Question 2: What is the biggest challenge facing the industry?
Paul: The media sensationalism of accidents in the industry, which may cause a rise in litigation.
Micah: The sudden growth of the commercial adventure park industry coupled with the increase in major accidents may be causing the public to consider adventure parks too dangerous. There are inherent risks in participating in adventure activities. Appropriately educating the public about risk, including identifying each individual’s own level of acceptable risk, is a challenge that the industry has to address. Promoting positive statistics and the large number of satisfied customers that are participating in these activities is a story that the adventure community should continue to tell.
Jim: The challenge is to develop and implement improved standards and regulations for the design and operation of adventure parks from a holistic perspective. We need to both support public safety and preserve the intrinsic value of adventure recreation. I see zip lines and challenge courses as tools for personal and group development. Risk, both real and perceived, is an important part of creating that environment for growth. Installers and operators need to be smart about what risks are integral to the experience, how negative outcomes can be limited, and then clearly inform participants of the hazards.
Another key ingredient is active participation—that’s what gives participants ownership over their experience. I don’t want to see regulation dictate the parameters for design so much that the experience happens to you, rather than being something you have accomplished. We should allow the participant some responsibility during participation, such as hand braking on zip lines.
Ryan: Right now it appears that regulation and staff training are the two biggest challenges. Some states are adopting new regulations very quickly, and it may be hard for some operators to keep on top of it all. There should be regulation, but it has to make sense for the vendors, operators, and be beneficial to the end users. That includes inspection by a “qualified” person, before a park opens to the public, every 12 months at a minimum.
The annual inspection should include the structure, third-party staff training or skills verification, and a review of operations. Most companies do not include staff training/skill verification or operations review in their annual inspection, in my experience. A lot of operators want to hold inspection costs down, and as a company bidding the service, if you include everything, you will not get most jobs. But it’s important to review staff training, and demonstrate that all staff are following all the policies and procedures that are in place within an organization.
Keeping customers safe. We have got to get a handle on customer safety. In that, the design of the adventure park is critical. Safety must come first, then customer experience, throughput or other measurements of good design. Continuous belay systems need to be a standard—not that we’re biased for any reason. 😉