Analysis - July 23, 2013



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July 2013


Print Marketing , Products and activities,

Adventure tourism goes sustainable

To counter the vulnerability of outdoor travel products, adventure businesses are embracing sustainability in the hopes of preserving their key resources and meeting the needs of their clientele.

According to TripAdvisor, in 2012, 70% of American travellers said they planned to make more environmentally responsible travel choices in the next twelve months; for its part, Trendwatching predicted that in 2013, tourists will be trying to make more tangible, environmentally beneficial contributions to destinations. What follows are the trends and best practices of a promising niche: sustainable adventure tourism.

A booming market

Outdoor travel companies are becoming more and more profitable. In fact, according to a study from the Adventure Travel Trade Association (ATTA), 63% of adventure tour operators saw gross revenues increase in 2011. The study goes on to say that adventure tourism receipts went up by 17% between 2009 and 2010, indicating the market is in a growth phase.  The Adventure Tourism Development Index noted that, globally, one in four trips in 2011 included an adventure travel component. If this trend continues, adventure could be a reason behind nearly 50% of all trips by the year 2050.

Tourists increasingly sensitive to sustainability issues

Several 2012 studies reveal that consumer values are evolving; many of today’s travellers attach a great deal of importance to sustainable development.

  • The Global Corporate Citizenship Survey, an online survey of 28,000 consumers in 56 countries by research firm Nielsen, reports that two-thirds of individuals surveyed prefer to buy products and services from companies that benefit the host community. Furthermore, almost half of respondents were willing to pay more for services from such socially-conscious companies.
  • A TripAdvisor survey of 700 American travellers shows that 71% plan to engage in more environmentally responsible travel in the next twelve months.
  • A Travel Foundation report indicates that 70% of international tourists believe that businesses should be committed to preserving the environment.

In Quebec, according to the March 2011 Ipsos online survey conducted with the Tourism Intelligence Network (see: survey highlights in French), 43% of respondents consider respect for sustainable development principles as a primary factor in their decision to patronize a tourism company. Also, when selecting an online travel supplier, 38% of consumers prefer those that offer eco-friendly products and services.

The ATTA interviewed a number of adventure tour operators from Europe, North America and Latin America for their opinions on the industry’s current realities. Those surveyed mentioned, among other things, the growing importance of sustainable values among adventure travellers in the last few years. Other phenomena mentioned in these interviews support this trend:

  • the search for personalized, intense, authentic tourist experiences
  • an interest in local culture and the desire to give back to host communities
  • a concern for the environment and equity
  • an interest in health, physical activity and a “greener” lifestyle

According to Chris Doyle, ATTA Executive Director-Europe, the tourism industry must develop in a more responsible manner and redouble its efforts to preserve culture, flora and fauna. He adds that the best way for the industry to increase its impact is to convert travellers into defenders of destinations and their local cultures and environment. For this reason, more and more travel companies are adopting social and environmental best practices to meet the needs of adventure tourists.

Inspiring examples

The economic contribution of bicycle tourism

In addition to its limited ecological footprint and enhanced opportunities for interaction with local culture, the phenomenon of bicycle touring generates interesting economic benefits for rural communities. Since cyclists advance at a slower pace, they often spend their money in smaller municipalities, in other words, locations that are sometimes less popular with automobile tourists. The following clip clearly illustrates this reality.


Source: The Path Less Pedaled

In Brittany, towns that belong to the “Station verte” label (green resort villages) rely on bicycle touring to attract visitors. These destinations, which offer accommodations, services and nature activities, have created a 1,000-km route linking 30 stations vertes. The region is now developing other itineraries, given the success of the first one.

Hotels involved in their community

The Playa Nicuesa Rainforest Lodge, located on an island in Costa Rica, offers its clientele a “5-leaf” experience, the country’s highest rating in the certification for sustainable tourism program. In addition to numerous traditional activities (hiking, kayaking, scuba diving, etc.), tourists can participate in discussions about ecology and even go and plant their own tree in the tropical forest!


Source: Playa Nicuesa Rainforest Lodge

Preservation as a prime concern

Clients of Aube Aventure, a company located in Gaspé, can enjoy sleeping in yurts as well as activities like sea kayaking and sailing. Winner of the Sustainable Development award from the city and chamber of commerce of Gaspé, Aube Aventure is known for its efforts to protect the environment and marine mammals as well as its contribution to the St. Lawrence Water Trail (route bleue). Its Quality Tourism Gaspésie certification guarantees the quality of its local services, facilities and menus. Aube Aventure is also a member of the Leave No Trace program, which aims to reduce the impact of outdoor activities on the natural environment.


Source: Aube Aventure

Changes in consumer behaviour are influencing the development of many tourism companies, including some working in the outdoor travel industry. Which ones do you feel have done the most to adopt more sustainable products and services?

This article was written for the Website, which serves tourism stakeholders in the Gaspé Peninsula and Magdalen Islands.


- Adventure Travel Trade Association (ATTA). "The Dawn of the New Adventure Traveler? Ten Industry Leaders Sound Off on Shifting Traveler Expectations and Disintermediation," April 18, 2013.

- ATTA. "Behind the Scenes: ATTA Tour Operators Share Challenges, Trends and Opportunities," February 15, 2012.

- Allain, Camille. "Le vélo, une piste pour le tourisme," 20, April 10, 2013.

- Forum for the Future and The Travel Foundation. "Survival of the fittest – Sustainable tourism means business," July 2012.

- Gaspésie regional tourism association. "Qualité tourisme Gaspésie," consulted April 29, 2013.

- Green et vert. "Vacances écolos : réservez un hôtel cinq 'feuilles'," April 11, 2013.

- ITB Berlin. "ITB World Travel Trends Report 2012/2013," December 2012.

- Nielsen. "The Global, Socially Conscious Consumer," March 27, 2012.

- The George Washington University and ATTA. "Adventure Tourism Development Index – 2011 Report."

- Tourism Intelligence Network of the Transat Chair in Tourism, ESG-UQAM. "Comportement Web des Québécois – Sondage Ipsos Descarie-RVT," May 2011.

- Trendwatching. "10 Crucial Consumer Trends for 2013," consulted May 24, 2013.

- TripAdvisor. “TripAdvisor Survey Reveals Travelers Growing Greener," April 19, 2012.

- TUI Travel PLC. "TUI Travel PLC Annual Report & Accounts 2010," 2010.


- Aube Aventure

- Playa Nicuesa Rainforest Lodge

- Station verte

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