Vacation was once a chance to relax. You’d fly to a warm place, go to the beach, do some sightseeing, and come back with a tan a week or two later – if you were lucky.
But for a growing and often ultra-wealthy set, the good old-fashioned sun and beach vacation just won’t cut it anymore.
These so-called “danger tourists” are swapping Portugal for Pyongyang and the Caribbean for Chernobyl, powering an industry that will be worth a trillion dollars by 2030.
That’s despite the fact that such expeditions can quickly turn deadly – as happened to five Titanic tourists whose submarine imploded when they dove into the wreckage last week.
So why are such a large and growing number of people choosing to spend their hard-earned time and money putting themselves at risk?
Vacation was once a chance to relax. Pictured: People queuing to summit Everest in May 2019
Adventure tourism, as the industry is officially known, has been gaining popularity for years and was estimated to be worth $366 billion by 2022, according to a recent study by Allied Market Research.
And it’s growing fast. By 2030, they believe the industry will be worth more than $1 trillion.
The driving factor, researchers say, is growing disposable incomes, ever-cheaper airline tickets and “the influence of social media” — essentially the desire for a great selfie that stands out amid the constant supply of holiday snaps online.
But “adventure tourism” encompasses a slew of activities that some would consider quite vanilla, including mountain biking, hiking, and camping.
What is really remarkable is the growth in the extreme segment of the market, so-called ‘hazard tourism’, with people willing to risk their health and possibly their lives in the name of fun.
Dan Richards is the CEO of Global Rescue, a membership club he describes as roadside assistance, but for your body. You pay an annual fee, and if you ever get hopelessly stuck doing extreme activities, his team will come and get you.
Mr Richards has been in the business for nearly two decades and says he has never seen it grow as fast as it has in recent years – something he attributes to Covid.
“Before the pandemic, people were content with traditional tourism activities,” he says. ‘Walking down the Seine, going to art galleries, lying on the beach. People were happy with that.
Such expeditions can quickly turn deadly — as happened to five Titanic tourists whose submarine imploded when they dove into the wreckage last week. Pictured: the Titan submarine beginning its descent
“But now items that weren’t even on the radar before, or at the very edge of the radar, that’s what people want to do. They really come out.
“Every time I think I’ve heard the most extreme thing there is, something new pops up.”
One of the best-known examples is Everest, which was so busy in 2020 that people lined up to get to the top – just as the first round of lockdowns eased.
The mountaintop is now littered with dead bodies as unscrupulous travel agencies sell tickets to inexperienced climbers who quickly get into trouble.
Mr Richards says his team carried out 168 rescues in the Himalayas last year alone, about half of them on Everest.
Another extreme rescue involved a Dutch rowing team who decided to cross the Indian Ocean with nothing but arm strength – a mission was cut short when one of them spilled boiling water in his lap.
The man’s burned leg soon turned septic, prompting a five-day rescue mission involving a passing container ship and helicopter. Mr Richards says his team has also recently used donkeys, horses and even a yak to pull people out of danger.
Recent developments include tourists flying into space on Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic, Elon Musk’s SpaceX and Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin, among others.
A recent development is tourists flying into space on Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic, Elon Musk’s SpaceX (pictured) and Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin, among others
Getting into trouble outside of the atmosphere isn’t something Mr. Richards can help with (“yet,” he says) – instead, he helps with “subnominal reentry.”
That often means dropping craft back to Earth in remote and potentially hostile locations, for which he has a team of ex-Navy Seals and special forces operators on speed dial who can come pick you up – including in places like Russia and Kazakhstan.
Jim Petrick, a professor of tourism behavior at Texas A&M University, believes the impulse driving this behavior is nothing new, but the way people satisfy it has changed.
“We can go back to every war, everyone who ever left their country to go to war somewhere else, all the great travelers, Christopher Columbus, they were all people who had a desire to do something extraordinary,” he said. explains.
“People have always wanted to do something new and exciting, for decades people have been looking for something they’ve never felt before.”
But as society changed and people got more time to spend on leisure, they started scratching that itch in different ways.
Instead of exploring in the name of science or fighting for a noble cause, people endanger themselves just for the sheer thrill of it.
Take Otto Warmbier, a student from the US who decided to go on holiday to the North Korean capital of Pyongyang in 2016, but ended up in jail after stealing a propaganda poster during a challenge.
Sentenced to 15 years hard labor for the crime, he fell into a vegetative state and sadly died shortly after being taken back into US custody the following year.
Or Miles Routledge, perhaps Britain’s most notorious ‘dangerous tourist’ who was holidaying in Afghanistan when the country fell to the Taliban in the summer of 2021.
Lord Miles, as he calls himself on social media where he has tens of thousands of followers, was eventually evacuated from the war-torn country on a British military flight – but instead of deterring him, it only encouraged him.
He has since visited war-torn Ukraine and South Sudan and recently returned to Afghanistan, where he was captured by the Taliban in April this year.
Miles Routledge, arguably Britain’s most notorious ‘dangerous tourist’, was on holiday in Afghanistan when the country fell to the Taliban in summer 2021
To most people, Miles’ behavior is inexplicable, but in Professor Petrick’s world, it probably indicates that he has an allocentric personality, meaning he is prone to risk.
Add to that his social media following, which grows every time he does something outlandish—providing strong rewards for taking risks—and the money he makes from fundraising, and Mr. Routledge’s actions begin to make a little more sense.
Psychology can also help explain why so many of those who end up in the most extreme situations also happen to be very wealthy.
Obviously, part of it has to do with practicality: tickets to space start in the millions of dollars and the mission can take months to plan and train, and billionaires have a spade of money and can rid themselves of responsibility if they do. want.
But part of what goes into becoming a billionaire in the first place – a taste for risk, the desire to be a pioneer, the ability to make firm decisions and stick to them – may be some activities such as makes diving to the Titanic attractive. .
Professor Petrick says wealthy people also tend to score higher on psychopath tests, meaning they’re less likely to pay attention to the attitudes of those around them.
That could help explain why they continue to engage in dangerous activities despite warnings.
And it also means that a tragedy like the Titan implosion isn’t likely to deter people from extreme travel—in fact, encourage them.
Professor Petrick added: ‘Cases like this call for more attention to these things.
“We see people doing something, and it can push us to do it. People are realizing that it is possible to do something they thought was impossible.’
He continued, “To be honest, people have very short memories when it comes to tragedies.
“The fear in the travel industry after 9/11 was that it was over, but in fact the travel industry was back within six months.
“Something else will divert our attention [away from the tragedy.] An accumulation of events like this will have an effect, but one event like this will not.’
In other words, the Titan’s implosion is both unique and horrifying – but it’s far from the first time tourists have been killed in search of thrills, and it certainly won’t be the last.