By definition, the travel and tourism industry is large, global and is comprised of a vast (and ever growing) number of generic and specialty adjectival sectors and niches.  One of these adjectival niches, adventure travel, continues to grow in popularity among travelers around the world and from all indications to date, this super-travel niche seems more impervious to the global economic malaise then virtually every other travel sector.  In TravelDividends’ view, these twin-factors make adventure travel a great business opportunity for travel affiliates who work with traditional tour operators and wholesalers.  Before we delve into the opportunities, let’s first characterize this super-travel niche.

To be sure, much like some of the other travel industry sectors, the adventure travel niche tends to be difficult to clearly define, both in terms of what types of travel products, services and experiences it encompasses, as well as the size of the market.

Perhaps the best source to turn to for a definition of adventure travel is the Adventure Travel Trade Association (ATTA), the industry’s professional trade association. They describe adventure travel as a tourist activity that includes any two of the following three components:

  • A physical activity
  • A cultural exchange or interaction
  • Engagement with nature

This definition allows for easy integration within the overall adventure travel genre of the two types of broad adventure travel experiences – “hard” or “soft” adventure – which essentially travelers undertake.  Using this definition therefore allows experiential travel sub-categories such as Ecotourism, Wildlife tourism, Cultural and Heritage tourism, to name just a few, to coexist within the larger adventure travel framework.

TravelDividends’ has seen numerous market sizing estimates for the adventure travel market over the years, and truth be told, we question the accuracy of most of these estimations.  Why so, you may ask?  Well, for starters, the size of this industry is difficult to measure as there seems to be no consensus within the industry, academia or in market research and consulting circles as to what is to be measured and how it is to be done. Despite this unfortunate ‘inconsistent study methodology or measurement’ approach to sizing the market, to provide our readers with at least some metrics by which they can gauge the niche’s attractiveness to their travel affiliate business, here are some of the findings of several recent surveys to ponder:

  • A Wall Street Journal article published in May, 2003, estimated the adventure market at a whopping $245 billion
  • Business magazine Forbes, on the other hand, suggested that there were 8,000 U.S. tour operators offering hard- and soft-adventure based tours in 1998, which together generated some $7 billion in sales
  • In a 1999 survey, the Travel Industry Association of America (TIA) estimated that nearly 50% of the adult U.S. travel population (147 million people) took at least one adventure trip in the US
  • More recently (2005), the TIA estimated that 10% of Americans have taken an adventure-travel trip, and that figure is growing by about 19% per annum
  • In its 2001 travel industry report, European market research firm Mintel suggested that the adventure side of the package tour business in Europe accounted for about 25% of total tour package sales, or roughly 443,000 packages.
  • A World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC) report issued in 2000 indicated eco-tourism by itself contributed $154 billion in worldwide receipts, and projected annual growth rate of 20%

In its February 2009 Industry Snapshot, the Adventure Travel Trade Association noted that there have been some notable shifts in consumer preferences and their booking habits relative to adventure travel.  ATTA’s survey’s results, which were distilled from canvassing some 232 tour operators from around the world (half from North America), which collectively, represented approximately 1.3 million adventure travel customers.  Similarly, another 47 adventure resorts and lodges also participated in the survey.

To be sure, there has been some negative impact on the adventure travel industry as a result of the global financial crisis/recession, but apparently, not as severe as that experienced in most other travel industry sectors.  For example, the survey revealed that:

  • 22% of the responding adventure travel tour operators anticipate an increase in bookings in 2009 over 2008 levels. Of those tour operators reporting increases, more than half anticipate growing up to 20%.Similarly, of the 47 accommodations participating in the survey, 22% indicated that bookings are expected to increase in 2009 over 2008.
  • Meanwhile, only 17% of the tour operators anticipate flat sales, and
  • 61% of tour operators and 57% of accommodations report that they anticipate bookings in 2009 to decrease compared to 2008

Commenting on these statistics, ATTA President Shannon Stowell said: “What we see in both survey results is what we’ve suspected since the economic turmoil hit – that while the adventure travel industry is not immune to the situation, our members appear to be weathering the storm better than some of the more mass tourism entities which are subject to the difficulties of being primarily price-oriented and more of a commodity.”

Additionally, the tour operators said that their client needs and buying characteristics are changing. Most notable among these findings were:

  • Travelers are requesting shorter duration adventure options
  • Asking for more customized trip options and special offers
  • The window between booking and traveling continues to radically shrink
  • A slight surge in demand for family adventure travel options
  • Increasing preferences for closer-to-home options, especially for adventure travelers in North and South America

TravelDividends has always considered the adventure travel niche as having strong business fundamentals, great growth prospects and offering terrific business opportunities for the right travel affiliate marketers.  The statistics reflected above reaffirm our belief.

In next week’s blog posts, we’ll be profiling several of the major adventure travel tour operators that offer travel affiliate programs, and how travel affiliates can profit from these programs.  Until then, if you have any questions or comments, pop us an email.  Cheers!