Categories Opinion Column

The (Not So) Leisurely Affair of Running Outdoor Experiences

Written By: Jesús Parrilla, Principal of Luxury Frontiers

For several years now, hotels across various market segments have recognized the importance of offering amenities and services to create immersive experiences for guests, beyond just beds or mere accommodation. To embrace this movement, many hotels, particularly those with easy access to nature, look to now offer exciting outdoor activities that are mentally and physically challenging as part of their packages. These include but are not limited to horseback riding, nature treks, mountaineering, canyoneering, bike riding, river rafting and boating activities.

Many of these hotels who have embraced the market demand for outdoor-focused programming have decided to go down the path of outsourcing or subcontracting operators to run their adventure activities. Others have taken a different route and decided to operate them using in-house resources. While I will not address the advantages or disadvantages of either strategy, I will speak to a common recurring thread that I have seen more often than not – the simplistic and casual approach.

To those who cut their teeth in the hospitality industry, particularly at for large multi-national operators, this may sound obvious. However, in my line of work, I have consulted on a number of adventure planning projects with a broad range of hospitality outlets across the globe, and a surprisingly high number of operators and owners fail to see the inherent risk that comes with outdoor activities, This “casual approach” method typically occurs in locations where local health and safety legislation is weak or absent, however can even be seen in destinations where the laws are stringent. The common theme among these hotels who take this leisurely approach to running outdoor adventures is the rallying cry of going out and doing something fun. As if to say, just get outside, it will all be fine.

The leisurely or lax approach may work out fine with friends or relatives, however when one runs a hotel operation this method can be a recipe for disaster as we cannot forget that all outdoor adventure activities involve the health and safety of guests. Without sounding fatalist or alarmist, although the degree of risk may vary depending on the activities and locations; returning guests safely and unharmed should be absolutely non-negotiable.

Therefore, it is of extreme importance for hotels, whether they subcontract the activities or otherwise conduct them inhouse, to take all the necessary steps to manage the risks and deliver outdoor adventure activities safely while keeping alive the spirit of adventure, thrill and excitement. For this, a comprehensive Safety Management Program with clear safety policies, guidelines and SOPs (Standard Operating Procedures) must be present and strictly followed by all professionals responsible for supervising, instructing, leading, guiding or supporting an activity. In turn, personnel must have the training, experience, competence and fully documented qualifications as well as the abilities and knowledge to responsibly look after guest whilst ensuring safety is not compromised.

In addition to a safety management program, when hotels outsource activities, proper and frequent audits must be conducted routinely to ensure guides and other staff have valid certifications and operators have up-to-date operating licenses, liability insurance, health, verified and documented HR policies and labor compliance, vehicle, motorized and all equipment used in activities maintenance log and environmental sustainability policies.

The hospitality industry, more than ever, is now not just about great service and comfortable rooms, but providing immersive experiences to guests. However, running successful outdoor activities is as much an art of crafting meaningful experiences and as it is contingent on delivering them safely. Having the right team in place to execute the activities and realizing that there is a fragile balance of managing acceptable risks whilst minimizing unacceptable risks is where the key to success lays. Taking a leisurely approach can have grave consequences for businesses and more importantly, their guests.

If you are a hotel owner, investor or operator interested in learning more about outdoor adventure planning, please contact Jesús Parrilla at