This week I attended the Adventure Travel Conference at Olympia, London. It was, as ever, an excellent opportunity to catch up with industry colleagues, as much as get a handle on the burning issues in the adventure travel industry.
The mix of adventure specialists attending, and their wealth of knowledge, is always hugely valued. Organised by Editor-in-Chief Lyn Hughes and the Wanderlust Travel Magazine team, the conference covers an enthralling variety of subjects across the adventure travel spectrum.
I was privileged to be asked to host a one-on-one interview with Craig Burkinshaw, Founder of Audley Travel, who shared personal observations of his remarkable ‘acorns to oak trees’ travel company story. He started with four clients in 1996 and now holds an ATOL Licence to send over 44,000 people away each year.
I also thoroughly enjoyed chairing the conference’s final session, the ‘Points of View’ panel debate with Craig and Pippa Jacks (Editor of Travel Trade Gazette); Jonny Bealby (Founder of Wild Frontiers); and Chris Lee (Tourism Authority of Thailand).
One of the most interesting aspects to come out of the day’s debating was how significantly the adventure tourism playing field is changing. Having enjoyed hearing a huge variety of opinions from an eclectic mix of delegates, this is my summary of the five most significant impending changes:
Over-capacity issues are fast altering tourism experiences across the planet. The desire to embrace adventure travel, like any mainstream holiday, is driven by the wish to escape, test and experience a new and challenging environment or adventure. With some of the world’s most beautiful destinations reaching over capacity, planning, advising and arranging a ‘top travel experience’ is becoming more and more specialised.
In particular the fast-expanding outbound Chinese tourism market (up 4.3% to 122 million in 2017) is having a huge impact on traditional destinations.
The simple answer? Abandon ticking off the bucket list, and choose remoter, less-visited destinations.
As travel information apps and instant ‘in-the-palm-of-your-hand’ service apparatus becomes mainstream, travellers and adventurers can plan and proceed with the most appropriate travel decisions. Whether sailing, surfing, canyoning, trekking, climbing, diving or engaging in wilderness activities, the need for accurate and up-to-date information can be the difference between survival and disaster.
High-tech clothing, micro-cameras, fit-bits, translation apps, GPS trackers, smartphones, mini-chargers, laptop accessories and instant weather reports are beginning to hugely influence life for tourists.
Equally the sharing-economy’s ability to assist in offering adventure activities must be balanced with appropriate regulation and safety measures.
3. Destination Management:
This is always a balancing act involving local environment, politics, and trying to set up a realistic, sustainable development policy.
In the last twelve months we have seen not only anti-tourism demonstrations in Venice, Barcelona and Dubrovnik, but also local stakeholder concerns in ‘adventure destinations’ such as the Himalayas, Andes and African wilderness areas.
Strong local governance, matched by a well-thought-out tourism policy, is essential to the sustainable management of an adventure destination. There must be a manageable limit on the number of mountain trekkers, joy riders and safari vehicles visiting the world’s increasingly popular destinations.
4. Product Development:
The expansion in adventure tourism destinations is growing as the true potential of otherwise undervalued locations come to the fore. As traditional ‘fly-and-flop’ destinations, such as Spain, Portugal and Greece start to actively promote their lesser-known rural regions and adventure opportunities, long-haul locations get in on the act.
Examples include mountain climbing and trekking the Middle East, extreme sport events in Africa and outdoor pursuits in Asia.
Brexit, currency fluctuation, terrorism, dangerous world leaders and market confidence remain difficult to predict. The impact on holiday costs remain a concern.