Adventure Travel: Finger on the Pulse

The market niche that encompasses adventure or active travel, nature, tourism, ecotourism and expedition travel represents a phenomenon that, as they say in the advertising industry, has legs. Clearly here to stay, these market niches and their products are continually evolving.

To help agents stay abreast of current trends and look around the corner into the future, Crossroads asked wholesalers and industry experts to share their insights regarding current and upcoming trends and pored over catalogs to see what's on tap for the year ahead. Here's what we learned.

PRODUCT DEVELOPMENTS

Family Travel: A growing number of operators are offering adventure and nature trips tailored for families. Next year, for example, Backroads in Berkeley, Calif., will offer 121 special departures for families to 21 destinations, a 68% increase in family departures over 1999. In Angels Camp, Calif., O.A.R.S. has expanded its line of family programs and now schedules special departures on trips for mother-daughter, mother-son, father-daughter and father-son trips. Other players in the arena include Thomson Family Adventures, an offspring of Thomson Adventures in Cambridge, Mass., and Abercrombie & Kent in Oak Brook, Ill., which publishes a brochure of family holidays.

Multisport Trips: Adventure trips that incorporate various activities such as biking, kayaking, river rafting and hiking continue to gain in popularity. For example, for 2000 Backroads has developed 13 new multisport aquatic adventures that focus on water sports in places like Belize, the Galapagos Islands, and Vancouver Island, British Columbia.

Specialty Cruises: Small ship expeditions are strong sellers, popular in part because they make nature travel accessible to clients who might not otherwise visit remote destinations. Among the many options are trips offered by International Expeditions, Helena, Ala., to the Amazon, by Lindblad Special Expeditions to Baja California's Sea of Cortez and by Clipper Cruise Line to China, Japan and the islands of the North Pacific

Special-Interest Adventure Travel: Operators are introducing active vacations with a theme. In combination with hiking, biking and walking vacations in a destination, travelers are being offered the chance to take cooking classes, learn about regional wine-making or visit with a local practitioner of traditional healing arts.

Volunteer Travel: Many consumers drawn to adventure travel, ecotourism and expedition travel also want to make a difference. Holbrook Travel of Gainesville, Fla., has been successful enough with its turtle tagging programs in Costa Rica that it is developing additional volunteer programs. Global Volunteers (800-487-1074) in St. Paul, Minn., has been increasing opportunities for volunteers by about 30% a year and offers about 150 (commissionable) trips annually. Earthwatch Institute (617-926-8200) in Watertown, Mass., (which negotiates commissions individually with agents) has seen a growth of interest in its research trips.

Student trips: Educational programs with an environmental focus are gaining in popularity, especially to destinations such as Costa Rica and Belize and even Kenya.

UP & COMING DESTINATIONS

Look for a boom in nature travel to Panama rivaling that of Costa Rica. The country is equal in natural beauty to Costa Rica, offers great birding, is home to indigenous peoples and is in the midst of formulating a national park plan for the canal zone that holds great promise.

Central and South America continue to gain in popularity. In particular, Olaf Malver, director of business development and operations at Mountain Travel*Sobek, anticipates a rebound in travel to Bolivia, a destination that he calls "underutilized." International Expeditions of Helena, Ala., is looking to introduce a natural history trip to Patagonia, an area traditionally reserved for more adventuresome travelers.

The mountains of Central Asia -- destinations like Turkistan, Kirghizstan, Uzbekistan, Georgia and Mongolia -- are the "new frontier in adventure travel," Malver says. "They're going to be hot destinations."

Big Five Tours & Expeditions has positioned itself on the cutting edge of travel to new destinations with the introduction this fall of a 10-day tour to Ethiopia, where attractions include the churches and monastery at Lalibella and the palaces of the Queen of Sheba at Axum.

Look for Canada to emerge as a major destination for adventure and nature travel, says Jerry Mallett, president of the Adventure Travel Society in Salida, Colo. "Canada is a sleeper. It has tremendous natural resources and is cultural too. There's lots of wildlife."

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