Adventure Travel Is Roaring Back: Here’s What’s New

Adventure travel took its knocks in 2020, just like most other sectors of the tourism industry.

It’s also poised to recover along with the rest of the industry, but many operators in the sector are expecting to draw distinct benefits from travelers’ extended hiatus.


Shannon Stowell, CEO of the Adventure Travel Trade Association (ATTA) expects what he calls “passion-driven” travel niches to come back faster because their activities are central to the travelers’ identities. “It’s part of how those travelers define themselves,” he explains. A birder or hiker who is driven by that passion might prioritize travel higher than a casual leisure traveler who might commoditize travel purchases in comparison with other buys, like a new car.

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In Costa Rica, where adventure travel is a sizable portion of the visitor industry, Tom Ranieri calls it out as an outlet for travelers to further explore new interests they might have discovered while in lockdown. As the owner of the Pacuare Outdoor Center, he hears from clients who are ready to travel to spend time out in the natural world.

“There’s been somewhat of a snowball effect of interest in the outdoors,” he notes, saying that he’s been hearing from potential travelers who might have gotten into hiking or decided to buy paddleboards while in lockdown, and are now eager to take their new passions on the road—first domestically, then further afield when border restrictions further relax.

In particular, he’s seen an increase in travelers wanting to SUPSurf—that is, surfing on a Stand Up Paddleboard (SUP). It can be an easier way to pick up surfing than the traditional method, which generally uses a smaller board and requires more strength and balance. Packrafts, or inflatable rafts that can be carried in a backpack and inflated with a small electric pump, are also growing in popularity among hikers.

Travel advisors have also seen interest in adventure travel pop. Betsy Donley, a travel advisor at Camelback Odyssey Travel, a Virtuoso agency, agrees the market is growing, “What was considered ‘off the wall’ or different a few years ago is now considered the thing to do. Travelers are more willing than ever to consider doing something out of their comfort zone”. She gave examples like family bubble trips to dude ranches, small fly-fishing groups in Montana, or mountain climbing at Ted Turner’s Vermejo Ranch in New Mexico.

Another new passion adventure travelers seem to be pursuing post-lockdown is travel to the most remote corners of the globe. Gina Gabbard, Chief Sales Office at Lindblad Expeditions (which operates in partnership with The National Geographic Society) explains that “the pandemic has brought to life travelers’ desire to plan longer, slower trips now, instead of putting them off. [Interest in] bucket list itineraries in Antarctica, The Galapagos, Arctic and Alaska remain strong.”

One of those new sailings is Lindblad’s new 22-day Northwest Passage sailing from Greenland to Nome, Alaska, meandering through the passages of Canada’s High Arctic onboard the Expedition vessel National Geographic Resolution.

“[Travelers] have a greater sense of the fragility of the planet,” says Gabbard, explaining that they’re looking to “combine private, remote places and the wildlife in those regions, with the knowledge and understanding of the people and cultures that have shaped these remote parts of the globe.”

The French luxury small ship and expedition cruise operator PONANT also noted traveler interest in remote destinations, in particular Iceland, Spitzbergen, and Antarctica.

Navin Sawhney, CEO Americas, says that while this is hardly new for PONANT, there are still exciting itineraries on the horizon, “For more than thirty years, we have taken our guests to some of the world’s most remote sites, where other vessels do not venture. We will introduce our latest ship, Le Commandant-Charcot, the world’s first luxury hybrid electric polar exploration vessel later this year.”

The new vessel, which runs on electric batteries and cleaner-burning liquefied natural gas, will “venture to the true geographic North Pole and parts of Antarctica where fewer people have been than the moon.” In addition to spectacular scenery, onboard amenities include heated indoor and outdoor pools (the outdoor pool deck also has a fire pit), a spa and wellness lounge, and multiple restaurants turning out fine French cuisine.

Whether adventure travel takes the form of a luxury yacht to the North Pole or an inflatable raft to navigate rapids in Costa Rica, Betsy Donley also offers some universal advice: “Make sure you have the correct COVID test (if required), purchase travel insurance to cover medical emergencies, and know the rules—they change frequently.”

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