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Adventure Travel: Dispelling the Myths

Adventure travel has bounced back fast over the last few years, appealing to a wide variety of travellers from all over the world who want more than just a traditional holiday when they travel. 

But as the debate continues as to what adventure travel actually is and businesses in the industry ask “Does my company fit into the adventure travel category?”, we’re delving into the history of adventure tourism, its evolution and what kind of activities fall under the adventure travel umbrella. 

History of Adventure Travel

Adventure tourism has been around for decades, perhaps dating all the way back to times of exploration, where plucky individuals would undertake journeys by land and sea in search of wealth, to discover new territories and establish lucrative trade routes. The early crusaders went on long journeys to defend and confirm the existence of religious icons. Colonial expeditions involved adventurers, pioneers, traders and settlers venturing into remote regions in search of resources and power. These journeys laid the groundwork for later forms of adventure tourism as travellers sought to experience the exotic and unknown, as well as to confirm the existence of more modern icons (think of selfies taken at the Eiffel Tower, the Colosseum, Victoria Falls!...).

Back in the 19th Century, everyone was talking about David Livingstone and his legendary expeditions into Central Africa. In the 20th century, the rise of mountaineering as a recreational activity sparked a new era of adventure tourism. Pioneers such as Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay's historic ascent of Mount Everest in 1953 captured the world's imagination, inspiring countless individuals to test their limits in the world's most challenging environments. And with the evolution of new technologies, adventure tourism became more accessible to the general public and continued to evolve. 

In the 1960s and 1970s, expedition companies like Encounter Overland, Sherpa Expeditions, Exodus and Penn World were among the first commercially successful adventure travel companies. Mainstream travel companies like Thomas Cook and Globus were already well established, but these new adventure companies were very different, bringing adventure travel to those looking for less conventional ways of exploring the world.

Some of these companies exist today, but many more were spawned from them… 

What type of activities does adventure travel Include?

The dictionary defines Adventure travel as -

a type of tourism, involving exploration or travel with a certain degree of risk (real or perceived), and which may require special skills and physical exertion.’ 

While it’s true that some types of adventure can involve high adrenaline activities like climbing or base-jumping, adventure tourism has now evolved to be so much more than that. 

Increasingly, due to market demand, it includes more ‘soft adventure’ activities which are considered to have much lower levels of risks and require little to no prior skills or experience of the activity. These activities are typically led by experienced guides and can include anything from hiking, kayaking, wine and gastronomy, white-water rafting, wildlife viewing, cultural exploration... Unlike hardcore or extreme activities, soft adventures typically cater to a wider range of participants and age groups, including families, active seniors, students and any individual seeking relatively low-risk adventure - just going to visit a lesser-known destination can seem like an adventure to many people. 

Some adventure activities require more advanced skills and a significant level of commitment due to varying levels of risk involved. Examples of such activities can include mountain climbing, trekking, kayaking and caving, where participation often requires professional guidance and a more advanced level of skill or experience from the client. 

Ask 10 people what their idea of adventure is and you’ll almost certainly get 10 different answers. Adventure is very much a personal thing - everyone’s perception of risk and daring is different.

What adventure is NOT

Although adventure tourism has grown to be a very diverse area of tourism - an ever-expanding universe of niches within niches (take family adventure for instance) - and  encompassing a variety of activities, it is important to keep in mind that it is not your typical ‘fly and flop’ holiday or golfing mini-break. Adventure travel has been defined to include a certain level of exploration that can put individuals out of their comfort zone. It draws them into the destination, to gain a deeper understanding of the local history and culture, and an appreciation for nature. Adventure travel often brings about a change of perspective on the world.

Sustainability and Low Impact

With the ever growing popularity and requirement of incorporating sustainable travel practices and initiatives into the industry, adventure tourism has often led the way on showcase conservation efforts and community initiatives that give back to the destination and its inhabitants. 

Adventure tourism often involves the exploration of natural areas in small groups or as individuals - discovering national parks, forests, rivers, deserts and a variety of natural landscapes. This can increase awareness of the value of these areas and encourage conservation efforts to protect them. Activities like hiking, kayaking and nature photography also tend to be low impact and cause minimal environmental disturbance.

This kind of travel will often provide awareness of people who live in a very different way from us city-slickers! Finding yourself visiting a remote village and meeting people who do not have access to electricity, supermarkets or even tap water can have a profound effect on tourists. It can also provide a real benefit to local communities, helping to create job opportunities, generate income for local businesses and reduce poverty.

Adventure Tourism Today

Adventure travel is a sector of the industry widely accessible by all, offering a vast range of activities and experiences for people of all ages, backgrounds and abilities who want to test the limits of their comfort zone and immerse themselves in new cultures, destinations and activities. 

From eco-tourism initiatives developed to be sustainable in the long term; to extreme sports competitions attracting adrenaline junkies and weekend adventure getaways made easier by the availability of short-haul flights to prime destinations, adventure tourism continues to be a vibrant and dynamic sector of the travel industry. And it offers endless opportunities for exploration and discovery in just about every destination. 

You can find out more about other DMCs and Tour Operators offering adventure travel in a multitude of ways to their clients by attending upcoming marketplace events like: 

LATA Expo - 24 - 26 June 2024. Click here to learn more:

Experience Africa - 26 - 28 June 2024. Click here to learn more:

ADVENTURE EUROPE - 25 Sep 2024. Click here to learn more:

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