Adventure Tourism in Purbeck - Adventure Tourism Research Association

by Owen Senior Adventure

Adventure Tourism in Purbeck - Adventure Tourism Research Association

Adventure Tourism in Purbeck, Dorset - A Report by ATRA atra

An objective overview of Adventure Tourism (AT) in Purbeck: a brief contextual report of an important, relatively recent but fast growing AT hub. By drawing together key elements of history, management and community the aim is to stimulate debate about adaptation and development for the local economy[1].DSC_7495 (1)

Executive Summary

  • Adventure Tourism (AT) is growing rapidly worldwide, including Purbeck which although far from unique in British AT development has many original components of environment and activity which position it at the cutting edge of AT innovation in Britain
  • Purbeck is close to substantial urban populations, notably Poole-Bournemouth-Southampton but beyond this, Greater London and the SE England towns and cities
  • Purbeck offers opportunities to the holiday market (7-14 day stay, predominantly summer) and the ‘lifestyle sport’ market (1-2 days, typically week-ends, all year round). Both sectors are growing
  • AT growth raises issues related to environment, society and politics in Purbeck. Addressing such issues requires a balance between top down and bottom up planning
  • The Purbeck-centric AT businesses (PATB), currently competitive and individualised, could plan and operate more effectively in the interests of the local economy if there was direct representation on Purbeck District Council
  • An instructor training scheme that serviced all PATBs and that was cognisant of national and international projects to develop standards for AT operations yet sensitive to local circumstances has the potential to bring support to community sustainability in Purbeck
  • Purbeck is not alone in dealing with a complex circumstance of land ownership, property prices, work opportunities, tourist services and changing patterns of leisure activities and holiday locations and formats but, having identified the potential of AT to stimulate the local economy, requires only the political will and the structural conditions to be proactive in making  this happen
  • New models of business operation are emerging in a twenty-first century dominated by the world-wide-web: new ‘platform’ modes of operation are re-structuring a holiday market that is empowering tourists to take greater control of their own itineraries.
  • A deferral to ‘expert’ provision for practical activities by most tourists is an outcome of a ‘time poor, income rich’ but well informed circumstance for most people shaped by the management of risk.
  • There are important areas of demographic detail, group and individual motivations and aspiration and ‘need’ that are not covered by this introductory report.Adults Paddle Boarding


The 2013 Adventure Travel Trade Association (ATTA) market study noted: (1) adventure tourists are younger than non-adventure tourists with an average age of 36; (2) this emerging demographic is more likely to use professional services such as guides, instructors and tour operators; (3) adventure tourists are planning trips by researching online, consulting friends and family and are recommending trips by posting on social media (the percentage using Facebook has doubled in three years).

The (global) growth of AT has been so rapid that definitions of what it actually is have yet to be agreed. ATTA does, however, suggest that AT must include at least two of the following: physical activity, natural environment and cultural immersion. UNWTO (2015) present evidence to show that AT is ‘resilient’, it attracts ‘high value customers’, it ‘supports local economies’ and it ‘encourages sustainable practices’.

Sport England and the Outdoors Industry Association commissioned ‘Getting Active Outdoors: a Study of Demography, Motivation, Participation and Provision in Outdoor Sport & Recreation in England’ (June, 2015). Key findings: §  8.9m people are currently active outdoors §  Of these 2.8m want to do more §  18.2m not currently active outdoors want to re-engage and participate in the next 12 months

A (Very) Brief Context

ATRA is an organisational ‘clearing house’ that generates and sustains informed critical debate about the place of adventure in people’s lives today, but does so through an ethos that brings together the views and ideas of practitioners and professionals in the adventure industry with more theoretical drivers of (research informed) academics. Many of us have a foot in both camps anyway as we have a background as qualified adventure practitioners (a necessity when gleaning data for research via fieldwork) and remain active adventurers in a range of outdoor pursuits. One aim of ATRA is to provide a consultancy service to assist planning and strategic development in the sector. At the risk of oversimplification, we have noted, and have evidence for, the following trends in the emergence of adventure tourism:

  • ‘Traditional outdoor activities’[2] remain but have been supplemented by ‘new’[3] activities
  • All outdoor activities, but especially the new forms (which are attractive to the younger generation), benefit from the accelerated distribution of words and images catalysed by the web, and social media sites in particular
  • New activities are characterised by the attractiveness of novelty, developments in technology and marketed opportunities for excitement (in a risk managed environment)
  • Outdoor activities offer a holistic experience which engages more than physical activity and which holds out the potential for enhanced environmental awareness and new (perhaps temporary) forms of communal identification
  • Adventure tourism is growing rapidly and has considerable potential to generate income benefits for local and regional economies

It is not the purpose of this report to explore the social and cultural reasons for this growth – these are complex and would involve an analysis of contemporary lifestyle choices, agendas of health and environmental sustainability discourse in tourist generating countries – but rather to draw out the potential impact for a local economy, in this case Purbeck. This passage (UNWTO 2015 p. 13) is prescient:

Today, Adventure Tourism is a vibrant, dynamic and fast changing sector with new variants routinely added into the possible experiences. Individual companies are often small, owner-operated businesses led by entrepreneurs with a drive to share their favourite places and passions with others. Adventure offers opportunities to entrepreneurs in rural areas around the world to do the same.

Adventure tourism is not coming to Purbeck, it is already here. There are three component challenges to be explored: environment, social adaptation and the political context.DSC_0776 (1)

The Environment

This is about striking a balance between retaining the physical land and seascapes that are fundamental to tourist attraction and the provision of an infrastructure that directly impacts the aesthetic and functionality of place: roads, car parks, accommodation, slipways, engineered paths and sign-posting are all examples. The designation of numerous Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) and Natural Nature Reserves (NNR) is indicative of environmental concerns to retain bio-diversity but such designations bring their own issues of access and management, all in a context of global patterns of climate change.

The ‘Great Outdoors’ remains an important part of contemporary life with a growing number of projects (e.g. Wicken Fen in Cambridgeshire) which are part of what McVeigh (2015) refers to as the ‘re-wilding’ of Britain. In Scotland there is serious discussion about re-introducing wolves, lynx and bears to control the deer population. Whilst such ambitions are not applicable to the smaller and more densely populated areas of south England it may be noted that reintroducing white tailed sea eagles to Mull has been estimated to have increased the island’s tourist industry by £5m. / per year.

Issue= how to generate tourist economy without compromising the physical attractiveness of Purbeck as place.glamping at night

Social Challenges

Developed countries such as the UK / England sustain an ageing population. The longevity we enjoy has been catalysed by better health care and environmental conditions but also through more active lifestyle choices. Purbeck is 4th on the Guardian’s ‘Top Places to Retire in England’. There is a potential tension between the small seaside town / rural idyll attractiveness of a retirement choice and the potential influx of a young and energised tourist population seeking adventure.

People with disabilities enjoy a more influential voice in present enlightened times but, particularly for people with physical disabilities, this generates a need for special infrastructure and management adaptations. A further dynamic – which has been well underway nationally for many years – are structural changes that require outdoor education centres to become more entrepreneurial and generate income to support their activities.

Issue= how to reconcile Purbeck residents, especially those from outside the region who have chosen to live here, to the growing transient population of adventure tourists.burnbake bushcraft

Political Challenges

It is a truism to state that the potential of outdoor, adventure and nature based tourism is only taken seriously by political bodies if there is a proven link to regional development and clear benefits for the local economy. There is a tension between different mechanisms of income generation with some groups set against a liberalising agenda of extending access to the ‘Great Outdoors’. This is evidenced by the long political battle(s) to secure a right to roam in England, finally legalised by the Countryside & Rights of Way Act 2000 (CROW) which allowed conditional access to English countryside and was phased in over the period 2000-2005.

This is a long way from being the allenmansratten (‘freedom to roam’) in Sweden where there is a right to walk, cycle, ski, ride and camp on any land other than a private garden or close to dwellings and cultivated land. The CROW act also excludes access to water (to protect anglers and riparian owners privilege) meaning that the British Canoe Union (BCU) continue to lobby for access to inland water for paddling (current access is restricted to about 2% of inland water in England). However, CROW remains a step in a liberalising direction (even if some tensions it was designed to alleviate via its ‘do not disturb, do not destroy’ message of participant responsibility have actually been exacerbated) that will leave some elements of the local economy (farmers are the obvious example) wary of change.

It is also a truism to state that outdoor activities contribute to our psychological well-being (as has been acknowledged through a range of Government sponsored research) and that the ‘Great Outdoors’ has an important role to play in keeping us fit and healthy. Part of this is to do with ‘escape’, especially for those who live and work in big urban areas, and part is to do with a belonging and / or a sense of community. Outdoor activities provide group bonding through the shared adventure and physical engagement. There is no doubt that there are ongoing political debates drawing upon political ideology such as ‘Big Society’ that directly impact the population demographics of Purbeck in relation to work, housing and local communities.

Issue= how to reconcile a diverse range of local economic needs in support of improving income through the local economy.Epic Experiences

A Critical View of the Tourism Strategy for Purbeck (2007-13)

We acknowledge that social and economic planning at District level is never easy and requires a sensitive balance to accommodate the needs and wants of a diverse demographic; it is also beholden to regional and national politics, and in particular the economic conditions that operate more generally. Nevertheless, as the experts on the details of local conditions there is still scope for local authorities to plan to advantage local interests where practicable. This may mean thinking outside the box.

The existing strategy for Purbeck is essentially a ‘standard’ plan using existing frameworks that are commonplace in tourism management nationally. It is a ‘top-down’ strategy that locates itself in the ‘certainties’ of the past in so far as the vision seeks to build on what has preceded it. There is an acknowledgement of changing demographics but the ‘voice’ of the strategy is that of the planning authorities that, for example, understand that the powerful pull of the British seaside has long been diminished by more exotic possibilities for many, but are as yet unsure about how to achieve a re-invention.

The answer lies in a bottom up approach which airs the voice of and empowers to action people who currently have little or no say in strategic planning for tourism: most obviously, for Purbeck, this is represented by the adventure entrepreneurs in the area and the services which support these businesses such as accommodation, catering and entertainment.AIT6

The Existing Situation in Purbeck

The outdoor scenery combines with the clement aspect and climate and the predominantly rural characteristic of Purbeck to establish its holiday destination credentials. Hyland (1978 pp. 17-18) captures an essential tension in this attractiveness of Pubeck, the ‘island’:

[Tourists].. pass in and out to view and to enjoy the island, hermetically sealed against real contact with it, or settle in its stone cottages, innocent and ignorant of the ancient fabric upon which they impose their new pattern. Most natives do not welcome them, for their appreciation of the place is superficial, so their impact upon it is profound. The tourist traffic, once a luxury trade, has become an economic necessity for a proportion of the population who have grown more and more dependent on its annual injection of wealth.

The web was embryonic and Trip Advisor non-existent in the 1970s but the essential tension brought out in this passage remains: it identifies ‘tourists’ (but says nothing about the ‘type’ of tourists other than to suggest a high class and selective clientele from history) and the economic power of its industry.

Today, Trip Advisor ( both collates and focuses tourist attention: the physical attractions of Purbeck remain (on the ‘Things to do in Dorset’ page Lulworth & Durdle Door are 13th, Brownsea Island 15th, Studland Beach & Nature Reserve 20th and Old Harry Rocks 27th). However, using the same listing, it is the doing that rises up the agenda with Kayaking & Canoeing (3rd), Water-sports generally (7th), Horse Riding (12th) and Fishing (16th). When one explores the outdoor activity specific business distribution in and around Purbeck (see appendix 1) there is evidence of both ‘traditional’ adventure activities (e.g. coastal walking) and ‘new’ activities (e.g. coasteering).

The following table indicates the breadth of activities available in these two broad categories which, in the absence of more business specific data (see the attempt in appendix 2), might be combined with the popularity indicator provided by Trip Advisor as an indication of the rise of Adventure Tourism in Purbeck. It is noted that Land & Wave (multi-activities) comes out top of the list of 130 local providers (and top of the relevant web-based sign-posting when each activity emerges on the Trip Advisor ‘Things to do in Dorset’ page) and that Studland Stables (horse riding) is third with Cumulous Outdoors (Swanage based multi-activities, but especially coasteering) in seventh place. All these businesses are Purbeck based.

Indicative Land and Water Based Outdoor Activity Forms from Dorset, Including Purbeck

Traditional Outdoor Activities New Outdoor Activities
Beach fun Sand Sculptures
Horse riding
Boat trips (slow) e.g. Harry May, Lyme Regis Boat trips (fast) e.g. Poole Sea Safari
Cycle tours (road based) Mountain Biking (road and off-road) e.g. Jurassic Trails (self hire & guided tours)
Bushcraft Bootcamps & Assault courses
Walking (recreation / education) e.g. Fossilwalks, Charmouth Self guided and sign-posted walking routes, especially in nature reserves
Canoeing Paddle boarding
Kayaking Jet Skiing
Snow sports (Artificial) skiing / snowboarding
Swimming Coasteering
Rock Climbing Indoor climbing
Surfing Kite Surfing
Sailing Windsurfing
Mackerel Fishing
Yacht Charters Balloon Tours
Scuba Diving Aquatic Jetpacks

It is instructive to also note that, as a barometer of tourist satisfaction, Trip Advisor can work in both directions; consider the case of the Bournemouth based Cheap Kayaks UK (listed 80th from 130 providers) which has a comment of “fantastic” posted from 4/8/14 but a second posting from later the same month (22/8/14) which says “not safe”. Perhaps this is a combination of an unfortunate company name and a stark reminder that adventure tourism is built on trust backed up with appropriate engagement with risk management by qualified professionals.

It is also instructive to note that the market for adventure tourism continues to grow with several examples of Adventure Tourism Businesses that are so recent that they have not generated any posted commentary via Trip Advisor[4]. These include WK Watersports (Bournemouth); CHCH School of Surf (Christchurch); The Watersports Academy (Poole); Rockley Point Sailing Centre (Poole); Portland Climbing (Bere Regis) and Fore Adventure (Studland Bay). Only the latter is geographically in Purbeck, but it does indicate:

(1) The adventure market continues to grow and

(2) Growth, and the economic benefits from this, could by-pass Purbeck (which may be entirely acceptable to the Council, but if so, needs to be strategically positioned thus rather than an outcome of strategic neutrality, or even indecision).

Proposed Strategic Developments

  • Dialogue intra Purbeck adventure business followed by AT representation on the Council[5]. This person needs to be knowledgeable, experienced and qualified in adventure pursuits but outside any vested interests in the AT businesses represented.
  • AT Council Representation needs to secure grant funding drawn down from attendance to the key areas of ‘need’: health, fitness, disability, local business (think EU funding as well)
  • Instructor training in three areas: hard skills, soft skills & local knowledge – this latter dimension of specificity allows established (older) local experts to interact with (younger) trainee instructors. Potential here to pilot a national template for English AT Professionals[6].at-purbeck-arrow

Such a scheme may have the potential to connect with the European Learning Syllabus for Outdoor Animators (ELESA) project which plans to set out a pan-European syllabus for training outdoor instructors[7]. This direction of travel is consistent with global trends: ATTA, having recognised that ISO 21101 & TR 21102 are (currently) the only international safety standards that address safety in AT, has set out for consultation on its proposed ‘Adventure Travel Guide Qualifications & Performance Standard’ a proposal drawn up by 22 industry professionals drawn from 16 countries.

To further complicate the standards / qualifications debate, ATRA has been invited to contribute to the British contingent in the development of a new ISO standard for AT which integrates sustainability. The commitment from the Experts would be to work with an International Working Group (ISO/TC228/WG7) of experts to contribute to the standard, ensuring that the interests of the UK are put forward and considered. The International Committee expect to meet twice a year[8].

Risk management in AT makes the development of such qualifications and guiding frameworks an inevitability of contemporary times. These generic discussions and proposals are responses to both the speed of AT business development and its fragmented / individualised small operator constitution. Although such ‘on paper’ credibility is important, the standards, training and monitoring this involves is itself fragmented and inconsistently applied, or even understood by the adventure tourists who are buying these activity products.

What is missing from these commendable but heavy handed solutions is local nuance and sensitivity: perhaps Purbeck could become an example of good practice that combines the elements of instructor training outlined above in ways that set out a template for local awareness that could be developed elsewhere.

The BCU in Britain has formulated and put into practice a coherent set of paddling awards that recognise both individual skill development in different water environments and instructor training to different levels that has become recognised around the world as definitive of managing practice in canoeing and kayaking: examples can be cited from North America, Scandinavia and Sea Kayaking Milos – one of only two commercial kayaking businesses in the Greek islands.DSC_0056


It is complicated; sometimes interest groups pull in different directions. There is a need to find communal interests which benefit the hopes and aspirations (as well as the needs) of the majority. On the assumption that Purbeck wants to develop its economic potential through tourism, there are thematic foci to promote the area in ways that government and business as well as charitable and private enterprise (e.g. SUSTRANS)  will support. These include:

  • Health & Fitness (especially for children and the elderly)
  • Environmental Education (especially for adults whose own education preceded current educational trends in science and citizenship, for example)
  • Support for small businesses and entrepreneurship (e.g. ‘quantitative easing’)
  • Working through partnerships (e.g. the conditional CROW Act of 2000 – 2005)
  • Multi-cultural and ethnic integration

Grant and other forms of assistance, which might include degrees of investment by the AT businesses themselves in Purbeck, could certainly support the step change required to fully realise the potential of AT in Purbeck: the customer / client / tourist is empowered by knowledge freely available in the public domain, more aware of activity and health agendas and expects both high quality services (food, drink and accommodation in particular) and robust risk management from guides and instructors. Their experiences will be recorded via mobile devices as pictures and videos, many of which will circulate on social media sites: post-cards and candyfloss have been replaced by ‘selfies’ and experience tick-lists. How does Purbeck see its economic direction of travel in the next 10 years?

Two conclusions from the Outdoors Industries Association (OIA 2015) seem particularly relevant:

(1) There has been an assumption that the outdoors market was price sensitive leading many providers to compete on cost. Despite the economic challenges of recent years there is strong evidence that participants will pay for quality leading to greater success and growth for customer focused providers;

(2) There is a relatively high return on investment to be gained from the development of informal outdoor facilities. A bike trail, for example, requires little management but will impact more participants, for a longer period of time, with relatively smaller capital investment than a formal facility such as a leisure centre. The example given is from Sport Northern Ireland where an investment of £5 per annual active user with an almost zero ongoing cost was possible; the Bunkers Hill Trail cost £102K with annual usage of 20,000 visits.


Details not covered

The following areas require detailed and specific data not necessarily available in the public domain:

  • Demographics such as: the ‘Active Third Age’ (people, often retired, who want mental and physical stimulation); ‘Millennials’ (those young people born into the internet age); extended and fragmented families with different outdoor requirements; and our multi-cultural mix.
  • Motivations: to explore; to exercise outdoors; to socialise; to seek out excitement; to learn and many others.
  • Aspirations and ‘needs’: what are the specific ambitions of the communities affected by developments in adventure tourism.????????????????????????????????????


Ball-King, L., Watt, J. & Ball, D. (2013) The Rise and Fall of a Regulator: Adventure Sports in the United Kingdom, Risk Analysis 33(1) pp. 15-23.

Brooker, E. & Joppe, M. (2013) Trends in Camping and Outdoor Hospitality: an International Review, Journal of Outdoor Recreation and Tourism 3/4 pp.1-6.

Deakin, R. (2000) Waterlog: A Swimmers Journey Through Britain, London: Virago

Hyland, P. (1978) Purbeck: The Ingrained Island, London: Victor Gollancz.

Nepal, S. & Chipeniuk, R. (2005) Mountain Tourism: Towards a Conceptual Framework, Tourism Geographies 7(3) pp. 313-333.

Outdoor Industries Association (2015) Getting Active Outdoors: A Study of Demography, Motivation, Participation and provision in Outdoor Sport & Recreation in England, Tourism Alliance, June 2015.

The Tourism Company (2014) Dorset Destination Management Plan,

Varley, P. (2006) Confecting Adventure and Playing with Meaning: The Adventure Commodification Continuum, Journal of Sport & Tourism 11(2) pp. 173-194.

World Tourism Organisation (2014) Global Report on Adventure Tourism, Madrid: UNWTO.2-1

Appendix 1: Purbeck / Dorset Adventure Tourism Businesses Contacted

Appendix 2: Copy of the email communication sent to each of the above Adventure Tourism Businesses

Dear fellow adventurer

I work for the Adventure Tourism Research Association (ATRA) and we are particularly interested in supporting the development of adventure tourism in Purbeck as it is clear from our preliminary findings Purbeck offers an excellent ‘case study’ of the direction of travel for this segment of the tourism industry. We chose Purbeck for a number of reasons which include: its southern location (e.g. proximity of the huge market of Greater London) and its rapid recent growth (the comparable developments in Britain’s more mountainous north and west tend to be in national parks and more ‘established’); the support your companies provide for emerging adventure sports such as coasteering and paddle boarding; the discernible trends in tourist accommodation away from traditional forms such as guest houses and into new forms such as ‘glamping’ and we noted that the most current Tourism Strategy for Purbeck document that we could find was essentially concerned with ‘maintaining’ a tourism industry – it is dated 2008-13 and may already be out of date. We are interested in supporting advancement in the ‘new’ social, cultural and economic conditions of our times, and in particular ways that adventure tourism connects into building communities (the more ephemeral ones focused on visiting the area and doing activities as well as the permanent ones that depend upon the local economic benefits brought by these tourists) and also connects into bigger agendas of health (especially with an ageing population) and environmental sustainability.

Research into adventure tourism growth around the world suggests the model of ‘footloose’, mobile small companies with low overheads taking business from a fragmented, individualised pool of operators in an attractive and relatively accessible outdoor environment is the norm; however, in those places where operators are prepared to work together and discuss a more strategic approach to development there are benefits for the adventure companies, the communities being served and the environment. It is the intention of ATRA to compile a preliminary report – a case study of adventure tourism in Purbeck today – which can then be presented to Purbeck District Council as a discussion document which, it is hoped, can sign-post the direction of travel already underway in the area and in doing so shape and influence the current and future strategic thinking for tourism in Purbeck. We feel our experience and knowledge coupled with our capacity to illuminate patterns in the sector will enable us to make a more detailed applied contribution in the future. For now, our purpose is to make our preliminary findings available.

The more information we can gather, the more impactful our preliminary report will become. We can position Purbeck in the national, and to some extent, the international picture but we lack details of numbers, age, gender, activities, length of stay, accommodation, booking systems, instructor qualifications, environmental awareness /education, risk management protocols, access negotiations and many other components. This preliminary report is not going to attempt a detailed statistical analysis of the potential reams of data which a considered response to the list above would generate. Rather, as the lead author of this report, I am contacting you because you are part of the adventure tourism capacity of Purbeck and therefore: (1) need to be aware that this report is being written and (2) asking for a response to this email if you feel you have something to contribute. At this stage I am less concerned with what this information might be than involving you in this opportunity to take the first steps in developing a coordinated strategic approach to tourism in Purbeck – driven by the interests of the people working in the sector rather than the authorities - that combines the three key elements of local business (the private sector), local communities and the service and planning authorities (the public sector). Please let me have your thoughts and any more specific data that can be integrated into this report. Many thanks for your time and potential inputs.

Yours faithfully

Dr. Paul Beedie


[1] This research made an individualised request to 13 AT businesses in and around Purbeck but received no information back. The analysis is therefore drawn from information in the public domain.

[2] These have emerged from a history of exploration and are culturally embedded (e.g. the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award Expedition). They typically involve adventure journeys via activities such as sailing, climbing, canoeing and hiking.

[3] These are usually hybrid outdoor activities, facilitated by technology (e.g. mountain bikes; paddleboards), operating over a shorter time frame but which may still involve a ‘journey’.

[4] As of June 12th 2015

[5] Purbeck District Council

[6] BSI currently contributes to a proposed new ISO Standard for Adventure Tourism & Sustainable Practice. Additionally, ATTA (in recognition of a lack international standards of professionalism in AT) have just initiated (May 2015) the Adventure Travel Guide Qualification & Performance Standard. See next section.

[7] Outdoor instructors are called ‘animators’ in many European countries. It is an interesting observation that, when it comes to the control and management of adventure activities different authorities have initiated different initiatives, sometimes without mutual consultation and dialogue. It is the recognition of this fragmented circumstance that has to the proposed ISO development.

[8] This will be initially in counties other than the UK. The next meeting is scheduled for 29/30th October 2015 in Lisbon.