//Chasing thrills: the rise of adventure travel

Chasing thrills: the rise of adventure travel

‘Adventure’ is a broad term, but with operators worldwide tailoring tours, there’s something for everyone, writes Anthony Pearce.

One man’s adventure is another’s stroll in the park. “Adventure travel can mean different things to different people,” says Andrew Turner, head of industry sales EMEA at Intrepid Travel. “For some, it may mean trekking to Everest Base Camp, while to others it means seeing the Taj Mahal for the first time, or trying local delicacies on a street food tour.” Over the past decade we have seen the adventure sector grow exponentially, but we have also seen the definition broaden to include everything from ‘soft’ adventure to expedition. With holidaymakers increasingly searching for new experiences, they are looking towards everything from high-energy ‘extreme’ sporting holidays to polar cruises and
jungle treks.

“At Intrepid Travel, adventure is about having an authentic experience, going behind the scenes of the culture and spending time with local people,” says Turner, who notes that the demand for authentic and responsible travel doesn’t appear to have an end in sight. “That’s a trend we expect to continue as travellers choose unique and memorable experiences over traditional package holidays,” he adds.

Keeping it local
Adventure is often conflated with long-haul travel, but there are plenty of options  close to home. For sports lovers, Tirol in Austria offers activities in abundance. Although the Alps are best known for skiing, there are options year-round. In Ötztal, which James Bond fans may know from the 2015 film Spectre, thrill seekers will find ten summer lifts that lead to 1,600km of marked hiking trails, among them the Ötztal Trek, a long-distance route spanning 400km. There’s also Bike Republic Sölden, described as an ‘entire nation for bikers’, where bike trails are carved into the landscape. This unique area is filled with single trails, flow trails, trick riding and uphill challenges, and embraces culture and environmental sustainability (bikerepublic.soelden.com). Nearby is Area 47 in the Ötztal Valley, a 20,000sqm water sport and adventure area which boasts waterslides, over-water bouldering, cliff diving, rafting, canyoning, wakeboarding, a human water cannon and surf sliding.

As cycling continues to grow in popularity in the UK, so too do biking holidays, with the likes of Skedaddle (skedaddle.com) specialising in everything from road leisure and family cycling to mountain biking and ‘adventure’. The latter includes routes in Borneo (through Sarawak, including Orangutan-spotting at the Semenggoh Nature Reserve) and Mongolia (featuring a descent to Orkhon Falls and river swimming and a trip to the ErdeNe Zuu monastery).

For those who prefer their adventure on two legs, rather than two wheels, walking and trekking holidays have also grown in popularity, becoming increasingly diverse. Companies such as Exodus have pioneered active walking holidays, whether those are guided or self-guided tours, in a wide range of destinations, be it the Andes, Swiss Alps or the Amalfi Coast. Its holidays range from ‘leisurely’ (level 1) to ‘tough’ (level 7) to Level 9, which combines all the elements of tough, but includes climbing a glaciated mountain peak.

Expedition cruising
The expedition and adventure sector of cruise is a huge success story in an industry that continues to reinvent itself and shake off expectations. From ultra-luxury yachts heading off to explore polar regions to tiny vessels traversing tributaries of the Amazon and Galápagos Islands, there are now more options than ever. According to the International Association Of Antarctica Tour Operators (IAATO), there are 71 ships or ‘sailing vessels’ permitted to carry guests to the White Continent. These range from Holland America Line’s 2,504-guest Westerdam to the 150-guest National Geographic Explorer, as well as even smaller vessels, such as the 12-passenger Hans Hansson, previously operated by Quark Expeditions. The size of the ship depends very much on the experience, particularly given the restrictions around ice-landings, meaning operators are trying to innovate in new ways; Scenic Eclipse will launch this year with a helicopter and submarines on board, while G Adventures is preparing to launch its first ship, which will sail the region.

The fire to Antarctica’s ice is the Galápagos Islands, another bucket-list seafaring destination. Celebrity Cruises has just launched Celebrity Flora, which has been built specifically for sailing in the region. The ship – which can handle 100 guests, the limit for vessels operating in the region – has a laboratory, Discovery Lounge with a huge screen for presentations, and a marina at the aft of the ship where guests will be able to board zodiacs – small, inflatable vessels.

Escorted touring
The likes of Contiki, Trafalgar, G Adventures and Intrepid have revolutionised the escorted touring experience, giving a traditional type of holiday an adventurous spin and attracting a younger crowd. The latter offers more than 800 different itineraries across Europe, Asia, Africa, North and South America, the Middle East, Australia and both the Arctic and Antarctica.

Adventure-seekers will be particularly interested in its hike, bike and kayak/raft itineraries in Vietnam, Andorra and Cambodia. Contiki, which is aimed at 18 to 35 year olds, offers trips across six continents that include city breaks, camping, ski and snowboard, and sailing. G Adventures, meanwhile, has teamed up with National Geographic Explorer to offers tours across the world. Some of the highlights include its 16-day Peru And Bolivia: Machu Picchu To The Salt Flats and nine-day Colombia Journey tours. ABTAmag.com

Comment: Brian Young, G Adventures

When asked what’s driving heightened demand for adventure travel, G Adventures’ managing director Brian Young credits “an increase in airlift, making travel to long-haul destinations easier, and a shift in traveller behaviour” as two key factors in its evolution and growth.

“With the world getting smaller and more accessible thanks to lower-cost air travel, travellers’ wanderlust has grown and there has been a shift away from fly-and-flop holidays, with demand for cultural immersion and the opportunity to experience the world in a unique way on the rise. This demand, which is driven significantly by social media channels such as Instagram and Facebook, lends itself perfectly to the adventure travel sector, which is able to take travellers away from the tourist hotspots, offering authentic immersion and interaction with local people and the opportunity to get under the skin of a destination. Knowledge among agents and travellers has also evolved, with the idea that adventure travel is only for those seeking active and adrenaline-filled vacations moving towards the understanding that adventure travel can offer something to every traveller,” says Young.

It has been an exciting 12 months for G Adventures, with the operator launching a number of new products and travel styles. “Our new Wellness trips, which launched in October last year, are seeing great interest from those seeking an experience that offers both adventure and well-being in some incredible destinations. Having expanded our National Geographic Journeys collection with the addition of new trips in destinations such as Northern Peru, Hungary and Romania, we have seen more than 20 per cent increase in revenue from our agent partners in the UK in the past 12 months,” Young continues.

“As a leader in active experiences such as Mount Kilimanjaro and the Inca Trail and with more travellers seeking fitness-focused challenges, we have seen more than 10 per cent growth in passenger numbers for our Active travel style.”

Young says that the demand for adventure isn’t limited to land, with strong growth in G Adventures’ sailing product and new itineraries on offer that no other operator is running.

“Britain is a nation made up of travellers,” says Young. “Some of the first great explorers came from the UK and this wanderlust can still be seen and felt across the nation. And it’s a nation of resilience. When faced with challenges such as recession or Brexit, the British public still have a thirst to travel and aren’t willing to compromise on their annual getaway. The shift in perceptions around the traditional holiday means that travellers are seeking more local, immersive and challenging experiences, which lends itself perfectly to the adventure sector. Interestingly, kids are increasingly becoming the driving force behind the decision-making for family holidays.”

Young notes an increase in children wanting exciting activities and families looking for experiences to build lasting memories: “We recently launched our new National Geographic Family Journeys, having undertaken research around what families are looking for from their holiday. Globally, 85 per cent said that they would prefer activities the whole family can enjoy together rather than those that focus on separate adult relaxation time. This is true as well for the UK market and is a trend that the adventure travel sector caters to perfectly.”

ABTA Magazine July 2019

The latest issue of ABTA Magazine, created by Waterfront Publishing. In this issue, James Litston heads to Toronto; Jenny Southan explores the digital payment revolution and Anthony Pearce examines the rise of adventure tourism. Click on the cover to read the magazine in full or subscribe here.