As long as people crave adventure, adventure travel will exist—whether it’s heli-skiing, navigating class 4 white-water rapids, or climbing Mt. Everest. 

The “catastrophic implosion” that the U.S. Coast Guard said killed five people and ended OceanGate Expeditions’ voyage on a Titan submersible to view the remains of the Titanic on June 18 is unlikely to stop anyone from seeking new thrills. That is, thrills with manageable, foreseeable risks. 

“The reality is that activities like what OceanGate was up to—and I would put space travel in that category also—are so far out of the mainstream of adventure travel that I don’t think it will dampen the interest in good adventures,” says
Shannon Stowell,
CEO of the Adventure Travel Trade Association, or ATTA. 

The last thing tour operators in ATTA’s network, and beyond, want is the perception they are offering a risky experience, Stowell says. The good ones, “have risk-management plans, they have crisis plans, they have tons of training for their staff.” 

Prudent travelers can make sure that’s the case by asking pointed questions. A good one: “Tell me about your risk management plan if something goes wrong on this trip?” Stowell says. 

Also, ask about guides and what skills they are trained and certified in. 

Trips in tough mountain terrain, for instance, should have leaders certified by a group such as the American Mountain Guides Association. “If you’re taking customers on rivers, your team should have wilderness medicine [training], they should have taken swift-water rescue courses,” Stowell says. 

Those who want to venture to the depths of the ocean or to outer space, however, are undertaking something else entirely. 

“These activities are for people who are willing to lose their lives for the experience of doing something no one else can experience,” says Jeffrey Ment, a Connecticut-based attorney who has served as legal counsel to several ATTA-member tour companies. 

The trade group defines adventure travel as an experience in nature that involves immersion into local culture, and some sort of physical activity.  

“When we take that definition and strictly apply it to a deep-sea submersible, you’re not immersed in culture and you’re not active,” he says. “In our viewpoint, it’s more of an expedition than an adventure travel trip.” 

EYOS Expeditions might fit this description, except they argue that they are providing travelers with safe, one-of-a-kind experiences. The Vashon, Wash.-based company organizes private high-end trips—costing from US$225,000 up to millions of dollars a week—to remote and wild regions of the world mostly in small groups via private vessels or yachts, says Ben Lyons, CEO.

For many years, EYOS led entrepreneur and explorer Victor Vescovo’s Five Deeps Expedition, a multi-year journey documented in a five-part series that was streamed in 2021 on Discovery+. The expedition included Vescovo’s 6.8-mile underwater trip to the Challenger Deep within the Pacific Ocean’s Mariana Trench, considered the deepest point on Earth. 

Vescovo dived in a submersible called the DSV Limiting Factor. EYOS subsequently took passengers paying about US$750,000 each to the Mariana Trench several times on the Limiting Factor. This “classed” submersible, manufactured by Florida-based Triton Submarines, was certified by DNV-GL or ABS, well-regarded third parties. All Tritons, which EYOS exclusively uses, are certified. 

Another layer of safety is EYOS founding partner and expedition leader Rob McCallum, who is “one of the world’s experts in private submersibles,” says Lyons, himself a former captain of large passenger ships, including the Queen Mary 2 where he served as chief officer. “We’re often called upon to discuss or consult on projects.”

Most EYOS submersibles don’t take passengers six miles deep into the ocean, but instead dive 300 to 1,000 meters off of private vessels in places such as Antarctica, giving adventure travelers a glimpse of the ocean that few people can ever see. 

The company’s view is that safety takes priority over everything. 

“We’re not going to take unnecessary risks at all, or unmanageable risks,” Lyons says. “Our background as practitioners, as experts demands that. Our belief system is such that we’re going to place safety over ‘innovation’ or the next news release.”

Lyons says he hasn’t heard from any clients worried about future trips in the wake of the OceanGate disaster. “Manned deep-sea immersible diving has an extremely high safety record among classed vessels,” he says. 

All types of adventure travel, including deep-sea exploration, includes risks. But “people are allowed to make decisions about the risk they feel comfortable taking,” Ment says. 

It’s the obligation of the travel company to warn against “foreseeable risk,” that is, “what a reasonably prudent operator would think to be an event that could happen even under the best circumstances,” he says. 

Waivers and disclaimers that travelers routinely sign include warnings of these foreseeable risks

“I don’t think any of this will change adventure travel,” Ment says. “Risky behaviors are common. But risk has to be managed by expectations, and risk should only be taken by people who understand it.” 

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