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Researching the commerce of risk

July 31, 2007

Gulnur Tumbat on the summit of Alaska’s Mt. McKinley Assistant Professor of Marketing Gulnur Tumbat's June climb to the summit of Alaska's Mt. McKinley not only fed her passion for mountain climbing, it contributed to her expanding expertise on the relationship between those who provide and those who purchase physical risk. Though the experienced climber's previous research includes interviews with climbing leaders and consumers at a base camp on Mount Everest, this was the first time that her research included participating in an expedition as a client-climber.

The 7,000-foot ascent from the Kahiltna base camp to McKinley's summit at 20,320 feet allowed Tumbat to keep field notes on what is negotiated between the service providers (guides) and their customers. She plans to publish her findings and present them at leading professional conferences.

With 15 years of experience climbing the mountain peaks in her native Turkey, and in Russia's and Georgia's Caucasus mountains, Tumbat is well aware that the contract between adventure providers and consumers bears little resemblance to that of providers and consumers of other products or services. In this case there are no guarantees or refunds.

"The interaction between a service provider and a customer takes a long time under a lot of stress where the stakes are high," said Tumbat. "Marketing and media can lead a consumer to perceive that an expedition is easily, expedition guides have to manage their client's expectations and actually negotiate the risk involved." Leaders will not risk the safety of the entire team if it turns out that some cannot physically complete the trip.

Looking down Mt. McKinley at around 12,000 feetOn Tumbat's McKinley ascent, a team member needed to be rescued by helicopter after succumbing to altitude sickness. Another lost the confidence to finish and was guided back to base camp. Abrupt changes in weather or a natural disaster can easily destroy a consumer's investment of time and money and deny personal achievement.

"For me, a trip like this one is a study in risk that I mean how one acclimates to risk over time." The expedition was also a good place to study the nature of how people feel about what they think they deserve. "People believe that they can buy everything," said Tumbat. "They may feel that they deserve to reach the summit, because they paid for it. Realistically speaking, if the summit is achieved it's a bonus, not a promise."

Tumbat and the remainder of the team were lucky enough to achieve their bonus. At the summit the sun was shining while the temperature hovered between zero and 28 degrees below Fahrenheit. In addition to the items necessary for a successful climb, Tumbat carried a San Francisco State pennant and the Turkish flag. A teammate took photos of her with each item. With this, Tumbat became the first Turkish woman to summit Mount McKinley. She might also be the first to unfurl the SF State colors on the tallest peak on the North American continent.

-- Denize Springer


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Last modified August 1, 2007 by University Communications