New Zealand’s tourism industry has suffered another major reputational blow in the aftermath of the British court’s recent inquiry into the death of 21-year-old adventure tourist, Emily Jordan. Having become trapped by submerged boulders, the court found that the backpacker drowned in the Kawarau River near Queenstown, while on an organised river boarding tour in 2008.  Last year, we described the risks surrounding New Zealand’s adventure sports and their importance to the South Island’s tourism industry. As the scope of these activities broaden and New Zealand’s international reputation for this industry grows, public safety becomes an increasingly central value that is integral to the industry’s brand.

The Incident

The tour was arranged by the now defunct company, Mad Dog River Boarding which, according to the British jury, fell far short of its public safety responsibilities.

In 2009 Mad Dog was charged with two health and safety offences in relation to this incident and was ordered to pay $NZ146,000 ($A108,800) in fines and compensations. Furthermore, in the current inquiry, the court found that Mad Dog employed staff who lacked adequate training, used unsuitable lifejackets and neglected to supply a rescue craft or emergency equipment.

The West Midlands Express and Star reported that Mad Dog also failed to provide risk information and safety instructions to river boarding participants.

Implications

Cases of this nature which draw widespread negative media attention to New Zealand’s tourist activities are detrimental to the sector as a whole. Skepticism about the competence and safety-consciousness of recreation providers deters potential consumers from engaging in their activities. This is particularly pertinent in the case of adventure or adrenalin-based recreation, which involve relatively high degrees of inherent risk.

The spectrum of activities, tailored to ‘adrenaline junkies’, which can be experienced in New Zealand is vast and expanding. It is arguable that, in this context, adventure activities are becoming progressively more risky, to meet demands for more intense experiences at more exciting and unique locations. Heli-skiing from mountain tops, jet-boating through canyons and bungee jumping from cliff sides are among New Zealand’s numerous examples.

In response to the inquest into Emily Jordan’s death, Black County Coroner Robin Balmain stated, ‘the tragedy of this case is on the findings of the jury - with which I entirely agree - there is the likelihood that Emily's death could have been avoided.’ This demonstrates the fact that increased risk must be met with increased public safety awareness and more stringent risk management activities.

It is in the interests of the recreation and tourism sectors to collaborate in ensuring that compliance with safety standards is achieved by all key stakeholders, both for the sake of the industry’s reputation and the confidence and safety of participants.

Last year Reliance ran a story about a number of deaths and injuries in the Adventure sports sector in New Zealand. The New Zealand Department of Labour conducted a gap analysis of risk management and safety provisions in the adventure and outdoor commercial sectors.

This report can be accessed here.