by JoAnna Haugen
Today’s adventure traveler is changing.
Not so very long ago, people who defined themselves as adventure travelers sought out extreme, hard-core experiences that involved risk and danger. But times are changing, and recent research by the Adventure Travel Trade Association (ATTA) revealed that today’s adventure travelers are more likely to seek out transformative experiences offering an expanded worldview, meaningful experiences, and opportunities for learning, connecting to nature, and immersing themselves in nature.
This research goes hand-in-hand with findings from the ATTA’s 2017 Industry Snapshot, which offers a look at the adventure travel industry through the eyes of adventure travel tour operators. According to the Snapshot, the most in-demand adventure activities travelers are currently seeking out are hiking, cultural opportunities, ecotourism, and environmentally sustainable activities. Some activities, such as cultural experiences and hiking, have remained popular year after year, and while ecotourism has been increasingly in popularity over the years, there seems to be an increasing focus on the environment and sustainability on the part of adventure travelers.
Additionally, in some regions of the world, cycling and safari activities were particularly popular. On the opposite end of the spectrum, adventure travelers have not been seeking out hunting, motor sports, orienteering, and paragliding.
Just as adventure travelers have shifted their interests over the last several years, they’ve also changed course slightly when it comes to choosing travel destinations. South America, which made the list in the 2016 Industry Snapshot, continues to be a popular destination along with Scandinavia, Southern Africa, and the Mediterranean.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, over the past two years, North Americans have shown an interest in traveling to the United States, Peru, Ecuador, and Canada for adventure travel experiences. Since 2014, Italy has made it onto this top five list, but right now, travelers are more interested in pursuing trips to Cuba. As for Europeans, Italy, Spain, and France remain hot destinations, but Portugal and Albania have now inched their way onto the top five list, replacing the United Kingdom and South Africa.
Also of interest is the fact adventure travelers commonly turn to tour operators for “custom itineraries” and “family/multi-generational” experiences. Tour operators also report travelers have been seeking out both “shorter duration” and “long haul/overseas” trips.
So, what does all this mean for the future of adventure travel and those who work in the industry?
Certainly, there are trends in the findings: Some activities and destinations continue to top the popularity charts, but as the adventure traveler profile changes, so do interests and priorities. Activities, destinations, and travel styles evolve, and tour operators and others working in the industry need to evolve with them.
Working in the industry, it’s easy to make assumptions about who the primary clients and consumers are, especially as the years go by. But shifts in culture, politics, media, and the environment play a role in the choices adventure travelers make, and only the most diligent, flexible adventure operators will be able to survive and thrive as they meet the needs of today’s adventure traveler.
JoAnna Haugen is managing editor of AdventureTravelNews, the leading adventure travel publication for industry professionals and members of the Adventure Travel Trade Association (ATTA), which serves more than 1,000 people in 100 countries worldwide. Additionally, she is a widely published writer with work appearing in more than 60 print and online publications including BBC, CNNGo, American Way, Modern Luxury, Popular Science and several AAA magazines.
The opinions expressed in this text are the author’s opinion and do not necessarily reflect the position of WTM Latin America.