Ask any number of people what their idea of adventure travel is and you’ll get as many different answers. It’s rooted in our childish imagination of what is wild, beyond the tedium of life’s routines. It wants to take us outside of what we know, what’s comfortable and perceived as ‘safe’ and takes us on an exploration of places, activities, experiences, cultures, and of the self. It pushes boundaries in travel, it is deeply personal, subjective and fabulously lucrative. It prompts us equally to push boundaries in the way we sell it.
How we describe adventure
The word exotic is deliciously relative: if that’s where adventure lives, then we can find it anywhere on the planet! People tend to describe adventure with dramatic language. They imagine exploring, searching, scouring unimaginable geographies, discovering, wandering, venturing, reflecting upon life. They imagine obscure destinations, icebergs, glaciers, tundras, fjordscapes, jungles, forests, deserts, deserted islands, far-flung and off-the-beaten-track.
They describe these outdoor wildernesses as awe-inspiring, magical, with unique wildlife and vegetation, under UNESCO protection, its indigenous people as salt-of-the-earth and welcoming.
They imagine escapist blood-pumping experiences, not for the fainthearted, but for voyagers who dare to push the limits of their comfort zone.
They imagine making lifetime memories, of satisfying cravings for the kind of fun that straddles safety and danger.
There’s a lot of romance in there – useful language for marketing and misconceptions to dispel because adventurers always want the truth.
What constitutes adventure travel
In varying degrees, there’s risk at the heart of it. Generally extreme adrenaline junkies are independent travellers; so we’ll focus on the softer variety. Still, adventure travellers are fit, able to exert themselves physically, and have skill relevant to the activity they’re interested in. Travel typically occurs in natural environments and includes a cultural immersion.
The Adventure Travel Trade Association compiled a list of currently popular activities you can surely find context for in your own destinations: hiking (most popular); backpacking; camping; climbing; birding; cycling; biking; horse riding; safari; skiing; snowboarding; paragliding; paddle boarding; surfing; rafting; kayaking; scuba diving; shark cage diving; caving. The list goes on.
Making adventure happen
Adventure travel requires us to bring the experiences to life and make what’s hard to access, easier. The logistics that support adventure are specialised and require particular expertise in terrain, climate, vegetation and wildlife. There’s equipment to factor in, routing, professional guiding expertise, exceptional photo opportunities, special accommodation, transportation to hard-to-access locations, health and safety issues, visa requirements, carrying capacity, conservation, traveller types from solo to multi-generational groups to cater to, and the usual modern amenities to provide for.
Collaboration among multiple stakeholders, including local communities, is a crucial element. Facilitating meaningful interactions between traveller and host is part of the adventure, but these partnerships also inform the travel professional of pertinent local issues.
Locals can be trained as guides, which is probably the most important resource for adventure travellers to derive maximum benefit from their immersion in place and culture alike.
Running your own adventure trip requires you to guarantee fair treatment of porters, employees and local partners, as well as the quality of your equipment, logistics and food – all key to making the adventure acceptable to your client.
Adventure as a trend
Elements of wellness, sustainability, experiential and transformative travel collude with this trend. What started as an interest in sports or active hobbies has developed into stress relief strategies. Modern travellers want to go somewhere different to do those activities, in unique conditions. They care about their physical health, but also want to escape their lifestyles, the traffic, the sameness. They want to connect with themselves, with loved ones and people outside their sphere of sameness. They have renewed respect for the cultural and natural heritages of destinations.
If untouched, unblemished natural environments draw adventure travellers, then those natural resources need to be managed and safeguarded.
Locals and their habitat are equally concerning – with a new, growing emphasis on responsible and ethical tourism, you’ll find thrill seekers wanting to actively contribute to the prosperity of local economies and consequently empower them to sustain their way of life. Then reduce, if not eliminate, any negative impact of tourism in their area.
It might sound like poetic waffle but this trend directly addresses a desire for life-changing experiences.
Self-actualisation happens by immersing oneself in nature, in extreme, physically, emotionally or intellectually challenging and stimulating contexts.
The reward for overcoming those challenges, skirting danger and triumphing over fear is spiritual upliftment. Or it can happen by personally experiencing the lifestyle of others, sharing a common sense of humanity with people perceived as utterly foreign.
Not forgetting the pleasure in those experiences – it’s not all altruism and hard work! Being helpful can be tremendously gratifying and especially rewarding for people who feel trapped by the materialism of the concrete jungle and the rat race of their daily lives. The feel-good hormones that spruce up our mental faculties after some physical exercise; a return to our basic value systems; the next best thing that goes one up on what our friends have achieved; proving what we’re capable of doing; communing with nature; endurance.. these are all core motivations driving this trend.
From a safety perspective, thrill-seekers are happier to stay off the beaten track with its smaller crowds and avoid high profile tourist sites that are more likely targets for terrorism. It’s a sad reality of our times, but we can’t expect travellers to be indifferent. That’s not the controlled danger they’re after. They prize freedom of movement; so make your offering an expertly guided adventure, not a human cattle drive.
The business of adventure
Adventure tourism as a business rewards itself. It requires protection, preservation and development of a destination’s natural resources, local economy and communities, which in turn sustains its future in tourism. Consider that many destinations are limited by seasonality, whereas adventure can happen in so many places in so many guises. This is how we win over clients who struggle to look beyond iconic tourist spots.
..adventure travel attracts visitors outside of peak season, highlights the natural & cultural values of a destination..
In other words, destinations can differentiate and compete all year round. This flexibility makes it super resilient, accommodating even natural events or political upheaval. Having a good ear on the ground is obviously key and is one area of expertise no tourism company can skimp on. That’s where local investment works well. There’s anyway little capital required for infrastructure as adventure travel is pragmatic by nature. Outsource some of the necessary components of the experience to local entrepreneurs, employ and educate locals as valuable investments in keeping this adventure gravy train in motion.
Adventure travellers being adventurous in character, are also early adopters of new, untried experiences. No relaxing beach holiday at the height of summer for them, especially not with the rest of the world staking out the same beach.
Adventure tourism is the antithesis of mass tourism.
The fewer the visitors, the higher the value of the destination.
Expect to attract high value clients because they’re willing to pay more for premium travel products, spanning the spectrum of adventure experiences and lengths of stay.
Expect the adventurer to stay longer in your destination, spending relatively more in-destination as a result, and greatly benefiting local economies.
An interesting comparison to make is the percentage of total trip cost that stays in-destination with adventure tourism versus how much locals retain with all-inclusive mass tourism where expenditure is less generously shared.
..the largest group of adventure travel tour operator clients (40%) are between the ages of 50-70. The average age of the adventure traveler is 47 years old
Adventure Travel Trade Association
Surprised? So your average adventurer is older, educated, experienced, affluent, and can afford the costs associated with this niche. Many of them are female, independent and comfortable with solo travel. Another noteworthy demographic is multi-generational adventure travellers who desire transformative experiences for their family to bond over. Then there are younger budget travellers who may spend less than the others but stay a lot longer in one place at a time.
Marketing for adventure
The most powerful point of departure is storytelling: appeal emotively to all the motivations, cravings of the soul, ego and wanderlust. What adventurer doesn’t love a bit of National Geographic content for its film and photographic artistry? You can easily replicate that value in your sales/marketing collateral to provide the right inspiration and necessary information, and to showcase the expertise that instills trust in potential clients. Travel video can bring travellers an intimate perspective of what to expect – not just the dramatic physical feats but also what they can learn about themselves in the process. A slick first person perspective in moving images with music to move the soul will pack a persuasive punch.
The magic is less about destination and more about combining interests and customising itineraries to cover all bases. Tell your adventure story from start to finish with strong visuals that inspire travel and reassure that the principles guiding adventure travel are being met. What if there’s an emergency? What about medical or evacuation cover?
My childhood fascination with geology created an obsession with volcanoes. My fantasy adventure entails observing the spectacle of an eruption up close, followed by a helicopter evacuation. Taking clients into areas with similar prospects needs contingency plans – they want to know you have it covered.
Speaking of visibility: your website, your shopfront. It’s the digital warehouse of all your experiences where travellers can conveniently shop around until they find the right adventure, hopefully with no barriers to online booking. They’ll have some doubts and issues – your online presence and availability to connect and engage are vital. Making it easier for travellers means being everywhere 24/7, with messaging prospects on social media and chat bots on your website or itineraries.
The Internet is even more crucial to adventure travel businesses in remote areas than to those selling tourism hot spots.
Even adventurers who want to disconnect for part of their trip will be looking for reassurances of authenticity and suitability online, among peers, and to compare your offering with others.
Hashtags or taglines to support marketing campaigns around an adventure destinations or activity can generate great interest and build communities around it.
I like the Norwegian slogan Powered by Nature for the way it champions the environment and 100% Pure New Zealand for its suggestion of raw, unique experiences.
Conjure up your own and watch the Millennials inject their persuasive UGC into your cause on social media.
Imagine your adventure traveller: soul sick of rigid 9 to 5 workdays; longing to break free from reality; craving experiences that transform and push personal boundaries.. Now take another look at your destination: the opportunities to create immersive experiences are there and the people to help you put them together are there too. This trend will only continue to grow – it’s well worth testing your own limits to find those adventure experiences in your destination. Tap into the drama and romance, and re-position your brand to earn your share of the adventure – one that sustains itself and leaves your traveller feeling alive.