Contrubuted by Jesús Parrilla, Principal, Luxury Frontiers
Soft-adventure activities comprise an essential element of luxury leisure travel, especially for off-grid, nature-based projects Luxury Frontiers is known for designing. Yet often times we are asked by tourism authorities, destination management agencies, hotel brands and operators, developers, landowners, and investors to craft these outdoor activities essentially overnight.
As I have expressed in previous columns, there is generally unfamiliarity with and misconceptions about the rigors and sensitivity of experience design. Not only the natural, cultural, and historical environment needs to be leveraged to shape and develop activities that are meaningful, sensible, and contextually relevant, but also a critical consideration pertains to seasonal climatic factors.
It goes without saying that nature-based travel and related outdoor activities are strongly influenced by the seasons. Climate conditions, in some destinations more than others, can greatly affect the physical environment that defines the basis of many outdoor activities in terms of management, quality, and safety.
Outdoor adventure planners have a responsibility to understand the uncontrollable variables of the environments in which our clients will be operating. Moreover, we have a responsibility to outline and implement practices that address principles of environmental sustainability that also ensure, that relevant environmental conditions and impacts must be considered in risk management and activity programming. These conditions include variations in temperature and precipitation, extreme environmental hazards like wildfires or floods, flora and, fauna impacts among others.
Whilst most think of precipitation, high or low temperatures, snow, or wind as serving to decrease the pleasure derived from outdoor activities, adventure designers think in a different dimension – the practicality of running safe and fulfilling activities across different atmospheric conditions.
No two destinations are exactly alike, and in order to understand any particular destination, design activities, create and map trails, operational and emergency protocols, it is essential to experience the destination first-hand over a period of at least 12 months, coinciding with season cycles. For this reason, the adventure planner must be engaged at the outset of a project, when architects and designers begin their work.
Both the physical structure and the activities they allow for must consider the four seasons and how climate and weather – daylight, humidity, air temperature, pressure, wind speed, precipitation, snow, etc. may affect trail conditions, passageways, wadis, water streams, river crossings and thus impacting access and egress routes. All these elements can affect evacuation if this is required, and ultimately the outdoor experience and the customer journey in any destination.
To illustrate how the seasons can affect outdoor recreation activities, for example between winter and spring, in some destinations trekking during times of very wet conditions can have a major impact on trails and fragile ecosystems. In the summer months, one may need to consider carrying out outdoor activities earlier in the day than in other periods of the year to avoid high mid-day temperatures. In the rainy season, alternative routes may have to be devised when rivers rise.
Additionally, and as an integral part of the experiential design, during a prolonged period one can evaluate the behavior and dynamics of wildlife and flora throughout the year and its changes, with migratory wildlife sightings and periods of offspring and blooming, providing an enhanced visit for guests.
Just as important as unearthing the destination´s unique identity is to the outdoor experience at a given destination, it is equally important to understand seasonal weather changes. For that, planning outdoor experiences from one day to the next can be a tricky business that may lead to critical omissions that play directly into the hands of unsafe, unfulfilling, and irresponsible environmental sustainability.