Has adventure travel gone mainstream?

16 May 2012

 Many think of the adventure travel market as a world full of young adrenaline junkies, however the growth and scale of this market has boomed considerably over the last decade. Having recently returned from trekking in the Himalayas I was interested to learn from the local guides that the recession and rising student fees had dented their number of young adventurers and they were finding their groups were getting older.

Adventure travel is seen as a combination of physical activity, interaction with the environment and cultural exchange, according to the Adventure Travel Trade Association (ATTA) and Xola consulting which gave a talk at WTM in 2010 on this topic.[1]

Credit: Kathryn Bullock - Tibetan refugee selling jewellery in Nepal

ATTA estimate that the adventure travel trade is worth a cool $89billion with more than a quarter of all travellers departing from North and Latin America and Europe engaging in adventure activities[2].


They have developed an Adventure Tourism Development Index and ranked both developing and developed countries in terms of factors such as sustainable policy, safety and security, health, natural and cultural resources, hard and soft infrastructure. Their rankings make interesting reading as shown below.


Source: ATTA Adventure Tourism Development Index


The demographics of this market are 50/50 male/female and 40% are aged 30-41 and 19% are aged 50-74. It is this oldest group which is most likely to use tour operators and why they perhaps need to be sure that their advertising is geared to their most likely customer group.


ATTA carried out a survey with adventure travel companies and found that the average operator serves around 7,500 customers each year and the average trip price was $2,748. What is interesting is that the typical “hard adventurer” typically spends almost as much again on the gear for their trips. I’m surprised that the adventure equipment and clothing retailers have not done more to woo the travel operators.


Credit: Kathryn Bullock -  Climbing Annapurna Basecamp


If we look at some of the main operators TUI’s specialist division which includes 17   adventure travel brands is one of the healthiest as the average spend of their adventure travellers grew 21% between 2006 and 2010. Set this against a recent decline in average passenger spend shown by the outbound UK traveller stats[3] and we can see that this is a resilient market and it is of no surprise that both TUI and Thomas Cook have been keen to make so many adventure travel company acquisitions.  


You could view adventure travel as the sector where many of the early adopters reside when we think about the future of tourism. Having recently attended “The Future of Tourism” held in London as part of a global road show hosted by Gadventures, I could not help thinking that this crowded lecture theatre held many curious travel industry people who know that change is coming. We will have to change how we travel and learn to travel in a more sustainable way, by giving more back to the communities that we visit. Many of us want to ensure that our tourism spend has a beneficial impact on local communities, especially in emerging markets. The popularity of trails has led to rationing of permits such as those for Machu Picchu and new initiatives to minimise litter and our footprints and use of plastic bottles in places such as the Himalayas.


It will be interesting to see when responsible[4] and sustainable tourism become a key aspect of every tour operator package. Do you reckon these two worlds of mass tourism and adventure tourism will ever converge? Please share your comments with us below. 


Social Posts

Has adventure travel gone mainstream?


How do you pick a responsible travel destination for a trip?


What differentiates a responsible and sustainable tour operator?



[2] Adventure Travel Trade Association, George Washington University and Xola Consulting  “Adventure Tourism Development Index  2010”

[3] International Passenger Survey

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