Four in 10 travelers engage in adventure activities during their trip. // © iStock
Feature image (above): The booming adventure travel market was last valued at $263 billion in 2012. // © iStock
TravelAge West’s Explorer magazine hosted a one-hour discussion on the growing adventure travel market with moderator Mary Pat Sullivan, president of Sullivan Marketing Advisors. Adventure experts included in the chat were Casey Hanisko, vice president of marketing and communications for the Adventure Travel Trade Association (ATTA); Deane Motis, director of sales for North America for Hurtigruten; Robin Weber Pollak, president of Journeys International; and Mindy Poder, Executive Editor of TravelAge West, Family Getaways and Explorer magazines. During the discussion, the panel highlighted market trends and advised agents on how to better sell experiential travel.
Below are some of the top insights from the discussion.
Adventure travel has sometimes been a hazy concept for clients and agents alike to grasp. What exactly makes travel “adventurous?”
Hanisko presented the definition of adventure travel proposed by ATTA: Adventure travel combines interaction with the environment, physical activity and cultural exchange. This definition is widely agreed upon by adventure travel experts and also broadens the variety of activities that can be covered under the umbrella term of adventure.
“A lot of [what we’re seeing] is ‘soft adventure,’” Pollak said. “I like to say that adventure at your own pace can happen at any level of exertion. Adventure happens where the big buses can’t take you.”
A Still Booming Market
Although perhaps no surprise to travel advisors who already sell adventure, the adventure travel niche has continued to skyrocket. As of 2012, the market was worth $263 billion, a huge jump from the $89 billion it was estimated at in 2009. According to Hasinko, this growth has been influenced by three factors: increases in international tourism departures, the percentage of European and South American travelers who have now been classified as adventure travelers and an increase in expenditures.
In fact, it was noted that four out of 10 travelers engage in some sort of adventure activity during their trips.
North America Dominates
According to Hasinko’s presentation, North Americans continue to be the largest consumer of adventure travel trips, along with Europeans. However, the Asian demographic is on the rise. Interest in adventure travel is increasing in both North and South America as well.
The top countries that North American clients are booking, according to ATTA, include the U.S., Tanzania, Peru, Italy, Ecuador and Cuba. The U.S. offers clients a wide variety of activities, such as hiking and mountain biking, while Tanzania is popular for safaris. Peru and Ecuador are known for their landmarks, and Italy provides culinary adventures. Cuba continues to be popular as an experiential destination.
Motis added that 40 percent of travelers traveling to Antarctica onboard a Hurtigruten ship were from North America.
Adventure Trip Trends
The top trends for adventure travel are customized itineraries, soft adventures and family/multigenerational travel, Hasinko said. This has been consistent for years, although customized itineraries have taken over soft adventure as the No. 1 trend.
Pollak concurred, stating that the majority of Journeys International trips are now private and customized.
“Almost all of our destinations offer this kind of customization,” Pollak said.
Pollak added that customization can even extend to ship-based expeditions, with extensions tailored according to client interests.
Attracting Both Young and Mature Clients
Motis noted that the average age of Hurtigruten’s customers is 56 years of age, the same as many of its crew members. While adventure travel is often thought of as something millennials are more inclined to request, many of the experts noted that mature clients are just as interested in experiential activities.
As an example of the continuing demand for adventure travel among families and multigen travelers, Hurtigruten is offering a Young Explorer Program for children ages 7 to 15. They can help expedition leaders set up equipment, observe plant life and participate in other learning activities.
The panel also advised agents on how to make mature clients comfortable with adventure travel. Sullivan noted that many mature clients may not realize that they are already participating in adventure travel.
“As far as the traveler is concerned, they just want the experience they’re looking for,” Pollak said. “What we’re seeing in the industry is that travelers’ demands are veering toward what we define as adventure travel.”
Panelists agreed — don’t worry about the “adventure” name; just ask the client what experiences they seek.
As for clients dissuaded from adventure due to the price tag, Motis brought up the point that adventure travel is often priced on par with popular types of trips, including river cruises.
“When you really look at it, you find out that they’re pretty equal,” Motis said.
A trip to Antarctica on Hurtigruten’s Midnatsol ship, for instance, costs $6,170 per person, while a typical Christmas river cruise will cost about $7,795 per person.
“I think a lot of people think only millennials would be interested in adventure travel [and that] baby boomers and beyond don’t do this kind of travel,” Poder said. “But one of our big points in Explorer is that this is the way clients across age groups want to travel. They want to be immersed.”
Pollak agreed that the company’s focus is less on age and more on which clients are taking the time plan a trip.
“We need to think more about behavioral patterns rather than our client’s age,” Pollak said. “The question is not so much about age, but the balance between budget and time available.”
For agents interested in selling adventure, the panel members provided plenty of opportunities for outside learning experiences. Hasinko mentioned AdventureEDU, ATTA’s training for companies and governing bodies interested in safe and sustainable adventure travel. This joins ATTA and Travel Leaders’ Active & Adventure Travel Specialist training program designed to help travel agents grow adventure travel sales.
Journeys International also has its own Adventure Circle, where travel professionals can receive help in putting together customized FITs.