The pros and cons of adventure tourism

Is it really worth it to take a risky vacation?

Illustration of a hand holding a burning passport
(Image credit: Illustrated / Getty Images)

The implosion of the Titan submersible as it plunged 12,500 feet under the sea to view the wreckage of the Titanic, leaving all five people onboard dead, left many asking one question: Is this type of adventure really worth it?

The risks of traveling on the Titan were well-documented. OceanGate, the company that built the submersible, reportedly made participants sign a waiver that mentioned death three times on the first page. OceanGate was also warned by industry experts that the vessel was unsafe. The five travelers still made the trip, and one of the victims, Shazada Dahwood, was "absolutely obsessed" with seeing the Titanic, his sister told NBC News.

Is this type of trip, often called adventure tourism, worth the risk to somebody's life? Do the negatives and risks of climbing a big mountain or trekking through a remote jungle outweigh the positives, or is there something significant to be gained from adventure expeditions?

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Pro: People can learn about the world

Adventure tourism — and travel in general — can give people "an opportunity to see the world from a different perspective, form meaningful relationships, and develop new skills," travel writer Emily Lush reported. This type of tourism also lets travelers have "deeper and more meaningful travel experiences," a phenomenon which "has never been more appealing."

Taking on exotic experiences allows people to "broaden their horizons, learn new skills, and appreciate diversity," per a LinkedIn report. For those who haven't traveled often, or at all, adventure tourism can "foster a sense of connection, purpose, and gratitude, as travelers can contribute to social and environmental causes."

Con: It's dangerous

Perhaps the most glaring negative: Adventure tourism can be hazardous, and the "risk for illness and injury with adventure travel is much greater," Christopher Van Tilburg wrote for the CDC's 2024 travel guide. The risk of "illness and injury is a function of two variables: probability and consequence," Van Tilburg added. He noted that adventure tourism destinations "can be remote and lack access to care," and "trips are often goal-oriented, which can cause travelers to exceed safety limits and take increased risks."

This type of tourism is growing among "thrill-seekers looking for an adrenaline rush, pushing the boundaries of conventional travel and, sometimes, of safe travel," Samantha Delouya reported for CNN.

Pro: It can improve your health

Adventure travel, as with any physical activity, can have positive health effects. While some people may just go to the gym, "Wouldn't it be more fun to get your exercise while sailing and soaring through the Alpine Arctic and witnessing some of the planet's awe-inspiring landscapes?" Amanda Wells argued for Quark Expeditions.

There are also reported mental health benefits, as "travel is great for relieving stress and improving your general outlook on life," according to the World Travel and Tourism Council. Physical activities "like walking, hiking, and skiing in scenic areas can help you become more hopeful," the organization added.

Con: It's often expensive

Getting onboard the Titan submersible cost $250,000, and similar expeditions often exist "to provide exclusive, expensive, and dangerous travel itineraries to the world's wealthiest would-be explorers," Spencer Buell reported for The Boston Globe. Even with the clear dangers, "Previously unthinkable treks [have] become more accessible to anyone with deep enough pockets," Buell added.

Despite its high costs, the Titan incident "will not dampen demand for 'extreme' tourism where a rescue is unlikely or even impossible," Dr. Adele Doran, principal lecturer in adventure tourism and recreation at Sheffield Hallam University, told Insider.

Pro: It can boost local economies

Adventure travel can prop up smaller economies, helping "free developing countries from downward-spiraling cycles of human poverty and environmental degradation," Kim Joyce reported for USA Today. The promotion of adventure expeditions "improves the community's social and economic health, and elevates community morale —which can lead to more opportunities for investment."

Local economies can be improved "in many ways, from hosting travel groups, to support services such as food and transportation," Elizabeth Sobiski added for The Arizona Republic. This can be especially prevalent in economically depressed areas, where "jobs in transporting, housing, feeding, and entertaining visitors are created."

Con: It can negatively impact the environment

Adventure tourism — and tourism of all types — can result in "pollution and littering, as well as damage to natural habitats. It can also cause problems for locals, who may feel they are being taken advantage of or threatened," Iqbal Uddin Abbasi wrote for LinkedIn.

There are also "environmental hazards associated with adventure tourism activities such as kayaking, rappelling, and scuba diving," Abassi added. These hazards have increased as a result of a changing planet, and the "impacts of climate change mean we need to keep our eyes more open to respond to the changes, and keep reviewing our risk assessments," Christina Beckmann, a climate expert with the Adventure Travel Trade Association, told BBC News.

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Justin Klawans

Justin Klawans is a staff writer at The Week. Based in Chicago, he was previously a breaking news reporter for Newsweek, writing breaking news and features for verticals including politics, U.S. and global affairs, business, crime, sports, and more. His reporting has been cited on many online platforms, in addition to CBS' The Late Show with Stephen Colbert.

He is also passionate about entertainment and sports news, and has covered film, television, and casting news as a freelancer for outlets like Collider and United Press International, as well as Chicago sports news for Fansided.