It’s no secret that tour operators have been struggling to maintain a foothold in today’s travel industry with the rise and proliferation of travel review websites, social media, and the wealth of general travel information available to customers at the snap of their fingers. Today’s biggest travel consumer market, millennials - though baby boomers to some degree as well - are more savvy and well-informed than consumers in years past. Yet, there’s one consumer base that still remains fertile ground for tour operators: Adventure travelers.
While so many would-be travelers are eliminating the need for tour operators by utilizing the internet to create custom travel experienced tailored to their specific tastes, adventure travelers are continuing to avail themselves of tour operators for the knowledge, convenience, and expertise necessary to complete complicated travel bookings that often include high-octane activities and excursions.
Adventure travelers crave once-in-a-lifetime experiences often with a heavy physical component to them - mountain climbing, rafting, base jumping, and other thrill-seeking activities - and tour operators who understand this market and leverage the right tools and strategies to capture it can expect to experience robust growth and a stronger play in today’s modern travel industry.
Adventure Travelers By the Numbers
Before we can discuss how tour operators can most effectively appeal to adventure travelers, it’s important to understand them within the context of the overall travel industry. First, let’s take a look at the hard numbers in order to grasp the kind of impact adventure travelers have on the travel and tourism landscape.
According a 2015 report by the Adventure Travel Trade Association, the adventure travel market generates roughly $263 billion annually - yes, that’s billion with a B. The ATTA’s report also cited a 23 percent increase in the number of adventure travelers from 2013 to 2014, a figure the organization expects will continue to raise into 2016 and beyond.
In addition, the ATTA says 4 out of every 10 vacations or trips includes some element of adventure travel - be it ‘hard’ adventure travel activities like mountain climbing, or what the ATTA refers to as ‘soft’ excursions that might include more beach-based activities such as sailboating, kayaking, snorkeling, and other low-impact adventures.
In terms of where adventure travelers ‘live,’ it should come as little shock that they do spend a majority of their time online researching prior to booking a vacation. In fact, more than 60 percent of adventure travelers say they spend a bulk of time - an average of about 40 hours - using the internet to help examine potential destinations before completing a booking.
While this may seem like a death nail for tour operators, it’s in fact a potential value-added for tour operators in targeting adventure travelers - we’ll discuss how shortly.
Who Are Adventure Travelers
In some sense, you could classify adventure travelers as a catch-all designation for a varied, diverse group of traveler. Because adventure travelers run the gamut of demographics, tour operators must customize their marketing efforts based on the subsect of adventure travelers they’re trying to target - essentially, adventure travelers are already a subsect of the larger travel industry, but within that subsect exists additional sub-communities which tour operators must be aware of when deciding to how best approach this market.
Adventure travelers most commonly present the following characteristics:
1) They consist of three separate subgroups - Adventure enthusiasts (hardcore adventure seekers who want high-impact excursions); Basic adventurers (moderate adventure seeks who desire medium-grade adventure excursions often with secondary cultural activities attached); and grazers (low-impact adventures tied into more leisurely, beach-based destinations).
2) Adventure travelers, though they transcend the traditional classifications of millennial, baby boomer, Generation Xer, and others, usually have higher levels of disposal income though are often time-poor. Because of their time constraints - work, family-life, or other restrictions - they often wait several years between vacations and thus desire experiences that will create lasting memories.
3) Much less interested in soft adventures or custom, guided tours, the majority of today’s adventure travelers seek self-guided, cultural-based experiences that are at once curated and at once individualized to their taste. It may sound like a contradiction in terms, but adventure travels want to experience the places they visit with a subtle guiding hand to help them wade through the wealth of information and destinations available to them. This is especially true in the emerging markets in adventure travel, particularly those in northeast Asia, China, the Arctic and the Caribbean.
How to Best Target Adventure Travelers
As you can see, today’s adventure traveler can be difficult to pin down. They don’t necessarily fit into a classification or strict demographic, and they seek the freedom of traveling for adventure’s sake while at the same time maintaining a certain level of autonomy and individualization. They’re knowledgeable about the world and the destinations they’re considering, and they’re very much plugged-in to the technology of the day.
That said, adventure travelers are a potential gold mine for tour operators looking to remain competitive in today’s connected, digitized travel industry. And by keeping these few points in mind, tour operators will have a much better opportunity to capture this growing segment of the travel industry and leverage this increased market share into sustainable growth for the foreseeable future.
Specialization: As we discussed, the hot spots in the adventure traveler industry right now are primarily Asia - specifically China - and the Caribbean, especially with the easing of travel restrictions between the United States and Cuba. But area throughout middle and eastern Europe are also seeing huge boons from adventure travelers, and tour operators must avoid a blanket mentality and zero-in on a specific area or areas in which they operate. More or less, tour operators who can carve out a niche for themselves - say, for example, working with suppliers in northern Ireland - and offer authentic, custom travel experiences will have more success than those who try to offer a buffet-style list of excursions without any real focus.
Customize your promotions: Looking back at our breakdown of the average adventure traveler, you can see how a varied marketing strategy would be crucial to targeting this consumer base. For example, the soft adventure traveler might respond more effectively to an ad on a website or a post on a social media website like Facebook; however, a seasoned adventure traveler might be more apt to make contact after seeing an ad in a sports or adventure magazine.
Know Your Market: As we’ve discussed, adventure travelers are well-educated about the destinations they’re considering, so tour operators must remain plugged-in to their markets in order to best facilitate the customer’s needs. While some tour operators may see the plethora of available information as a liability, this accessibility should be viewed as a conversation starter between tour operators and customers - a method of creating a lasting dialogue in which long-term business relationships can be built and strengthened over time.