Switzerland moves to make adventure travel safer

Switzerland has made a move to improve safety in the country’s adventure travel sector by requiring all tour operators to employ licensed guides and carry insurance to cover their clients. The new law doesn’t go into effect until January 1st, 2013, but operators are already taking steps to comply with the mandate. Until then however, anyone can still lead mountaineering, rafting, or canyoneering expeditions.

The new law is in response to a 1999 accident that left killed 21 people, including three guides. The group was cayoneering in Switzerland’s Interlaken region when a sudden storm caused a flash flood through the gorge they were explorering. A wall of water washed the travelers down the narrow canyon, where they eventually drowned. The guides’ lack of experience and training was partially blamed for the fatalities.

Two years later, six employees of the company that organized the excursion were convicted of manslaughter because of the accident. During their trial, it was revealed that they didn’t have any official safety guidelines and that the guides had not been fully informed about the dangers of the weather conditions in Interlaken. For most of the guides, it was their first season working there.

Following the very public trial, the Swiss government tried to pass legislation to improve safety in the travel industry, but the members of parliament were unable to come to an agreement on what exactly should be done. Now, ten years later, they’ve finally been able to address the issue properly.

Over the past decade, the adventure travel industry in Switzerland has implemented its own requirements for outfitters who voluntarily joined a “Safety in Adventure” program. But the new law requires all operators to meet the standards, which include a specified amount of training for employees and insurance that covers the clients while under their care.

These moves should make for a safer environment for travelers looking to get an adrenaline rush, and should help the Swiss tourism industry as a whole. As the adventure travel market grows, and matures, these kinds of regulations are likely to become more common and important, and it is good to see Switzerland lead the way in this area.

[Photo credit: Terra 3 via WikiMedia]