Tour industry professionals are constantly barraged with all kinds of statistics about growth in the industry in our everyday poking around online. Less talked about, perhaps because they are so hard to put a finger on, are the exact reasons WHY this growth is occurring. Drawing from a number of industry studies, expert opinions, and my personal experience as a long time adventure traveller, this article will cover what can be considered the key factors in explaining the industry’s current boom.
The Rapid Progression of Action Sports
In terms of physical activity, anyone would agree that people today are commonly skilled in one or more ‘action sport’, many of which would have been called extreme sports in eras past. In a recent article featured in Explore Magazine, Veteran rock climber Will Gadd gives his take on the increasing demand for ‘extreme’ elements in outdoor activities. Gadd notes that while the world record marathon run has only improved by a mere 9 seconds in 60 years, “the tricks that won the first X Games wouldn’t even score today”. He puts it simply when he writes: ‘the formerly impossible isn’t even making the latest video edit’.
Clearly action sports are in the midst of a massive leap forward, but what is its driving force? Many of us might be quick to answer that new technologies have allowed us to perform better than ever. Gadd acknowledges this, explaining that “yes, the new gear is better — but technology doesn’t begin to explain the standards leap. I think the reasons are even simpler”. From here he goes on to outline 3 major factors: man-made terrain, progressive instruction, and communication.
Gadd states that man-made terrain such as artificial snow, or even indoor whitewater pools “bring the mountains to the masses’ making the obscure or difficult to practice accessible and easy. The second component outlined by Gadd is instruction. He explains that “instructional programs have codified the formerly crazy into progressive steps’ just like traditional ski instruction. However it’s not just that professional lessons in more extreme forms of sport are readily available; in the internet era of online forum discussion and YouTube how-to videos, anyone can learn from the experts without even getting up from their chair.
Moreover, YouTube, Facebook and Instagram spread the excitement of action sports infinitely further than the previously dominant print magazines ever could. More people than ever are exposed to action sports, and are choosing to get involved. Along with that we see exponential growth in the adventure tourism industry that gives people access to the outdoor environments where these action sports or activities happen.
New Conceptualization of Nature
Another key factor to consider, and something that has been in the works for many decades, is a re-conceptualization of nature. Certainly in centuries past, and arguably into the last century up until the rise of mainstream Eco-friendliness, nature was very much seen as something to be tamed, something for man to triumph over. Today, thankfully, most people see nature as something to be experienced and protected. Almost anyone alive today would agree that personalities like the Crocodile Hunter, along with older examples like Jacques Cousteau, from a very early age fostered in us a fascination with natural environments, and sense of responsibility for them. This cultural shift is plain to see in the fact that “adventure travelers ranked areas of natural beauty as the most important factor in choosing their last destination” in a 2013 Adventure Travel Trade Association market study.
Greater Accessibility to Remote Areas in a More Interconnected World
Aside from a deep rooted appreciation of nature and all things ‘wild’, today’s adventure tourist is not satisfied to travel in a foreign country, or their own, without quite literally getting off the beaten path. Personally, reflecting on a recent trip to Peru, I can say that I got more out of the experience of fishing in a dugout canoe with Amazonian village locals, than I did riding in a luxury passenger car on a train bound for the Machu Picchu base. Pictures from my Machu Picchu trip show the place absolutely thronged with other tourists. While the place was still a marvel to behold, I felt little sense of accomplishment in having been there. I attribute this feeling to being surrounded by hundreds of others who had climbed the same steps that very morning. Later the same trip however, when I found myself fishing and camping in the Amazon basin, I caught myself grinning with excitement at the simple thought of being in such a geographically remote place. In fact, my hired guide was only able to secure my business by offering a tour that went to a remote village, rather than into the heavily trodden national park nearby. I can say with confidence that the most memorable part of my Peru trip was not ascending the iconic Machu Picchu, or any other classically touristic destination, instead it was of eating raw Caiman with my non-English speaking tour guide in a thatched hut, only accessible by canoe.
In a world where there is so little left unexplored, where the wonders of the world have already gone by on your Facebook feed three times this week, it’s no longer enough to just GO somewhere exotic. Today one must go somewhere and DO something adventurous in order to make a touristic experience truly memorable.
GoPro Narcissism and the Selfie Generation
There’s nothing new about wanting to do something daring just to be able to tell the story, or even better to get an eye-popping picture out of it. In today’s world of social media however, this has really become an important aspect of one’s social presence. Aside from being a means of learning about or gaining interest in an adventure activity, social media’s prominent place in society drives individuals to seek out experiences that can be shared amongst their peers. Bragging rights are no longer obtained by the mere retelling of crazy stories, but through online photo albums or even video recordings. All of which are shared in the hopes of impressing peers, and maybe, if you really push the limits, going viral and enjoying those elusive 15 minutes of internet fame. Some people, from every generation, look down on the increasing amount of adventure selfies or unabashed promotion of one’s own adventure activities online, but is this really such a bad thing? Personal identity has always been tied up in our accomplishments and experiences. It is simply the way that these are being shared that has changed.
I would also argue that the selfies and self-shot footage from touristic activities serve as an affirmation of self, more than as mere bragging rights. People today have already seen the natural wonders of the world in 1080p before they ever got on the plane. The pictures they want to see now are of themselves within those environments. I went there. I did that. That’s something I set out to do and achieved. With all these factors considered, the increase of ‘selfies’ and hours of self-shot video cease to look like rampant narcissism, and instead can be seen clearly as a means of creating identity both within the self and within one’s social sphere.
Being a Tour Operator in Today’s World
Be it in the form of social media sharing, online research and planning, or on-the-go mobile booking, today’s adventure tourist is connected and active online. For that reason alone, adventure tour companies of any size should be present and accessible on the web in order to secure the unique clients of the adventure travel demographic.
Any trip involving adventurous or ‘extreme’ activities is made much less daunting when you have a visible structure laid out in front of you before you even leave the house. For modern adventure travelers, being able to find out everything you need to know about a potential tour activity by researching it online is a must, and why not book online while you’re at it? According to social media and online tourism marketing expert Frederico Gonzalo, a full 69% of travelers begin their search online. It’s estimated that you lose 25-60% of website visitors with each click in the ‘path to purchase’. If drop-offs skyrocket with even just the effort of a single mouse click, imagine how the drop-off rates must blow up when a potential customer is forced to switch devices and type in an entire phone number. Moreover, the number of adventure travel suppliers is growing very rapidly. Veteran tour companies and new companies alike must compete to reach potential clients first. This is best achieved by presenting website visitors with an eye-grabbing, informative interface, but moreover one must present the easiest, most flowing path-to-purchase. It is now more important than ever that booking be as direct and dynamic as possible.
Rock climber Will Gadd and I are in agreement that it is more than anything else this new era of rapid, global communication that is shaping the adventure tourism industry, and fueling its growth. At every link in the chain, from planning - to booking - to sharing, adventure tourists are using the internet. Staying competitive in today’s market requires that tour companies of all sizes be capable of personalized but automated online booking. Using booking software for your tour company doesn’t have to be complicated, expensive, or impersonal. There’s no reason to be left behind. By making the switch to online booking, every tour operator can save time, reach new customers, and watch their business grow.