Adventure Tourism Is the Fastest-Growing Global Niche

Man standing on bow of yacht, Lombok, Indonesia

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The adventure travel market grew at an incredible rate of 65 percent yearly from 2009-2013. That's the conclusion of a consumer report compiled by the Adventure Travel Trade Association (ATTA) and The George Washington University.

The Adventure Tourism Market Study (ATMS) compiled data from three regions: North America, South America, and Europe. According to the UNWTO, those three regions collectively represent 70 percent of international outbound departures. Some forty percent of the travelers from these regions indicated in their survey responses that adventure was the main component of their last trip.

Expenditures Increasing

One of the key components in the ATMS is an analysis of the economic impact of adventure travel. The study estimated the total value of outbound adventure tourism worldwide. The resulting figure of $263 billion is up significantly from the $89 million finding in a 2010 version of the ATMS. That earlier baseline study utilized the same methodology as the ATMS, facilitating a cross-comparison.

Total expenditures are even more impressive when combined with the additional $82 billion travelers spend on gear and accessories. Not surprisingly, adventure travelers are more likely than other travel segments to invest in equipment, specialized apparel and shoes. Note that the total economic impact numbers don't include the cost of airfare.

ATTA president Shannon Stowell attributes the increased adventure travel spend to a number of factors. "As we watch adventure travel tourism grow it is imperative that we continue to provide travelers with transformative experiences, all while helping to protect and respect the very people and places visited," said Stowell.

According to the ATWS, adventure travelers are spending on average $947 per trip, as opposed to an average of $597 in 2009. South Americans reported the greatest increase in spending on adventure trips during the period covered by the ATWS. South American adventure travelers also had the highest mean income of the three regions surveyed.

Defining Adventure Travel

Adventure travel, in ATTA's definition, includes two out of three of the following elements: connection with nature interaction with culture a physical activity. The ATWS compiled data by asking respondents to indicate the activity engaged in during their last vacation. The activities were then categorized as a soft adventure, hard adventure or non-adventure. The group deemed to be adventure travelers were those indicating that soft or hard adventure was the main activity of their last trip.

Adventure travelers demonstrate a number of important characteristics. Here are some key findings of the ATWS identifying demographics, psychographics, and behavior of adventure travelers:

  • The average age of adventure travelers-36-tends to skew younger than non-adventure travelers.
  • The average length of soft adventure trips is increasing. In 2009, the number was eight days. That number increased to ten days in 2012.
  • Certain publications and periodicals appeal to adventure travelers. They include National Geographic, National Geographic Traveler and Men's Health. Non-travel but nonetheless popular publications include Cosmopolitan and Vogue.
  • Interest in soft adventure continues to rise. More than half of the travelers involved in the ATWS said they planned to engage in a soft adventure activity on their next trip.
  • Tour operators are in-demand in the adventure travel arena. Forty-five percent of those in the ATWS said they plan to use a tour operator for their next adventure travel trip. That compares to 31 percent of non-adventure travelers.
  • Social media is increasingly important in the adventure travel community. Adventure travelers plan their travel by online research, posting pictures and asking advice from friends and family. For example, the number of travelers using Facebook has grown by more than twofold since 2009. YouTube, Google + and Twitter are also utilized by adventure travelers.
  • The average length of an adventure travel trip is ten days.
  • The majority (57 percent) of adventure travelers are male, although there are some female-only adventure travel companies.
  • Thirty-seven percent of adventure travelers have at least a four-year college degree.
  • Adventure travelers are international travelers. Some 71 percent of them carry passports.
  • Natural beauty, range of activities, and climate ranked as highest priorities with adventure travelers when selecting a destination. By contrast, non-adventure travelers ranked proximity to friends and family as the top criterion in choosing a destination.

Utilizing ATMS Data in the Tourism Business

The data in the ATMS can be a helpful planning tool to travel and tourism professionals. Destinations interested in enhancing or establishing adventure travel attractions will find the data especially useful. Tour operators can also use the ATMS to more effectively target interests, objectives, and goals of the adventure traveler.

Note that the ATMS predicts that increases in adventure travel from the source markets of North America, South America, and Europe will likely plateau by 2020. But by that time, emerging travel markets such as China, India, and South Korea will very well make up the difference.

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