carefully and ensure you understand who will pay for additional costs if incurred. 
  • Check on the Company’s terms and conditions and refund and cancellation policies to see if it allows for cancelations due to self assessment, onset of symptoms, or last-minute advice against travel by healthcare providers.
  • Be sure to pack your own face coverings, such as masks, a well tied synthetic or cotton face mask, neck gaiters, or Buffs.
  • Don’t forget to bring a small bottle of hand sanitizer to keep close to you at all times.

If this all feels a bit unclear, a specific activity example is the rafting guidelines, which include (in addition to what we would expect, “Provide ample access to hand washing facilities and sanitizer”)  helpful recommendations for group transport, suggestions for boat size and how people are arranged in boats, and maintaining family groups together. Guidance for behavior at put-in and take-out, equipment maintenance and rescues and assistance are also included.

Keep an eye out for the ATTA COVID-19 Safety Badge, too. Companies displaying this badge are stating that they are following these guidelines. While ATTA does not verify operator compliance with the guidelines, as a traveler you’re empowered now to ask smart questions and be a wise observer to help guard your own safety.  If you are interested, you can review the full guidelines here.