Adventure travel — primarily associated with the younger, millennial market — is proving increasingly popular with the over 40s. By Alex Coxon
Adventure travel is on the up and, surprisingly, millennials don’t have the monopoly on this exciting market.
Research from the Adventure Travel Trade Association (ATTA) shows that 40 percent of U.S. citizens using a tour operator to help prepare their adventure vacations are now aged between 50 and 70. Moreover, the data — from ATTA’s 2017 Industry Snapshot — reveals the average adventure traveler is aged 47, with a preference for U.S. destinations, as well as those in Peru, Ecuador, Canada and Cuba.
The association’s findings resonate with ASTA members like Steve Lima, director of USA marketing at small group adventure operator, G Adventures, who reports his company’s average client is aged between 42 and 45. However, he’s quick to highlight that this isn’t the only bracket they cater for.
“We’ve several travel styles, ranging from ‘Yolo’ [18 to 30-year-olds] to family, so the demographic really does vary,” he says. “But, our average client age has been influenced by our National Geographic Journeys product [launched late 2015], which focuses more on experiences and local interactions than the physical activity [people] traditionally associate with adventure tourism.”
Consumer desire for adventure travel to be more experiential isn’t unique to G Adventures. For example, Bobbie Rae Murphy, travel specialist with Ohio-based agency Active Travel Pro, believes that wider cultural experiences now play a huge part in the vacations she arranges.
“I’m finding more and more people want a unique itinerary,” she says. “They come to me because I can add cultural extras, like cookery classes in Emilia-Romagna, Italy.”
Postak Shrestha, owner of Himalaya and South East Asia tour operator, Far & High Adventure Travel, agrees.
“Bhutan is an up-and-coming destination for us. Clients want to participate in cultural activities as well as trekking or rafting,” she explains. “They want to try local traditions, like a hot stone bath in a Bhutanese home.”
While these immersive experiences are a great add-on, it’s the active portion of the vacation that gives this market segment its name. According to Jeremy Clement, co-founder of NYC-based Project Expedition, it’s a sector that shows no signs of waning. His business, which supplies both pre-packaged and customizable adventure travel, is thriving.
“Our most popular tours range from diving in Belize and canyoneering in Costa Rica to hiking Machu Picchu,” he says. “And there’s demand for new destinations, such as Iceland, Namibia and mainland Ecuador, all the time. “The more people experience, the more excited they get about new adventure travel destinations,” he adds. “And that can only be a good thing.”
ARENAL, COSTA RICA
Set around one of Costa Rica’s most active volcanoes, the Arenal Volcano National Park is made for postcards. Home to the extinct Cerro Chato as well as its perfectly conical big sister, Arenal — which erupted 41 times per day, on average, until it went dormant in November 2010 — this lush, 46 sq mile territory hosts four climatic zones and 53 percent of Costa Rica’s bird species.
But the destination isn’t just a photographer or birdwatcher’s paradise. Adventure tourism is the name of the game here, with key activities including canyoneering, white-water rafting, zip-lining, mountain biking and every intensity of hiking, from mild to extreme — a firm favorite being a three-hour trek along the eco-tourism-project-turned-sightseeing-attraction, the Arenal Hanging Bridges.
Situated equidistant between Costa Rica’s two international airports at San José and Liberia (around 80 miles from each) the park is also becoming increasingly accessible to U.S. thrill-seekers. Southwest, for example, has announced a daily route between Fort Lauderdale and San José, commencing November 5 — in time for the dry season. This complements daily Los Angeles and weekly Baltimore-Washington flights to Liberia, which the airline introduced earlier this year.
Listed as a top five adventure destination in the 2017 Virtuoso Luxe Report — with an earlier survey from the same network indicating that it’s number one in terms of popularity — Iceland is unlikely to disappoint the active vacationer. Peppered with volcanoes, glaciers, fjords, geysers and waterfalls, the ‘land of fire and ice’ is a veritable playground for summer and winter visitors alike.
Options start with soft adventure escorted tours around popular sightseeing route, the Golden Circle, with common inclusions being trips to Gullfoss waterfall, the 3,000-year-old Kerid volcanic crater, and the impressive Strokkur geyser, which spews its scorching waters every six to 10 minutes — sometimes as high as 100ft. For the more intrepid traveler, possibilities range from lava tunnel caving to ice-climbing. There’s even the opportunity to scuba dive between two continents at Silfra fissure.
With more hotels coming to market, it’s small wonder that Iceland is striking a chord with U.S. visitors — regardless of the adventures they undertake while there. Upcoming product includes the luxurious 62-room Moss Hotel which, at the time of writing, was set to open this fall on the banks of Grindavik’s famous Blue Lagoon.
Dubbed the ‘adventure capital of the West’, Moab is a small city with a big name in extreme sports. Situated on the doorstep of the otherworldly Arches National Park — and just over half an hour’s drive from Canyonlands and Dead Horse Point — this tiny municipality hosts thousands of adrenaline junkies every year. Their objective? To use Moab as a gateway to first-class hiking, horseback riding, rafting, canyoneering, rock-climbing and mountain biking.
It’s the latter that’s perhaps best known for getting visitors’ blood pumping. Home to the world-famous Slickrock Bike Trail — a 10.6-mile, white-knuckle loop with narrow ledges and abrupt drop-offs that take three or four hours to traverse — there are also well over 100 other routes to choose from, with varying degrees of difficulty.
Outside of biking, not-to-be-missed attractions include the Fisher Towers section of the Colorado River — a great taster for families trying white-water rafting for the first time — plus Cataract or Westwater Canyons for the more experienced rafter. More sedate activities, meanwhile, come in the form of paddle boarding, jet-boat tours and easy drives along Moab’s three State Scenic Byways, each affording breathtaking views over the region’s sandstone massifs.
Featured among National Geographic Traveler magazine’s ‘Best of the World Destinations’ for 2017, Marrakech might only be Morocco’s fourth biggest city, but it packs a big punch when it comes to adventure travel.
From a soft perspective, the options are limitless — from traversing the Medina’s ramparts to trying Berber fare in the old city’s main square, Jemaa el-Fnaa. Various new hotels, including the 134-room Fairmont Royal Palm, opened earlier this year.
But it’s the Red City’s position at the foothills of the Atlas Mountains that’s the big plus. Situated an hour and a half’s drive from North Africa’s highest peak, Mount Toubkal, trekking is a popular pastime in the warmer months. Local guides lead a two-day hike up the 13,671ft massif, with overnight acclimatization in a mountain refuge.
In the winter, walking boots can be replaced by crampons or skis. Despite the wide-held belief that Africa is the least likely place for winter sports, Marrakech is a great base for ice-climbing and skiing, with the latter possible from both Toubkal’s summit and the nearby ski resort Oukaimeden.
BAFFIN ISLAND, NUNAVUT, CANADA
Bigger than Idaho and Oregon combined — yet housing less than 0.2 percent of their total population — Baffin Island is one of the remotest adventure travel destinations on the planet. As Canada’s largest island, and the fifth-biggest in the world, virtually all of it lies within the Arctic Circle — making this stunning winter wonderland the ideal spot for adventurers seeking thrills with a chill.
Best visited between May and August, when the mercury inches above a tolerable 32F, extreme sports enthusiasts will find themselves spoilt for choice. With the highest peak on Baffin’s glacial backbone reaching over 7,000ft, mountaineering and rock-climbing are two prime options. The Island has become something of a mecca for base-jumpers, too, all of whom seek the ultimate adrenalin rush on its granite monoliths.
For those with less of a head for heights, there’s sea kayaking, cold-water diving and cultural excursions to Inuit villages. Perhaps most exciting of all, however, is the possibility of witnessing Arctic wildlife under the midnight sun.
Polar bears, walruses and seals can all be spotted during safaris to Baffin’s floe edge, while beluga, bowhead whales and the unicorn-like narwhal gather in the waters beyond. nunavuttourism.com
For those who prefer to cycle on-road, there’s perhaps no better destination than Vietnam. Sitting with its sinewy back to the South China Sea and its metaphorical lap cradling Cambodia and Laos, this 1,025-mile-long South East Asian country is perfect for both short and long-distance rides due to its relatively flat topography.
Suggestions include the iconic Highway 1, which runs the length of the country and takes two to three weeks to complete. Travelers short on time can opt for single sections, with highlights including the 13-mile Hai Van Pass or the Thi Nai Bridge — the longest sea bridge in Vietnam — both best undertaken in the cooler, drier months of November through March.
Other active types will find much to please them, with hill tribe village treks, street food tours, and kayaking or junk boat cruises along Halong Bay proving big hits among soft adventurers. For more intrepid souls, there’s rappelling and caving in the Marble Mountains, canyoneering at Da Lat, spearfishing in the stunning Nha Trang Bay, and trekking — typically combined with memory-making homestays — in the Pu Luong Nature Reserve. vietnamtourism.com
It’s with good reason this country — set between Martinique and Guadeloupe — has adopted the epithet of ‘nature island’. Volcanic Dominica is largely covered with verdant rainforest, boasts a UNESCO-listed national park and is home to the world’s second-biggest hot spring: Boiling Lake.
Touted as the Caribbean island for people who don’t ‘do’ the Caribbean, Dominica’s paucity of white sand may put off travelers intending to combine an active break with relaxation on the beach. But, the sun-worshippers’ loss is the adventurers’ gain. Activities range from trekking the Caribbean’s first long distance path, the Waitukubuli National Trail, through horseback riding and mountain biking to canyoneering and river-tubing, so there’s a plenty to choose from.
It’s also getting easier to access. While there are no direct flights from the U.S. to Dominica, the Puerto Rican hub of San Juan will enjoy increased uplift in the coming months. New routes include a triweekly service from Atlanta and a daily flight from Miami — both via Frontier, commencing October 5. From here, there are up to three daily connections to Dominica, depending on the season.