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The fine line between Outdoor Education and Tourism (if any).

Updated: Jun 20, 2023

- Adventure Related Experiential Learning (AEL), Adventure Based Learning (ABL)

The argument if Adventure Related Experiential Learning (AEL), Adventure Based Learning (ABL) (hereon referred to as Outdoor Education), should be positioned in Education, Tourism or elsewhere, is as old as these Industries themselves.

Each time a voice goes out to motivate why they are together or should stay separate, ten other voices go up to present alternative perceptions, this discussion is healthy but does not really take the industry forward. This was one of the reasons why the South African Adventure Industry Association (SAAIA) was created, to bring closer the Adventure Tourism and Outdoor Education industries.

I realise that the challenge is not necessarily the singular discipline but the fact that it should perhaps be seen in its totality. It is also important to be seen from diverse role-player vantage points. There are the views of Facilitators, Outdoor Learning Providers, Schools, and also the Department of Education (as well as possibly other role players).

Interestingly the South African Department of Education (as an example) does not have outdoor education (camping) as a specific outcome in any of the formally published curriculums, they do however have outdoor recreation, excursions and tours as an expression for the Life Orientation curriculum. These descriptions as presented have a distinct Tourism approach.

When observing the qualifications currently described as conflicting or specific, we need to look at the Generic Adventure Site Guide in Tourism, and Facilitation qualifications in ABL.

Generic Adventure Site guide (SAQA):

Although the qualification is about to change, the current skills programme (TG/ADVSITEGD/4/0080) covers the following:

335803 – Research and design a guided experience at a prominent tourism site

335801 – Conduct a tourist guiding activity

262320 – Manage and organise groups

262317 – Lead participants through an outdoor recreation and adventure activity

262305 – Plan and implement minimum environmental impact practices

262246 – Set up and operate a camping site

255914 – Minimise and manage safety and emergency incidents

246740 – Care for customers

335816 – Conduct a guided adventure experience

Adventure Facilitation in SA is not a pre-requisite, but typical programmes like ARA etc.have the following outcomes (NON-SAQA but Aligned in some cases).

- Facilitation – briefing, processing, reflection, etc.

- ABL Philosophy, Experiential Learning, Adventure Education

- Health and Safety

- Administration.

- Minimal physical risk activities

- Activities: Problem-Solving, Trust, Challenge Courses, Navigation, Water Activities, Target Sports, Traversing Natural environments, Artificial Climbing Wall.

(This is not the registered ABEL qualifications (66190, 263399) as it is not presented at the moment).

Some providers also present advanced facilitation and educational concepts.

It is noticeable how different these two disciplines are, it is also evident how the two are interrelated and collectively presents a rich holistic adventure occupation.

The business of outdoor education is not the same concept as the practice of outdoor education. It can perhaps be motivated in the following way; if you are an Outdoor Education Centre Owner or Manager, you need to look after the affairs of all personnel and manage all the necessary processes of such a facility – not only programme facilitation – where does the emphasis really lie?

Let us observe it from a facility, process, and skills development point of view. These processes include components and factors like:

The Outdoor Education programme

- Facilities: problem-solving and educational structures etc.

- Process: Programming, personnel, activities, etc.

- Skills: facilitation, planning, safety, educational, etc.

Admin Process

- Client coordination, booking, travel communication, finances, marketing, etc.

- Housekeeping, Hospitality, etc.


- Facilities: kitchens, dining areas, etc.

- Process: Menus, acquisition and ordering, personnel, etc.

- Skills: Menu management, health and safety, catering, etc.

Facility management

- Facility: Maintenance, cleaning, etc.

- Process: Scheduling, personnel, etc.

- Skills: Administrative, technical, Health and Safety etc.

Guest liaison

- Guest well being

- Care and safety

- Support service

From a management, operation, and overall skill capacity viewpoint, it is evident that there are many areas to be aware of; outdoor education is a small part of the bigger picture.

Another dilemma is that although it is noted that Outdoor Adventurous Education programmes are generally making use of artificial activities (artificial climbing wall, activities on a flat water swimming pool or dam, etc.) and not natural adventure experiences (Abseiling from a natural rock face, kayaking on white water, hiking and overnighting), it still happens, or the two are presented in variation. I am not confident that a facilitation qualification is enough to responsibly sustain a person in a broader industry. I have heard of many freelance facilitators that are employed at “campsites” with a facilitation qualification doing natural rock face belays where it must be set up before it can start (no permanent fixtures), this is one example of applying skills in an area where outdoor education facilitators are not qualified. Or, if the facilitator is expected to do a three-day overnight trail with a group of children, then the typical facilitation qualification is not enough.

I wonder how responsible facilitators are to inform employers if their qualifications are not sufficient when they are required to present a specific freelance service not in their facilitation scope. I wonder how responsible employers/providers are to not put facilitators in such a difficult spot when they confirm (declare) they are not trained to actually set up such a scenario (“… no worries, it is okay, just do it”).

Another dilemma Outdoor (Adventure) Education facilitators encounter with only a facilitation qualification is that there are NO real career paths or career progression alternatives. After 5-10 years of doing facilitation work, there are NO senior positions available, or NO alternative career paths available with facilitation qualifications, or facilitators are not recognised for what they are capable of in other disciplines in the industry. The question to be asked, what industry? The expectations and qualifications in education are very specific, and opportunities are near to none. Tourism only allows you to legally operate (guide) if you have the relevant qualifications, but there are definitely more opportunities.

Outdoor Education has such a richness to offer, many a time the request has come that adventure guides need to be more reflective and learning orientated, more aware and sensitive to human development processes, this is an attribute that “Outdoor Education Guides” can so richly bring to the industry.

In conclusion, South Africa cannot progress without an inclusive industry, respecting the specialities but moving forward together. An outdoor education and adventure guiding industry where the role of the facilitator and the role of the guide are integrated to serve customers better as well as to ensure quality and professionalism in the experience economy, no confusion on qualifications and standards, creating more diverse career opportunities for all. Combined career paths could possibly include (with some extra modules here and there); Adventure guide, Technical expert, Educational Programme Facilitator/ Manager/ Leader, Wilderness/ Adventure Therapist, Team Building Facilitator/ Manager/ Leader, Expedition Leader.

(Note: Dr Pieter L Snyman’s context is informed by his qualifications in both Adventure Related Experiential Leaning and Adventure Guiding)

About the author:

Dr. Pieter Snyman is a founding Director of the SA Adventure Industry Association, a director of the Adventure Institute and an outdoor Centre Head at Extreme Life (UCSA) . Other than managing academic processes at the Adventure Institute, he is also a lecturer at Tshwane University of Technology. His context with the industry is sustained via his role at an outdoor learning site (Extreme Life). His Masters thesis was on Challenge Education as a Leadership Model for tertiary Students and his Doctoral thesis was directed at Adventure Related Experiential Learning where he set out to establish a best-practice model for campsites, facilitators and schools.

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