5 Trends Shaping the Future of Adventure Travel

Gray whale spy-hopping on Baja whale watching tour

23 Jun 5 Trends Shaping the Future of Adventure Travel

“Adventure tourism is what tourism should be today and definitely what tourism will be tomorrow.” — UN World Tourism Organization Secretary-General Taleb Rifai, 2012 address in Switzerland to Adventure Travel World Summit

Costa Rica ecotourism

Exploring the tropical rain forest in Costa Rica. Photo©Eric Rock, Natural Habitat Adventures

 When you think about your next trip, do you imagine camel trekking in the Sahara? Searching for monkeys and parrots in the Amazon rain forest? Sailing Antarctica? Meandering through the medina in Marrakech?

If you’re an adventure traveler, you’re part of a rapidly growing group of vagabonds who are redefining the nature of travel. Adventure travelers comprise an ever-greater share of the global travel industry: research from the Adventure Travel Trade Association (ATTA) indicates that adventure travel grew 65 percent per year from 2009-2013 and continues to expand.

While there is no precise definition of “adventure travel,” the ATTA says it includes “physical activity, interaction with the environment, and cultural exchange.” As adventure travel’s share of the market continues to grow exponentially, the values that underlie it are influencing the nature of travel. Take a look at five adventure travel trends that are shaping the future:

1) Not-So-Lonely Planet: Traveling to Connect & Grow
The global travel industry is booming as more people, especially from countries with emerging middle-class economies, find the means to go exploring. The number of travelers is expected to double in the next 15 years from 1 billion to 2 billion, according to Greg Klassen, a travel marketing strategist who is CEO of the tourism consulting firm Twenty31. In North America, baby boomers lead the pack, with more time and money to pursue their travel dreams. And while the conventional image of an older traveler may be a white-haired widow on a tour bus, the fact is that people 70+ are among the fastest-growing sector of adventure travelers. As boomers become seniors, they aren’t forsaking their drive to learn, gain insight and pursue self-improvement, key values for this demographic nurtured by adventure travel. When travel is pursued as a means of self-exploration and not merely sightseeing, adventure travel is more apt to meet that goal.

Trekking in Torres del Paine Natiional Park

Hiking in Patagonia: Chile’s Torres del Paine National Park. Photo©Natural Habitat Adventures

2) Pack, Pedal & Paddle: Active Travelers Rule
As long as we’re talking about boomers, many are loath to admit they are aging (or at least refuse to concede that it makes any difference) and often pursue fitness as a lifestyle. Along with Gen Xers and millennials, those who are 50+ are still keen to pursue the kinds of activities that typically define “adventure travel”: hiking, cycling, rafting, scuba diving, skiing and climbing, among others. And as conventional destinations become overrun, “commoditized McTravel” experiences are becoming less desirable, said Klassen, speaking at the ATTA’s Adventure Elevate meeting in Snowmass, Colorado in June 2015. Sedentary, standardized travel packages, including lie-on-the-beach vacations, are becoming less popular while active adventure travel booms.

Camping in Antarctica

Permitted low-impact camping in Antarctica. Photo©Brad Nicholson, Natural Habitat Adventures

3) Greener is Greater: Ecotourism is Growing
The U.N. World Tourism Organization predicts there will be some 1.6 billion eco-inspired trips taken between now and 2020. Adventure tourism operators must promote sustainable environmental practices because the experiences they offer depend on protected natural settings and resources as well as meaningful cultural engagement. The destruction or Disneyfication of a destination will undercut the reasons travelers go there in the first place — a powerful incentive for practices that encourage conservation and respect for land, people and wildlife. As travelers become more eco-aware and seek out responsible tourism providers, ecotourism and conservation travel will continue to grow.

East Africa family safari

An African safari is a popular multigenerational travel adventure. Photo©Patrick J. Endres, Natural Habitat Adventures

4) Mom, Dad & the Kids… & the Grandkids: ALL in the Family
While the classic family vacation of old may have been a week at the shore or a mini-van road trip to an iconic national park, today families are seeking transformative travel experiences that enrich and educate — and they’re bringing the whole gang, including siblings and grandparents. In fact, grandparents are often driving this trend, arranging travel adventures for up to three generations at a time. Tour companies are responding, with increased private and custom departures, more scheduled family trips, and activities and guides designed to appeal to a variety of ages. African safaris are a popular multigenerational option, as are small-boat Galapagos cruises or backcountry raft trips where an extended family group may book an entire departure.

Street musicians in Cuba

Street musicians in Cuba. Photo©Natural Habitat Adventures

5) Keeping It Real: Authenticity is Paramount
Research shows that adventure travelers place a higher premium on exciting and authentic experiences, reflecting a distinct set of values shaping the future of travel. Rather than check off a list of sights, contemporary travelers value doing and engaging over more passive “sightseeing.” In a world where chains and franchises have homogenized so many destinations, and mass tourism keeps travelers at arm’s length from the people who live in the places they visit, travelers crave genuine, meaningful experiences. They want immersive cultural encounters: hands-on cooking lessons, a meal in a local host’s home, an intimate concert, a visit to an artisan’s private studio. They prefer to be guided by someone who’s a native of the place they are visiting. They want to explore nature, culture and history while interacting with a place and its people.

Ultimately, if there is a mantra for adventure travel past, present and future, it may be these words from Johann Wolfgang von Goethe: “Plunge boldly into the thick of life, and seize it where you will, it is always interesting.”

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Wendy Redal
Wendy Redal is a passionate writer and traveler with a focus on nature, wildlife, food and the environment. Her adventures have taken her to 60 countries and all 50 states, including face to face with gorillas in the Congo, snorkeling with sea lions in the Galapagos, wine tasting in the Republic of Georgia, and trekking on horseback across Mongolia. A former tour director in Alaska, Canada, the western U.S. and New England, Wendy today enjoys crafting and guiding private group trips around the world, in addition to her marketing communications job in the adventure travel industry. She holds a PhD in media studies, an MA in journalism and a BA in history and previously worked with the Center for Environmental Journalism at the University of Colorado Boulder. Wendy’s travel writing has appeared in the Huffington Post, Budget Travel, Alaska magazine, World Wildlife, Gaiam Life and Good Nature Travel.
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