Adventure tourism operators 'putting lives at risk'

New Zealand's booming thrillseeker tourism industry is to be targeted to weed out "cowboy" operators who are putting tourists' lives at risk.

A letter from a British man who lost his young daughter while river boarding - riding a body board on fast-flowing rapids - sparked a comprehensive inquiry into the state of the industry.

Emily Jordan, 21, drowned in Central Otago's Kawarau River in April last year after getting trapped between rocks.

The operator, Queenstown's Mad Dog River Boarding, was fined $NZ66,000 and ordered to pay $NZ80,000 in reparation to the Jordan family.

It wasn't the only recent death in the adventure sector, enjoyed by thousands of Australian tourists each year.

In March, 18-year-old New Zealander Catherine Peters fell to her death after doing a commercially-run bridge swing at Manawatu Gorge, in the lower North Island.

A wisely-worded letter from Ms Jordan's grieving father, Chris, has convinced New Zealand Prime Minister John Key that the sector needs to be urgently reviewed.

Mr Jordan said standards were not being monitored and that safety investigators only looked into problems after accidents.

Announcing the inquiry on Monday, Mr Key said he believed most in the sector operated well, but there were concerns that there were some cowboys and that safety standards were not being monitored.

"Tourism is critically important to New Zealand and we must do all we can to ensure visitor safety," Mr Key said.

The wide-ranging investigation will be led by Labour Minister Kate Wilkinson and will involve the Civil Aviation Authority, Maritime New Zealand, the Tourism Ministry and the Tourism Industry Association.

It will report on ways to improve risk management and safety.