Adventure Travel Affiliate Programs

An Adventure Travel Affiliate needs to pay attention to a Niche that shares common characteristics with several other travel industry segments.

While it represents one of the largest niches within the overall travel industry, estimates as to its market size – whether in terms of sales or number of suppliers, retailers or travelers – vary wildly and are largely attributed to anecdotal sources.

Case in point:

  • In their 2002 Geotourism Study Phase 1, National Geographic magazine and the Travel Industry Association (TIA), now known as the US Travel Association, reported that adventure or active travel represents 20% of the U.S. leisure travel market, registering between 16 – 20 million adult travelers annually.
  • The U.S. travel industry’s main advocacy organization stated in a more recent report (U.S. Travel – Domestic Travel Trends from A to Z 2009), that “Adventure travelers are everywhere.  One-half of U.S. adults, or 98 million people, have taken an adventure activities like whitewater rafting, scuba diving and mountain biking.  Adventure travelers are more likely to be young, single and employed –  compared to all other U.S. adults.”
  • Highly-regarded European market research firm Mintel pegged the European adventure travel market in 2001 as representing about 25% of total European package sales, or approximately 443,000 holidays per year.
  • In a 2006 research paper funded and published by, the official tourism business website of the Caribbean Tourism Organization, the international adventure travel market was estimated at 9 million tourists per year, or just over 1% of all international tourist arrivals.The study also noted that “many tour operators specialising in soft adventure holidays are reporting annual growth rates of between 15%-20%. However, the average growth rate for the segment as a whole is expected to remain at about 10% per annum over the next decade.”
  • Virtuoso, the travel agency consortium that focuses on serving the needs of the upscale / deluxe traveler, reported in its 2006 VirtuosoLuxe Report that 40% of its affluent customers seek to book “active vacations or active add-ons.”
  • AdventureTravelNews, the official publication of the global Adventure Travel Trade Association, reported in 2007 that its 86% of its members had achieved positive growth rates, with 39% recording more than 16% annual growth, and that 98% projected their business would grow in 2008, with 66% of these members expecting a growth rate of more than 16%.
  • A quick search on Yahoo! suggests that there are well over 800 adventure tour companies operating in the US today (though by our estimation, only a relative handful currently distribute through the adventure travel affiliate channel).

The lack of clarity and specificity about adventure travel doesn’t stop with market sizing estimates.  Similar, but less debatable issues relate to ‘what’s in and what’s out’ when defining what constitutes an adventure travel type trip.

In most industry observers’ eyes, adventure travel is actually an umbrella term that includes a wide-range of experiential type travel activities.  Additionally, most of these industry observers as well as industry players and the travelers who seek adventure travel type experiences concur that this broad ecosystem can be further subdivided into two sub-categories: hard adventure and soft adventure travel.

While some might quibble with their taxonomy, we think that TIA nailed the definitions of each category in 1997…here’s how TIA described each back then:

“Hard” adventure includes: backpacking, paddling, ballooning, rock climbing/mountaineering, mountain biking, hang gliding, parasailing, windsurfing, skydiving, skateboarding, snowboarding, roller hockey, bungee jumping, spelunking, scuba diving and survival games such as paint ball.

“Soft” adventure includes: camping, biking, hiking, wildlife and bird watching, sailing, horseback riding, snow skiing, water skiing, canoeing, dude ranching, 4WD wilderness tours and photo safaris.

Despite the difficulty in sizing the market or defining  the types of travel experiences that can be classified within this travel genre, in TravelDividends’ opinion, adventure travel is a super-niche that fits well with the existing business profile of an adventure travel affiliate – and this is key – potentially many others.  Toward that end, we believe that the travel affiliates that fall in this last category would do well to ‘explore’ the revenue opportunities that are inherent in the adventure travel market.

Below we highlight two of the largest adventure tour operators that are big supporters of the adventure travel affiliate channel.  We will augment this player list (as well as drill-down deeper with our analyses of these and other firms) in subsequent posts on our website.

Major Players: Reputed to be the largest online adventure operator worldwide, iExplore offers adventure travel affiliates tour product to more than 100 countries around the world, including a range of pre-packaged or  “made-to-order trips” focused on activities like hiking, biking, diving, cultural, expedition, wildlife safari and culinary tours (among others).

The tailor-made or ‘bespoke’ programs (i.e., itineraries that travelers can craft from iExplore’s own designer package tour line) can be found under iExplore Exclusives.   Additionally, they feature a terrific database of free information about adventure travel destinations, products and service; about 30% of  the estimated  million monthly unique visitors that visit iExplore do so just to mine insights and recommendations – or share information – that’s available on their site.

Information about iExplore’s adventure travel affiliate program can be found here.

G.A.P. Adventures: Based in Toronto, Canada with offices in the U.S., UK, and Australia, this leading tour operator offers more than 1,000 adventure tours to all 7 continents, and moves more than 85,000 travelers annually to such exotic itineraries like Inca Discoveries (Cuzco, Sacred Valley, Inca Trail, Machu Picchu in Peru); Kilimanjaro Trek (Kenya’s Mt Kilimanjaro from Marangu Route); Everest Adventure (Kathmandu, Everest Base Camp in Nepal); and the Galapagos Islands Yacht Adventure (retrace Charles Darwin’s footsteps).

One of the most esteemed adventure travel tour operators both among the travel trade in general and within the adventure travel affiliate niche, G.A.P. Adventures has won numerous industry awards in recognition of the breadth and quality of its product offerings, as well as for its commitment to environmental principles and support for many humanitarian causes worldwide.  A Canadian and U.S. adventure travel affiliate can learn more about or enroll in G.A.P. Adventures’ adventure travel affiliate program through Commission Junction, while UK and European based affiliates can sign-up for G.A.P.’s adventure travel affiliate program through Affiliate Window.