Although adventure tourism means different things to many people, it is generally defined as a type of tourism that engages a person in physical, natural or cultural excursions that bring the individual outside his comfort zone, generally through an established tour company. This broad idea is broken into two major subcategories of adventure tourism: hard adventure and soft adventure. Hard adventure tourism generally involves an element of physical danger or risk, whereas soft adventure tourism simply seeks to explore areas that are not typical for travelers, such as visiting relatively undeveloped destinations.
Generally considered to fall under the category of soft adventure tourism, ecotourism is a form of travel whereby the adventurer explores undeveloped, natural and culturally sensitive areas with a desire to experience it while leaving it intact and unchanged. Ecotourism is done with minimal equipment and accommodations, relying on an ecologically and culturally sensitive approach for procuring food and shelter, such as forgoing established resorts and restaurants in favor of locally owned and sourced alternatives. Although ecotourism is more of a travel philosophy than a destination-oriented undertaking, some popular destinations for ecotourism include the Amazon rainforest, Arctic polar bear viewing, the Costa Rican rainforest and barrier reefs.
Accessible tourism straddles the line between hard and soft adventure tourism, providing excursions for the mobility-challenged that can take the form of cultural exploration and extreme activities such as bungee-jumping or white-water rafting. Accessible tourism is a growing industry that seeks to provide individuals with barriers to mobility a personally rewarding, adrenaline-inducing adventure experience that might otherwise be out of reach. Several companies dedicated to accessible tourism have recently opened, providing those with disabilities a fully personalized adventure tourism package with specialized equipment and training.
Thrill tourism is the best known type of hard adventure tourism. Bungee jumping, white-water rafting, mountaineering, parasailing, BASE jumping, rock climbing and spelunking are all popular forms of thrill tourism, but anything that incites an adrenaline rush and a sense of danger applies. This type of adventure tourism is generally done through an established company that provides appropriate safety and training measures, since most thrill tourism activities can be extremely risky.
Ethno tourism is a form of soft tourism that brings participants into contact with cultures and diverse people around the globe. Often involving long treks into undeveloped areas, ethno tourism does involve a certain amount of risk, but reputable ethno tourism companies take these considerations into account to ameliorate risk factors such as exposure to disease, social or political upheaval, food safety issues and physical demands. Another consideration when undertaking ethno tourism is the potential for adverse effects on indigenous populations, such as the possibility of exposing them to illness to which they might have no immunity.