NEW YORK -- For most, adventure travel calls to mind certain
imagery: 20- and 30-somethings, white-water rafting, mountain
biking and rock climbing.
But Tom Hale, president of Berkeley, Calif.-based BackRoads, saw
something entirely different -- the potential for families to enjoy
adventure travel together.
Hale, the father of two, believed that "climbing the same hill
together or kayaking the same river" enhances the natural
camaraderie of a family. So in 1989, Hale introduced a family
adventure-travel product for BackRoads. Since that time, what was
once a niche market for BackRoads has grown to 200 yearly
departures on 34 itineraries.
And family departures are up a healthy 13% so far in 2002, he
said. According to Hale, the success of family adventure travel
comes from a desire to do things as a family that are different,
challenging and memorable. And agents, who account for about 20% of
BackRoads' business, are getting in on the act .
Angie Wallace, president of the Travel Agency in Amelia Island,
Fla., often works with BackRoads and said she sees family adventure
travel taking off as baby boomers seek quality vacations for their
"These are families looking for a hands-on experience, and the
tour leaders at BackRoads are incredible with children," she said.
"They don't just keep them busy, they engage them."
Family adventure plans cover the globe and a full range of
activities and budgets. For example, BackRoads offers a five-night
Grand Canyon camping package at $1,098 per person; a five-night
multisport package in Hawaii at $2,398 per person; and a
seven-night multisport plan in Japan at $4,798 per person. Packages
do not include air fare. BackRoads offers children's discounts of
up to 75%, depending on age.
In 2003, BackRoads will "extensively enhance its agent program"
with a range of initiatives, including a BackRoads specialist
program certified by the Institute of Certified Travel Agents,
outside sales support and a direct-mail program, according to Julie
Snyder, marketing director at BackRoads.
Another adventure travel operator cashing in on the recent
family boom is Country Walkers in Waterbury, Vt.
The outfit designs nature and cultural walking tours for smaller
groups, something parents are looking for when they call, according
to Carolyn Fox, marketing director for the operator.
"Throughout our 23 years we have depended on travel agents to
represent our tours," Fox said. "With family adventure tours, we
look to travel agents to bring [this unique product] to the whole
This is something Scott Milne, president of Milne Travel
American Express in Barre, Vt., said he already does.
Milne said he sells "quite a bit of the rapidly emerging market"
of family travel adventure through Country Walkers.
"[Country Walkers] is a homegrown product, one that gets us back
to basics and gives families quality time together," Milne
According to Milne, an itinerary may include a morning walk but
also a challenging sports option for older kids and parents.
Country Walkers' family packages include Glacier Park's Natural
Splendor, a five-night nature walk of Montana's national park for
$1,998, and South Africa Under Indigo Skies, a 15-night cultural
walking tour priced at $5,998 per person. Air fare is not included,
and children's discounts are available.
Kaleel Sakakeeny covers family travel for Travel Weekly and
TWcrossroads.com. He can be reached at [email protected].
Book It: Backroads
Phone: (800) 462-2848
Adventures: Boat cruises, fly-fishing, horseback
Book It: Country Walkers
Phone: (800) 464-9255
Adventures: horseback riding, riverside barbecues,
walking, white-water rafting
A few tips for booking adventure travel
here are a few things agents
should know about selling family adventure travel.
• Agents should be sure to understand a family's needs -- such
as the ages of the children, physical abilities, temperament and
• Agents should ask family adventure tour operaters about the
guides' experience with kids and the kind of equipment necessary
for the activities.
• Several Web sites, such as www.iexplore.com and www.familytravelforum.com, offer famiy adventure