What It Really Is and How to Break Into This Lucrative Niche

Imagine riding a quad with your pack of best buddies through the Northern Cape in South Africa when a herd of giraffes running up to 37 miles an hour cuts across the path directly in front of you – whew! Or the adrenaline rush you’ll feel from inside the underwater cage in Cape Town when a massive Great White shark menacingly glides over and peers directly into your eyes just inches away with only a few metal bars between you. Or how about walking, scrambling, wiggling, and climbing your way nearly half a mile into Sudwala Cave when you catch a glimpse of the 160-million-year-old Screaming Monster? 

These are truly unique, unforgettable travel experiences, and they are just a taste of what the adventure travel niche has to offer. But rest assured, there are many adventure travel opportunities that are well-suited for those with a lower thrill-seeking threshold as well.

The adventure tourism market is huge, and it is one of the fastest-growing travel segments. It was valued at $112,227 million in 2020 and is estimated to reach $1,169,095 million by 2028, according to a study conducted by Allied Market Research.

The big question is: Is your travel agency currently selling this lucrative niche? Here is a quick primer on the market and its opportunities, from travel advisors who have established themselves as experts in adventure travel.

What is adventure travel today?
Adventure travel means different things to different people. But what these experiences have in common is that they take travelers off the beaten path, empowering them to try new things, challenge themselves, and reconnect to nature and a more primal part of themselves. It is about a mindset more than a particular type of activity.

“Adventure travel is about pushing past your comfort zone and reconnecting with the world,” said Charlotte Barillier, co-owner and travel designer at Roam Travel Company. “I think now, more than ever, it has been about truly disconnecting from our technology and getting back into nature. One of my favorite things about safari is its unique ability to bring you directly to the present moment. I think adventure travel does that for all of us – it is the joy and fulfillment of being fully present.”

Ralph Iantosca, CTA, LS, DS, expedition and safari specialist, named among Condé Nast’s Top Travel Specialists 2020-2022, and owner of Iantosca Travel LLC, shared his perspective: “The category of adventure travel is very vast. A few years ago, I was asked the same question [How do you describe adventure travel?] from a traditional traveler who had never experienced anything besides museums, guides, cities, cruises, shows, etc. The question made me realize that there are so many experiences available, like trekking silverbacks in Volcanoes National Park, climbing Kilimanjaro, diving with great whites in South Africa, kayaking in Antarctica, heli-skiing, diving in the South Pacific, looking at a Japanese Zero that a Kamikaze crashed – the list goes on and on. If you are an advisor who’s never personally experienced anything in the adventure travel arena, or a client that is also a ‘traditional’ type of traveler, the new possibilities are endless.”

Who is the adventure traveler?
Again, opinions vary. Iantosca noted that adventure travel has many different demographics. His clients are active, affluent, in their late 40s to early 70s, who can all make the time for this type of travel experience.

Barillier said she is “excited to see clients generally wanting to try new things and explore beyond the normal touristy sites. I think honeymooners have always sought some adventure, but it is fun to see this as a conversation with our retired clientele, as well.”

And Rebecca East, luxury travel advisor at Life:Styled Group, described adventure travelers as: “Quite often it’s couples looking for big ways to experience the ‘wow’ factor for a fun proposal idea or as a memorable honeymoon adventure. Some of our couples are more mature and have put their kids through college and are now looking to explore new places. A change that we’re seeing now is that some families are looking to combine these age groups to spend quality time together as an extended/blended family and looking for new ways to experience life together.”

Where can you send adventure travelers?
Our adventure travel experts offered these destinations and activities as possibilities to recommend to your clients:

South Africa – safari, shark cage diving, rhino tagging, quad biking, mountain biking, sand boarding, hiking, biking, caving, conservation walks, bungy jumping, helicopter adventures, river boating, surfing, and scuba diving.

Rwanda – gorilla trekking, canopy walk adventure, safari, volcano hike, chimpanzee tracking, and coffee/tea tasting on a farm in the mountains.

Botswana and Zimbabwe – exploring the Okavango Delta, safari waterways, sunset cruise safari, helicopter over Victoria Falls, guided walks, animal tracking and the Big 5.

Dolomites, Italy – hiking inn to inn via feratta (a route on a mountain face equipped with steel cables, ladders, and other fixed anchors), outdoor rock climbing, boating, biking, skiing, snow shoeing, and ice climbing.

Galapagos – snorkeling, scuba diving, wildlife viewing, swimming with sharks, bird watching, hiking, and surfing.

Antarctica – Zodiac cruises, kayaking, whale watching, hiking, glacier viewing and trekking, wildlife viewing, research expeditions, and undersea polar expeditions.

Peru – hiking the Inca trail, climbing Machu Picchu, Amazon excursions, jungle trekking, dune buggy rides, sand surfing, surfing, and paragliding.

How can you break into adventure travel?
For those who are new to adventure travel, Iantosca said: “The key is in understanding the experience. I would start by recommending the advisor should think about their own self-discovery with new, exciting activities they would enjoy that are in their comfort zone. This will open an entirely new business to the advisor. I then personally ask new clients to describe their PERCEPTION of adventure travel. You can learn a lot by being an active listener. If the client shares their fears, it’s easy to transition the conversation to something that would eliminate those immediately and re-engage them into something that is in their comfort level but is still trying something new that piques their interest.

“I like to see if the client is open to new experiences first. I created a form that asks about their personal interests, if they live an active lifestyle, which helps start a really fun path of discovery.” He continued: “Is heli-hiking for everyone? No, of course not, but I know that each of my clients is active, lives a healthy lifestyle, and wants to be a participant … My favorite part of the job is sharing new experiences with clients. I ask them if they can envision themselves doing these things.”

The benefit to you, as a business owner, is that this takes the conversation away from the type of travel that is viewed as a commodity, focusing merely on, for instance, hotel rooms and prices. Instead, it’s all about recommending a complete and authentic experience that is not prefabricated.

Iantosca’s parting advice to other travel advisors who are considering getting into this niche: “Do it, do it now, and don’t look back! Do it right now. There are many great suppliers who would love to work with these agents. Most agents say ‘I don’t have those type of clients,’ but that’s their own fear talking. If they get the right training and are in with the right group, the sky is the limit, and they’ll find themselves on a new career path that is full of unexpected, beautiful surprises at every turn. For example, Virtuoso has the Adventure Travel community – it’s a great place to start if the agent is connected with a Virtuoso agency. I joined Virtuoso specifically for its community of suppliers, relationships, and the opportunity to be associated with and learn this niche, which was the best decision I could have ever made.”

South African Tourism is the national tourism agency responsible for the marketing of South Africa as a preferred leisure and business events destination. From breathtaking beauty to sun-soaked coasts; from wildlife to active adventure; from vibrant urban energy to the incredible warmth and cultural diversity of its people – South Africa is a traveler’s dream. Now, after two years of restricted travel movements, South Africa invites the world to come experience this country filled with rich, authentic, unfiltered experiences and to “Live Again!” South Africa has been reopened for tourism since November 2020 with globally benchmarked health and safety protocols in place, including requiring travelers to have a negative COVID-19 PCR test 72 hours prior to arrival, as well as visitors and locals alike wearing face masks in public. For further information on South African Tourism, visit www.southafrica.net/trade. For the latest travel trade updates, follow @SAtraveltrade on Twitter www.twitter.com/SATravelTrade.