Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, questions have surrounded the survival and return of adventure travel. To this end, the Adventure Travel Trade Association (ATTA) conducted two surveys of companies in the adventure travel industry, in late 2020 and mid-2021, to track their business health and outlook.
In November and December 2020, the Adventure Travel Trade Association (ATTA) conducted an online survey of current and former members from around the world. Tour operators, accommodations, travel agencies, and other adventure travel businesses shared their business outlook and future plans. The resulting report serves as a late-2020 benchmark for the health of the industry.
In June and July 2021, ATTA conducted its annual Adventure Travel Industry Snapshot survey. Respondents were asked many of the same questions again as they were in late 2020, and the resulting report was released in September 2021.
The ATTA has released a new report, QuickLook: Adventure Travel Business Health Summer 2021, that compares the results of business health questions from these two surveys, along with some results from the 2020 Adventure Travel Industry Snapshot survey (data from 2019), and discusses the effects of COVID-19 and the apparent trajectory of the adventure travel industry’s recovery.
Revenue, Guest & Staffing Changes
As expected, revenue decreased dramatically from 2019 to 2020. Seventy-four percent of respondents had over an 80% reduction in revenue, and 45% had a 2020 gross annual revenue of less than $50,000. Guest numbers also dropped: The average number of guests served in 2020 was 560, compared to 3,974 in 2019. Unfortunately, 16% of respondents had zero guests in 2020. Due to this reduction in demand, guides and operations were the two positions hardest hit in 2020, with the number of guides decreasing by 76-100% for almost half of all respondents.
Business Model Changes
Adventure travel companies have been working hard to adapt to the changing market. Outbound operators have primarily responded to COVID-19 by modifying existing products and creating new ones, reducing their business size/capacity, customizing their offerings, and prioritizing domestic travel. Inbound operators have primarily responded to COVID-19 by reducing their business size/capacity, and prioritizing local and domestic travelers.
In addition to changes in their business models, most (80%) of the survey respondents have created new cancellation policies in response to COVID-19. Many also revised their partner agreements as a way to adapt to the current situation. In other areas, almost half of respondents have increased their marketing spending as a result of COVID-19; approximately a third have also ramped up their safety and risk management and training programs.
Future Business Plans & Outlook
In late 2020, 50% of respondents indicated an interest in being acquired by another company or taking investment, and 34% were open to merging with another company. In mid-2021, only 16% of respondents were considering being acquired by another company or taking investment, and only 12% were interested in merging with another company. Interestingly, the percentage of respondents thinking of acquiring or investing in another company decreased from 23% to 5%.
These changes signify a few possibilities: companies are feeling more stable and have better plans in place for moving forward, acquisitions and mergers have already happened, or some of the struggling businesses did close. It is likely that the scenario change is due to a combination of these. The number of respondents saying they will get through this without any further business changes increased from 25% to 36%, supporting the idea that businesses were on more solid footing than 6 months prior.
One area that remains high in interest is receiving financial assistance through loans or grants (52% in 2020, 43% in 2021). The amount of money sought also remains relatively stable, in the $25,000 to $300,000 range (more specific details are available in the QuickLook: Adventure Travel Business Health Summer 2021 report).
The Industry is Seeing Improvements
Although it is still rough going, respondents to the 2021 survey are feeling more positive than those in 2020. Seventy percent of respondents are seeing an improvement in domestic travel demand for 2021 and into 2022, and 64% of respondents are seeing an improvement in international travel demand for 2021 and into 2022. When it comes to revenue, 76% of respondents are expecting their 2021 revenue to be the same or better than 2020. Only 22% are expecting their 2021 revenue to be the same or better than 2019.
ATTA President Casey Hanisko shared, “Adventure businesses continue to hold on, investing in marketing, training, safety & risk management while also innovating their products and responding to the needs of their domestic markets. Our hope is the data included here inspires businesses, tangential or within the industry, to consider solutions from financial support to nimble marketing tools. Through networking and collaboration, our community leans on each other and eagerly awaits, and plans for, a promising 2022.”