High Adventure in Georgia Offers Team Building & Reward Opportunities

Lucy Adams

Tuesday, September 30th, 2014

High adventure tourism is on the rise. It’s a more than $260 billion a year industry for the Americas and Europe, and it has grown as much as 65 percent year over year since 2009, according to the 2013 Adventure Tourism Market Study. “Consumer demand is increasing and participants are now wanting more diverse experiences. In 1998, there were only 1 or 2 [canopy tour zip line] courses in North America, but in 2014 there are now over 1000 courses. If you add aerial adventure and team building courses, it is over 5000,” says Donna Holder, who owns Historic Banning Mills in Whitesburg, Georgia with her husband Mike. “67.8 million people take day trips in Georgia. One percent of that is zip line canopy tours and five percent are eco tour based.”

Georgia’s high adventure industry includes adrenalin pumping experiences such as whitewater rafting on the Chattahoochee, Chattooga and Ocoee Rivers, hang gliding at Lookout Mountain, tandem skydiving in Atlanta, tree climbing at Panola State Park, and even trapeze school in Athens. Holder says, “Consumer demand is increasing and participants are now wanting more diverse experiences.” High adventure outfitters are creating excursions that fit the needs and skill levels of a broad consumer base.

Referring to corporate team building services, Holder states, “The corporate world is now looking for something new for their employees. High adventure in a fun and safe environment is the big thing for groups.” Facilities like Historic Banning Mills take corporate employees out of their comfort zones. The activities encourage innovative problem solving. Trust between managers and staff is underpinned. “Part of getting people outside the box is putting them in the out of doors and putting them in situations that cause some stress. This actually gets the creative thinking juices, so to speak, going, helps people know they can do more than they thought,” explains Holder.

Families are jumping on the high adventure bandwagon as well, and outfitters and providers are catering to them, too. “Consumers want packages now so they don't have to think about what they want. Numerous options slow them down and packages are quick,” she says. Historic Banning Mills and other establishments are expanding their adventure offerings to include experiences for children as young as four. They’re designing high adventure for the whole the family.

At Panola State Park, where visitors can climb up to 90-foot trees, flexibility is the appeal. Brian Lanier, who directs the tree climbing program, says, “The experience changes with the trees you climb. We put together tree-climbing outings for groups according to what they want to do.” Tree-climbing adventurists range in age from four to 82. Panola State Park is eager to add corporate clientele to their customer base.

One of the biggest challenges high adventure outfitters face in the marketplace is the perception that the activities they offer are dangerous. “A big thing to overcome is safety misconceptions by the public,” says Holder. The consumer must take responsibility to verify that equipment and courses are inspected by the right oversight bodies. The zip line-canopy tour industry, for example, relies on the Association for Challenge Course Technology (ACCT) to ensure safety standards are met.

The other challenge faced by the high adventure businesses is over-regulation. In the zip line-canopy tour niche, providers in Georgia currently self-regulate with great success. Other states have established regulations. Holder says, “We hope that will not happen in Georgia.” Over regulation decreases the experiences offered and increases costs, which are passed on to the consumer. “If the industry will adhere to ACCT guidelines, overall the industry should stay safe,” adds Holder.

Holder and Lanier are optimistic about the strength of the adventure tourism sector in Georgia’s economy. Holder says, “With more and more people staying indoors due to work and just not being able to let kids outside by themselves anymore, the need will remain for families and individuals to have the opportunity to be outside in a safe and fun and challenging environment.” Lanier echoes that sentiment, saying, “We expect it to get more popular. It’s a tool to bring people to the park and it’s working.”