It’s been a tough period for most rafting operators. With tight budgets, why would anyone consider limiting their operating model to be more sustainable? We asked Chris Wain (owner operator of Unique Adventure Tours Scotland) how he has made sustainable adventures in Scotland possible.
Unique Adventure Tours Scotland is a fledgeling business based in Highland Perthshire offering small private tours throughout Scotland. Providing stunning nature, lively culture, and high-quality adventure activities to show off the best Scotland has to offer. They also hope to promote and develop an evolution in the perception of adventure tourism to protect our wild and natural environments for the future.
Why launch adventure activities in these turbulent times?
I have worked for a variety of activity providers over the last 20 odd years, in a wide range of roles. This has given me the opportunity to see the industry and its clients change and evolve. Including expectations of quality and delivery, product growth and development, and even the complementary services orbiting the industry.
My idea (not a particularly new one) was to combine a wide mix of products and services, focused on activities and experiences with personal attention to detail, promote the wider industry and its benefits mentally, and physically. My personal angle to it is to encourage responsible immersive travel to reflect the change in mindset, whilst having as much fun as possible of course.
But why sustainable tours?
I’m an avid traveller and adventure lover at my core. I’ve explored and enjoyed a wide variety of countries and cultures, adventures and activities. The passion to share and facilitate others in experiencing this joy goes with the love of sharing ways of respecting and helping these environments, they go hand in hand.
Unfortunately, the flip side is being very aware of the damage and impact caused by our industry and our increasing movement back to the wild in general. Over-tourism of places, negative impact on the environment from litter to pollution, right through to community deserts.
There seems to me to be a change in the way people want to travel, explore and experience a place or activity. More immersive, more connection, and possibly more rewarding because of this developing understanding of our natural environment and the benefits on both sides of a more considered approach to adventure travel and travel in general.
It is both a financial and moral decision for me in setting up Unique Adventure Tours Scotland. Working on rivers and in natural environments all this time gives me a feeling of responsibility to help preserve and keep safe these places for the future, for us all to enjoy. So putting myself in a position to share this love and passion seems an obvious choice.
My main drive is the love of nature and the natural world, which seems to be threatened more and more from all angles, including activities, tours and tourism. If we keep moral, socio-economic and natural sustainability at the front of our plans and actions in growing and developing activities, adventure tours and tourism will surely become standard practice over time and therefore easier to implement and benefit from.
Take the current Covid 19 situation across the globe, could this be a perfect reset point to implement a change in approach and delivery while people are heightened in their awareness of our natural world and our connection and responsibilities to that.
All this would add to the wider awareness and uptake of the need for sustainability throughout all aspects of life; environmentally, economically and socially, making it mainstream over time.
What other aspects of sustainability are within the business, now and in the future?
Business operations, in general, need to have an eye on sustainability in my view, little by little with an element of trial and error and should help develop the tools and systems to help the whole business.
For me, at Unique Adventure Tours Scotland it is a combination of efforts, from the ‘EcoBlue’ engine in the Ford Tourneo Tour vehicle providing a cleaner more fuel-efficient mode of transport, and hopefully becoming fully electric over time as the Scottish support networks develop. Using and providing local produce and services throughout my tours, keeping the ability to align with like-minded providers, from something as simple as packed lunches in fully recyclable packaging to artisan food and drink producers aiming for zero impact produce and community enrichment, right through to charitable contributions for infrastructure within local tourism. Working under guidance from industry leaders and governing bodies to keep aligned to a company, national and international goal through information and education.
The idea is for this to be a constantly developing and evolving ethos, keeping it as one of the core principles to guide my businesses development.
Take whitewater rafting and how sustainability can be applied within this area of adventure activities. Possibly one of the largest and most well-known adventure activities, a common entry point, rafting has the opportunity to be a showcase for sustainability in adventure activities. We all know that rafting is great fun and lets you see stunning places, but it is also an access for all activity, the ideal platform for education regarding the sport and in wider context, the environment and even as a path to employment while supporting or contributing to local economies and the spread of tourism directly and indirectly.
By continuing to work with local and national partners I see this as a way to expand the sport further while developing its benefits – partner projects to enhance the environment (working with fishing groups and landowners), educating a broad range of skills (working with local schools to develop teamwork and confidence-building programmes), community involvement to keep access and egress points maintained and developed, but also diversified to take the pressure off activity hotspots (developing new routes, rivers and runs) while spreading out the work possibilities and coverage nationally.
I do feel that a sport so rooted in nature must have more to offer us all.
What do you want clients to take away from your sustainable tours?
Ideally, I would hope to help more clients develop an understanding, respect, confidence and insight into the whole environment rather than just the activity or experience itself. I want to help develop the perception of adventure activities from quick disposable fun, to include proactive inclusion and education, further dispelling the thought that wild places and activities are for the few rather than for all.
And of course, creating a renewed sense of connection to nature on multiple levels.
Where can people find out more about sustainable adventures in Scotland?
- Website: www.uniqueadventuretoursscotland.co.uk
- Facebook: @uniqueadventuretoursscotland
- Linkedin: @uniqueadventuretoursscotland
Are you looking to make changes to your operating model but not sure where to start? Check out the IRF’s practical guide to sustainability for rafters for ideas on where to start.