About a year ago, DoC announced that it was pulling out of the business of taking intentions for visitors to New Zealand’s back-country . It was only ever doing so inconsistently anyway, through ad-hoc arrangements at various visitor centres, but the announcement still created controversy. One way or another, all of the nominated alternatives (encapsulated by directing people to the AdventureSmart website ) required people to have their own trusted contacts.
For a New Zealand local, arranging a trusted contact is generally manageable. People here know other people here, and those people are generally in the same time zone, speak the same language, know the important phone numbers, and are usually familiar with New Zealand’s systems, conditions and expectations. For visitors to New Zealand, however, finding trusted contacts is often not so easy, especially for visitors who simply don’t know someone who can be trusted to reliably report if they don’t return on time. Some visitors don’t even realise how important it is to have a trusted contact.
I’m perfectly happy with DoC not being in the business of taking people’s intentions. It’s a very time consuming and expensive thing to do, especially when many of those people were never bothering to properly sign out, resulting in needless efforts to chase up and ensure they’d safely exited. It’s never been a clear statutory requirement for DoC to look after people in this way. Nevertheless, the fact that the staff of some DoC offices in touristy places have been acting as trusted contacts until recently has ensured more reliable oversight for some people visiting the outdoors than would otherwise have existed.
A year ago I wondered  if there might be room for a business to set up for taking and managing people’s intentions as a trusted contact. Very happily, it seems that someone else had a similar idea, and actually acted on it. This afternoon a random press release popped out, from a company/website called Safety Outdoors .
According to its press release, the Safety Outdoors service, due to launch tomorrow (Thursday) and accessible via http://www.safetyoutdoors.com , will allow people to sign up for a trusted contact as a service, with a fee per activity. [Edit 9-Dec-2012: It seems to be taking longer than advertised for the SafetyOutdoors website to get underway. Meanwhile, you could also check out Adventure Buddy , which is an alternative (and free) service which is also now available.]
From the Safety Outdoors press release:
…the company is committed to ensuring each and every person who signs up with them is accounted for. It is a simple, convenient and reliable system involving a free phone call, text or online registration beforehand and confirmation of finishing afterwards. It works because it doesn’t necessitate planning ahead and is available for any outdoors activity.
Safety Outdoors Director, Stuart Fraser says a major point of difference is that they are acting as the trusted outdoor contact for every booking.
“If we don’t hear from you within the registered time frame operators based in New Zealand, working in real time, follow a checking process with every contact point provided. If necessary, we can then notify the appropriate authority.”
There are several options available for users of Safety Outdoors with the emphasis on not only registering yourself but also family and friends. The cost is per activity only, and involves everyone involved in your group, not per person, making this both an affordable and easy decision.
It’ll be very interesting to see the exact business model that these people are operating under, what sort of fee structure it uses, and how well it does. Perhaps with time, if the service is well suited, there will be room for DoC ground staff to steer people towards it where appropriate, and help them with their intentions, but without DoC then being required to be responsible for following up if they don’t return when expected.
Update 6-Dec-2012: The Press Release as published on Scoop  includes pricing info: $10/trip up to $60 for ten trips, valid for up to 12 months after payment. It doesn’t seem unreasonable to me, but I guess much of the challenge would be in convincing people who need it to make use of it, and then making it really really easy for them to use it.