Adventure Tourism Trends
If recreational equipment and residential components are included, the adventure sector is now a trillion-dollar industry. Commercial adventure tours make up only part of this sector, but a significant one. Outdoor tourism, largely adventure, makes up at least one-fifth of the global tourism industry. Adventure trends are therefore significant to the tourism industry as a whole.
Growth. In the past few decades, the commercial adventure tourism sector has continued to grow. Many cash-rich, time-poor, reasonably fit people now treat adventure activities as purchasable short-term holiday packages, rather than as lifetime personal investments in skills and equipment. This has led to expansion at both the low-skill and high-skill end of the adventure sector.
Product price pyramid. The adventure tourism industry includes a small number of very highly priced products which rely on specialized equipment, take place in remote areas, or require considerable prior skills, and a large number of short, low-priced, unskilled products in accessible areas close to major tourist gateways.
More luxury. The level of luxury available in adventure tours continues to increase. Backpacker buses are more comfortable. Wildlife heliski and diving lodges have spas and massage therapists. Dive boats, surfboats and heliski operations offer private charters with especially luxurious facilities. Expedition cruise boats have suites with satellite phones, and sometimes even a helicopter. It has almost become a truism that successful adventure tour operators continue to move up-market.
Adventure destinations. The number of tourist destinations marketing themselves specifically as adventure destinations, often using the term adventure capital, has increased greatly in recent years. Some of these are long-standing tourist destinations that have added new products or changed their marketing strategies. Others are small-scale destinations seeking to develop tourism through a portfolio of adventure products. Some also use adventure events as destination marketing tools. Adventure events are growing rapidly in number, scale and variety.
Amenity migration. In some areas, outdoor recreation opportunities and, to a lesser extent, commercial adventure tourism, have triggered amenity migration. This in turn has led to an increase in adventure tourism as the amenity migrants seek commercial opportunities to maintain their lifestyles.
Retail packaging. Many tour operators offer a portfolio of products at different destinations. They do not necessarily maintain an operational base at each of the destinations concerned. Most are retail packagers which sell a range of local tour products to an international clientele. There are also specialist tour operators which offer similar products or activities at multiple destinations.
Combination products. It has become commonplace for individual tour operators to offer a range of different adventure activities at a single destination. These are often packaged as a discounted bundle of individual tours, marketed as a “combo” product. Some combo products simply involve syndicated marketing, with on-ground activities operated by separate companies. Alternatively, a single company either buys up local competitors offering other activities, or acquires equipment, staff and permits to conduct similar activities itself.
Cross marketing. There is a strong trend towards increased cross-marketing links between adventure tourism products and other products purchased by the same consumers. These links are made through magazines, mailouts, inserts, Internet websites, television, films, fashion, shops and merchandising, mobile phones and music players, and entertainment venues such as nightclubs.
Exploratories. Many top-end adventure tourism companies now offer “exploratories” as well as routine tours. These are not necessarily first ascents, descents or traverses, but they are generally new itineraries, for that operator at least. The term is used both as a marketing device, to advertise adventure, and as a legal disclaimer, to warn clients that the trip may not necessarily run smoothly or according to plan.
Flexible itineraries. Other tour companies also make a virtue of necessity by advertising that their schedules or itineraries are flexible and that this is part of the adventure. This approach is used at both ends of the economic scale, from overland buses to polar expedition cruises.
Copycats and takeovers. Establishing a new adventure tourism product requires considerable investment in product development and marketing. Once a product has become well-known, other entrepreneurs often attempt to take over the operation, or establish copycat products at undercut prices. This is a particular risk for new products in developing countries. A number of examples are now well documented.
Insurance. Because of litigation, especially in North America, adventure tourism providers have become increasingly concerned over issues of potential liability. This has led to increasingly lengthy and complex pre-trip waivers and disclaimers, as well as much-increased insurance premiums. For some activities in some countries, it has simply driven many former providers out of the market. With reduced competition, remaining operators have increased prices so as to cover increased insurance costs. Liability-capping legislation, either general as in New Zealand or activity-specific as in some US states, is increasingly important for the future of the industry.
Buckley, R. (2006) Adventure Tourism, CABI, Oxford, [www.cabi.org].
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