According to the 2013 Adventure Tourism Market Survey, the average yearly increase in adventure travel was 65% from 2009 to 2012. The survey covered three key outbound regions: North America, South America and Europe.
The study also estimated the value of the global outbound adventure travel market at $263 billion – excluding airfare – up from $89 billion in 2009. Average spending by adventure travelers globally increased from $593 per trip in 2009 to $947 in 2012.
While the remarkable growth can be attributed partly to the overall recovery of travel from a low point in 2009, the growth of adventure travel also reflects consumer interest in “transformative and engaged activities,” Stowell said.
“Consumers are asking for more authentic, transformative experiences,” he said.
“The market is also maturing. Most people have been to Las Vegas, Disney or on a cruise; they’re ready for something else.”
The travel industry has responded with a host of adventure offerings.
“A lot of tourism interests have added adventure to their offerings,” said Stowell. “That could be anything from adding a rock climbing wall on a cruise ship to being able to book a sea kayaking day trip at a hotel.
“Adventure travel is going mainstream,” said Stowell, who noted that the market is heavily driven by “soft” adventure.
New resource for agents
That development is among many compelling reasons agents should be looking at selling adventure travel, Stowell said.
The Adventure Travel Trade Association, which has focused its efforts on adventure tour operators, is interested in cultivating stronger ties with agents.
In July the association introduced a new travel advisor membership program in an effort to attract travel agents. Most of the group’s more than 900 members are tour operators, tourism boards, accommodations, guides and other service providers. And there are now 40 agent members of ATTA.
Stowell said the association is also considering adding courses specifically for agents to its Adventure EDU education program.
An inexact definition
What is adventure travel? “That’s something we’ve been asking since Day 1,” said Stowell. “The reality is, it’s still a gray definition.”
ATTA identifies three themes in adventure travel – physical activity, a connection with nature and cultural immersion.
“I don’t worry about the definition too much when it comes down to it,” he said. “Adventure is different for everyone.”
Someone who has never left the U.S. will find a walking tour in Scotland to be an adventure, while another person who has traveled to Nepal three times will have a different view of what adventure means, Stowell said.
ATTA distinguishes between two types of adventure travelers: those who travel on their own and those who go on guided programs.
The association deals primarily with guided adventure trips offered by its tour operator and other service provider members.