Adventure Travel: A Growing, But Untapped, Market for Agents

by Barbara Peterson
Adventure Travel: A Growing, But Untapped, Market for Agents

Adventure travel has vast potential for travel agencies. This year alone, tour operators specializing in this market expect business to be up around 23%, according to the Adventure Travel Trade Association (ATTA).

In a presentation at the recent New York Times Travel Show, ATTA vice president of marketing and communications Casey Hanisko painted a picture of a strong and growing market that has yet to be fully tapped by agents.

Overall, the adventure travel market is worth about $263 billion a year worldwide, according to recent ATTA market research.

The association has 1,000 members -- 60% of them tour operators – located in 90 countries.  Its other members include travel agent consortiums and government tourist boards.

Driven by strong international tourism
The revenue growth is being driven by an increase in international tourism departures and the average expenditure of adventure travelers, which tends to be higher than for the typical leisure clients, according to the research.

Four out of every ten travelers are taking some sort of adventure trip, but that includes a wide range of trips from hardcore mountain climbing expeditions to “soft” adventures that require minimal training, like a safari or a bird watching expedition.   

The ATTA outlines three general groups of adventure travelers: adventure enthusiasts,  the super-serious wilderness types who seek out new challenges; basic adventurers who prefer a moderate level of activity, and grazers, who might incorporate some light adventure activities with beach and family time.

There’s no question though that the adventure market is high-end since adventure, by definition, is the opposite of mass tourism, according to the ATTA.

An obstacle to agents
The ATTA research revealed one obstacle for agents seeking to capture more of this lucrative business.

The same qualities that lead people to seek adventure also mean they’re more independent-minded than other travelers and likely to think they “can just do it all themselves,” Hanisko told Travel Market Report.

According to the research, 69% of adventure travelers research and plan their journeys online.

“The reasons why some people don’t use tour operators or travel agencies is that they think they’ll get better flexibility and better deals if they do it themselves,” even though that’s often not the case, Hanisko said.

It’s incumbent on the trade to make the case that “they provide clients better value and can save them time, “ she added.   

The time saving alone can be significant. The adventure-minded spend an average of 40 hours researching their trips, the research found.

It’s important for travel agents to demonstrate their knowledge of a particular market. Familiarity with tour operators that specialize, for example, in diving or hiking in developing countries is key since factors like quality guides and high safety standards are crucial to developing trust in a product.

Traditional promotion
Hanisko said marketing campaigns should not be one size fits all.

Surprisingly, more traditional promotional campaigns might work best for some potential customers – despite the common perception that these days it’s all internet-driven.

“Some of our members say they are turning back to printing brochures again,” she said.  “You should experiment with what works.”  

Print media advertising—often considered passé—can be an effective way to reach certain clients, Hanisko said, adding that surveys have shown the adventure enthusiast market responds well to ads in travel and sporting magazines.    

Grazers, on the other hand, tend to book late and are often seeking deals, so internet advertising might be better bet for this group.

The middle group—adventurers—often have more time on their hands and are less concerned about price. This group is a good target for off-season business and for itineraries that can only be offered when the tourist crowds have gone.

Specialization: a good strategy
Specializing in specific foreign destinations can also be a plus for agents, said Hanisko.

The ATTA research revealed a surge in adventure travel interest to China and other parts of northern Asia as well as to the Arctic and the Caribbean.

Travel to West and East Africa, however, registered a sharp drop; a development Hanisko attributed primarily to the fallout from the Ebola outbreak.  

That has even affected travel to other parts of the African continent, such as southern Africa which is nowhere near the infected areas.

“Our operators are reporting that there are fewer people wanting to go there [to Africa] now,” Hanisko said. But if past experience is any guide, it will bounce back, she added.

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