Shaping tourists’ wellbeing through slow adventures

Shaping tourists’ wellbeing through slow adventures

© Rupert Shanks, Wilderness Scotland

Slow adventure experiences, such as canoeing, stargazing or foraging, are characterised by a slower passage of time, immersion in the natural world and a sense of belonging to small social groups. During slow adventures, the perceptions of time, meaningful moments and a sense of togetherness are choreographed by adventure guides to shape tourists’ psychological wellbeing through immersive experiences, ultimately helping them to re-establish a much-yearned-for connection with nature.

In recognising the need to secure the healthy future of the planet, tourism professionals have taken interest in issues such as gross national happiness, quality of life and sustainable development. The contemporary world has become more mobile, interconnected and fluid, and, despite the expectation that technological change would increase people’s free time, the pace of life has only accelerated. In the era of technological advancement, coupled with the increased pace of life and our constant race for meeting deadlines, achieving goals and maintaining productivity, time seems to flow ever faster. People’s free time has been devalued, quality of life has been diminished and physical and psychological health has become one of the major concerns. To address this, prescriptions to take short, restorative trips into areas rich in nature have become a leading trend in public health programmes worldwide.

Slow adventure

In the past several decades, the tourism industry has made attempts to promote responsible and sustainable travel through development of niche products based on nature, such as ecotourism, adventure tourism or wellness tourism. Tourism planners and managers are making great efforts to deliver high quality experiences for their clients. They aim to connect tourists with destinations through, for example, spending longer time in a place and getting entangled with local traditions. At the same time, people’s wellbeing has come into focus. Thus, immersive tourism activities in natural environments far from urban centres, such as nature reserves and national parks, are claimed to espouse preventative approaches to health.

Pulling people to less trafficked, healthier and greener destinations, and slowing down their activities, have become a new ethical consumer trend. An attempt to subvert the ‘fast world’ and the cult of speed have been embodied in the global slow movement. The concept of slowness maintains its focus on learning how to value and cultivate a sense of time. Slow tourism celebrates simple, organic, local, traditional, affective and emotional dimensions of the experiences gained through immersion in the destination and local way of life. Slowing down has been adopted in tourism through developing experiences in remote, rural or natural spaces, as they can offer the qualities that many modern tourists seek, particularly focusing on extending time to savour the outdoor experience.

Slow adventure is one of the emergent trends in nature-based and peripheral tourism that responds to the call for sustainable development. Inspired by the slow movement and friluftsliv, the Scandinavian philosophy of outdoor life, it has been widely accepted both as a theoretical concept and a tourism product. In conceptualising slow adventure, the UK-based scholars, Professor Peter Varley and Tristan Semple, introduced its four critical dimensions: time, nature, passage and comfort. Building on the postulates of slowness, the aim of slow adventure is to introduce consumers to the simplicity of just ‘being’ in the outdoors – in responsible and ethical ways. In the slow adventure context, undertaking activities is not constrained by time but rather conditioned by natural rhythms: changes of dark and light, fluctuations of the water’s surface, or the direction of the wind.

Getting to know natural rhythms and discovering new ecospheres, landscapes and inhabitants along the journey may be a solipsistic venture. However, slow adventures can in many ways make the difference. Consuming such experiences may lead to both hedonic and eudaimonic outcomes, and to the deepening and rounding of the outdoor experience. Slow adventure offers consumers the luxurious commodity of taking time to dwell in nature, being more mindful and developing a connection with their environment. It also allows space for disconnection from the stressful and disturbing stimuli by which the modern world is overly saturated. Slowing down and taking time to do activities may improve health and reduce anxieties, stress and depression, particularly in more affluent, digitalised and time-deprived societies.

In our study, we presented and discussed the ways in which guided slow adventures can offer possibilities to increase the sense of hospitality and enhance psychological wellbeing through slow journeying in nature. Stef, former Wilderness Scotland operations manager and founder of Hands on Consulting, specialising in Customer Relationship Skills Training for the hospitality and outdoor industry across Scotland, opined:

Working in the adventure travel industry really made me realise that we are changing lives, we do make a difference…. So people are having life changing experiences when they are spending time with you, when they are on holidays, when they have time to ponder, when they have time to chill out and actually look at their lives and see what’s not quite right. So that’s my favourite kind of experience, getting that sort of feedback from people saying like ‘listen, thank you for providing me with the space and the possibility to change my life and to have these kind of moments that will be with me for ever’.

The creative time spent outdoors, whether actively doing or simply being, has taken on heightened significance as Covid-19 threatens to impose a new reality. Our conceptualisation of adventure took a broader view, away from risk and thrill towards a definition encompassing slower activities such as foraging, stargazing, or simply being still in time and space, savouring the outdoor experience. The study showed provision of these guided slow adventures using wild and unfettered landscapes promoted, enabled and delivered greater psychological wellbeing. Ultimately, these experiences have the potential to, even temporarily, slow down the tempo and alter perceptions of time, a challenge in a culture of deadlines and expeditious achievements.

The immersive entanglements with natural environs are generally augmented by a skilled guide. Allowing an expert to guide clients through an alien environment, enabling people to enjoy the haptic, olfactory, auditory or visual phenomena – be it the sound of splashing waves, the explosion of colours in the golden hour or the crackling of the campfire – may, briefly restore tourists’ peace of mind. In uncertain times after Covid-19, being slow and mindful might alleviate some of the people’s anxieties and fears. In slow adventure environments, guides can foster longed-for feelings of reconnection, restoration, reunion or regeneration, and make a modest, but a meaningful contribution to the psychological wellbeing of the troubled inhabitants of the 21st century.

To read this article click here 

To cite this article: 

Farkic, J., Filep, S, & Taylor, S. (2020). Shaping tourists’ wellbeing through guided slow adventures. Journal of Sustainable Tourism

The breadtime story

The breadtime story

We crossed the Danube, then meandered through the forest of the national park heading towards one of the four former capitals of the Roman empire, when I decided to make a phone call. A male voice picked up and said: Jeremija speaking. I explained I was just calling to check if the museum was open. “Yes, we are here, awaiting you”, Jeremija answered. At this point I could not imagine that a very small museum in a very small town could make such a huge impact on me. I pictured Jeremija as a simple villager who had a love of bread making and decided to tell a story about it and, perhaps, display a tool or two, or whatever else he could think of, and call it a museum. But there was something in Jeremija’s voice. It was not a voice of a weary villager that spends his days labouring out in the fields, rather, it was cheerful and full of life and it was difficult to imagine that it belonged to an aged man.

Instead of following the road to Sirmium, we took the turn to Pećinci. The road took us to its end, where it intersected with the fields. On our left, the bus stop appeared as if placed right at the end of the world, and on the right, a cage-like entrance to a long ground-level building, resembling nothing more and nothing less but silos for storing wheat, corn and other harvested crops. It was hard to believe that this was our final destination – the museum of bread. That we were at the right place confirmed the image of the museum owner Jeremija hand in hand with a Serbian Nobel prize winner, Ivo Andrić. This juxtaposition of the unconventional museum building, the image of a great figure of Serbian literature and agricultural setting in which all of this was placed was a truly mind-boggling introduction to the artistic interpretation of the meanings and significance of bread in the Serbian culture.

We rang the bell. The owner opened the door in the fashion of a good host and admitted us into a small conservatory. The cheerful voice now belonged to the body of a 70-year-old man with wild, snow white hair and a pair of piercing blue eyes. He sat us on chairs and wanted to know more about us, who we were, what we did, what we liked, where we’d met; just the very usual questions made part of a very unusual reception.

The chatter was interrupted by Jeremija’s wife who invited us for a walk through the collection. And this is where the story about Jeremija and bread unfolded…

Jeremija is an artist-ethnographer who often travels and paints. These are most often the motives of rural, rustic, traditional Serbia which is slowly fading away: the old farmhouses, the windmills, the old stoves, the sheds. Jeremija’s work captures the aesthetic, ethnographic and traditional vales of the people and place, the ones which have not been protected by the government, and through his artistic expression he aims to immortalise them. In his work, however, Jeremija is mostly interested in ritual and cult bread (pogača in Serbian). In its honour, he decided to open the museum, the designing of which he approached in a similar way as he approaches painting. The museum, Jeremija’s life work, is conceptualised in such way to present the life cycle of a wheat grain – “From soil, over bread to the heavens”.

From the soil…

The so called ‘bread street’ starts with the archaeological collection of the tillage tools from pre-history and the Roman period between 100 AD and 500 AD. For the proximity of Sirmium, some of the archaeological material from this period have been ploughed out in the fields nearby and have been conserved in the museum. In order to popularise science, the museum hosts a number of faithful copies of well-known artefacts, like that of the Goddess of fertility which is displayed in the Museum of Vojvodina. The section on the harvest displays Neolithic, Celtic or Roman wheat milling tools, the machines used in domestic households from the beginning of 20th century, the bread scales, as well as the old baking ovens (furune in Serbian) which Jeremija found in Serbian villages and in which he found inspiration for his paintings.

… over bread…

Bread is very important in all cultures. In Serbia in particular, it is the old traditional custom to make liturgical bread for big religious holidays such as Christmas, Easter and Slava, the family patron’s day. It used to be made for child’s birth and as a gift for newlyweds, an antecedent of today’s wedding cake. All the breads have a spiritual meaning. In Serbian culture there is a saying that the whole human life occurs between the bead for a newborn and the bread for the deceased.

…to the heavens

The path led us out of the museum to the small chapel in the garden. It was still work in progress; the ceiling was covered in frescoes, but the walls were still undone, as well as the floor. Jeremija explained that the floor was made of wooden logs of various trees that he had collected on his travels throughout Serbia. Walking on the floor, he explained, would be like walking through whole Serbia. The frescoes on the ceiling depict the pre-Christian and pagan divinity, the saints holding the bread, the Nemanjić dynasty and Christ converting the pagans into Christianity.

We finished our visit in a warm and cosy dining room where the family admit guests and celebrate their Slava. In the olden days, the kitchen was referred to as ‘the house’, as the hearth of home and the place where the members of the family would gather and prepare food, and from which the light and warmth of home would radiate. On one of the walls was displayed the document certifying that Serbian Slava had been put under the government protection as well as inscribed in the Unesco’s list of the world’s intangible cultural heritage. This is how we found out that Jeremija made his contributions to this achievement. He also brought to our attention the traditional Vojvodinian cipovka, ‘the bread that laughs at the moon,’ and the recent attempts to protect its 300-year-old recipe as an intangible cultural heritage.

The playful ginger cat (which never meows) waited for us after vacating the dining room. Having journeyed through the lifecycle of wheat, we were convinced that we stood at a spot of invaluable cultural importance. Jeremija’s museum of bread is not just a tiny pop-up bread exhibition (as I might have thought before my visit), rather, it is a cultural treasure embodied in material artefacts brought together through decades of dedicated collection and creation, and led by a vision of an artistic mind. No wonder that the European museum forum nominated it for the Museum of the Year and the International Council of museums took it under its auspices for the outstanding value it has within the Vojvodinian, Serbian and the world’s cultural spaces.

The artist, curator and above all a great host, Jeremija walked us out of the museum. In the space between the bus stop and the crops, he told us a story about his encounter with Ivo Andrić, his life in Belgrade and his decision to move to Pećinci. “Remember, the most important decisions you make when you are young”, he said and waved us goodbye.

Jeremija - The Serbian Museum of Bread

Link to the official website.