Through the ages, mankind has been pushing the limits of exploration: we have conquered lands, we have discovered the wonders of our planet and, pushed by our relentless thirst for knowledge, we have greatly expanded our awareness of the world we live in. Today’s travelers are no different: driven by an increasing need to find meaning and purpose in their busy lives, they leave their comfort zone to venture into some of the most remote – and sometimes hostile - places in the world or venture into epic journeys.
Dubbed “adventure tourism”, this trend accounts for one of the fastest growing categories in the travel industry, as stated in a 2014 report by the UNWTO. How do destinations and hoteliers cater to this new breed of intrepid travelers?
Unknown Thrills and Adrenaline Attract Travelers: Why?
Isolation, loneliness and fear make people more susceptible to anxiety and stress. But people are still trying to find remote places to visit and new adventures to experience. Why? Turns out, the stress generated by isolation is not all that bad.
A documentary produced by Ecole hôtelière de Lausanne – Going Home to the Stars – is set at the European Southern Observatory in the Atacama desert in Chile, one of the driest, most isolated places on earth. Sherif Mamdouh, who lead the documentary creation, investigated how a whole crew of scientists, specialists and hospitality workers manage to live and work together in the middle of the desert, where everything is inaccessible and scarce. The psychological aspect of his experience is fit to capture full attention. According to Mamdouh:
A high level of stress can drive to a high level of satisfaction and thus, a higher sense of well-being. Stress is not just a negative force: in some instance, it can stimulate the brain and increase cognitive abilities.
This may explain why people seek this kind of experience: to complete the excitement of discovery and the feeling of adventure. Unknown thrills, adventures and adrenaline attract travelers, and they are captivated by hidden landscapes and places where few have set foot before. If that means being exposed to stress and isolation, then so be it.
Who is the Thrill-Seeker Traveler?
Passionate and risk-taking, adventure tourists tend to be wealthy, willing to pay a premium for exciting and authentic experiences. Adventure operators have reported an average of USD 3,000 spent per person, with an average trip length of eight days.
In a 2018 report from by Intrepid, motivations to chase adventure range from decompressing (recharging one’s batteries) to simply satisfying their curiosity and – interestingly enough – having something fun to share on social media.
According to booking.com, the yearning for experiences over material possessions continues to drive travelers’ desire for more incredible and memorable trips: 45% of travelers have a bucket list in mind and the majority of those will aim to tick one or more destinations off their list in the coming years. Most likely to appear on a bucket list are thrill seekers wanting to visit a world famous theme park, travelers looking to go on an epic road or rail journey or visiting a remote or challenging location.
Age does not seem to be a key factor for adventurous travelers, as the older demographic appear just as keen to test their adrenaline limits as the younger generations.
How to Cater to this New Breed of Travelers?
Destinations are increasingly marketing themselves as unique, appealing to travelers looking for rare, incomparable experiences. Case in point, destinations around the world gear their slogans and messaging to attract adventure travelers. Take Norway’s “Powered by Nature”, Greenland’s “Be a Pioneer” or New-Zealand’s “100% Pure New Zealand” – they all incorporate a sense of adventure into their brand identity.
Destinations that have prioritized adventure tourism frequently create regional associations to regulate the quality and safety of the tourism offer. Canada’s Adventure Ecotourisme Québec, the Brazilian Adventure and Ecoutourism Association or the Tour and Safari Association in Namibia, are few examples of those type of destination-run bodies of regulation.
Hospitality businesses are also increasingly seeking to attract thrill seekers. If climbing Mount Kilimanjaro, base-jumping off a cliff in Australia or trekking through the Sahara might have once scratched the itch for adventure, the offer has now become mainstream. Hotels and travel operators have immensely benefited from technology and online tools to optimize their operations and achieve a greater marketing reach. As a result, they have greatly augmented their products, not only by offering unique accommodations, but by providing customized off-site adventure packages or making it possible for guests to immerse themselves in local communities.
Strolling around Japan with a Samurai over the course of a week or greeting gorillas in Rwanda while staying at a luxury lodge are only two examples of the ever evolving offer (and creativity) from hospitality businesses.