Research is finding that although the effects of COVID-19 are still being felt going into 2022, governmental restrictions on travel are relaxing, with the WHO and UNWTO urging nations to lift blanket travel bans and mandatory vaccination requirements. Efforts like these and consumers’ strong desire to return to travel are leading to increases in both international and domestic travel.
In the adventure travel sector, tour operators are feeling positive about the upcoming year, particularly those in North America, Europe, and LATAM. Adventure travelers are looking for more sustainable options and want to support the communities they are visiting; however, these communities are some of the most at-risk to the continuing negative effects of the pandemic. Efforts are being made to combat these social divides, for example bringing Indigenous groups into conversations and improving financial accessibility.
Read on to learn more about the top 10 trends affecting adventure travel in 2022, as identified by the Adventure Travel Trade Association (ATTA):
Top 10 Trends:
International Travel Improves
As expected, international travel is improving from its 2020 US$ 4.5 trillion drop in GDP. Q4 2021 projections from WTTC show a rise in both international and domestic travel, with travel and tourism GDP expected to rise by 30.7% in 2021 and 31.7% in 2022. The WTTC expects that as more destinations ease restrictions and vaccination rates continue to rise, international spending will increase by 93.8% in 2022 to overtake domestic spending this year. However, domestic travel will continue to be an essential part of the industry’s recovery.
Domestic Travel Stays Strong
Approximately half of global travelers plan to travel for a domestic holiday in 2022, with that number being higher in the U.S. and Europe. Domestic hotel bookings on Trip.com saw double-digit growth in 2020 compared to 2019, and increased over 200% when comparing 2019 to 2021.
Particularly in the adventure segment of the travel industry, travelers are looking to engage with nature on a more frequent basis. To help travelers with limited time reconnect with the world around them, some adventure travel companies, like Much Better Adventures, are offering mini stays in remote locations. Getting away for even one night can have similar positive effects on mental and emotional health as more traditional getaways.
Travel's Environmental Impact Awareness
Sustainability is one of the most talked-about trends in travel, and an important priority of the ATTA (e.g., see the 2021 research report High Moments, Low Impact: Rethinking Adventure Travel’s Sustainability Efforts).
Although consumers are indicating that they want sustainable travel options, they often do not know what choices are available or where to find them. Google is jumping into sharing information about travel’s impact on the environment. In the past few months, they have introduced the ability to see the most fuel-efficient routes to their destination, detailing flight emissions estimates, and labeling hotel listings with applicable sustainability credentials and eco-certifications. This information transparency allows travelers to educate themselves and take action on their sustainability preferences.
Travel's Environmental Impact Action
Going a step beyond awareness, travelers are looking to brands to help them make more sustainable choices. As with Google’s initiatives mentioned above, companies are expected to be more transparent, and consumers are looking to reduce their choice fatigue by turning to experts to help them meet their travel and sustainability goals.
Organizations like European Best Destinations do the research and make recommendations to consumers, saving travelers the time and effort (for the curious, Ljubljana, Slovenia was ranked the European Best Green Capital for 2022). Wilderness Scotland and eCollective have developed one of the world’s first carbon labeling schemes for travel, to communicate the amount of carbon attributed to each traveler on an adventure trip. As another example, Natural Habitat Adventures’ mission of Conservation through Exploration emphasizes “protecting our planet by inspiring travelers, supporting local communities and boldly influencing the entire travel industry.”
Eco-friendly modes of transportation are also getting more attention. Long known for its rail travel, European countries are taking the next step in encouraging or requiring more sustainable options. France is now requiring airlines to cancel domestic flights in situations where a comparable direct rail option takes two-and-a-half hours or less. In Germany, Lufthansa and rail operator Deustche Bahn are working together to expand their direct, fast train service in and out of Frankfurt. Switzerland’s Swiss Travel System has roughly 29,000 kilometers of extensive public transport network in Switzerland. In the U.S., United Airlines implemented last-mile bus service with Landline to Breckenridge and Fort Collins from its Denver hub last year. Sustainability is here to stay for the long term in many facets of tourism.
Sustainable Food and Drink
Adventure travel is more than just mountain climbing and white water rafting; this group also tends to enjoy the local gastronomy in a destination. Locally sourced and foraged food and drink is being used to highlight aspects of a destination. Visit Sweden’s “Taste of Swedish Summer” campaign focuses on 22 natural ingredients that can be found in Sweden, prepared using food preservation methods such as pickling and fermentation, and innovative recipes. Destinations like Eugene, Oregon feature “100 Mile Restaurants” that support local farmers, vendors and producers by primarily sourcing ingredients within 100 miles (161 km).
In addition to locally sourced food, consumers are becoming more conscious of the impact their food consumption has on the planet. Cuisine in many areas is turning toward plant-based menus that have a smaller eco-footprint than meat. Awareness is also increasing about the sustainability of crops like coffee, and its negative effects on deforestation, river pollution, and more. This increased awareness and desire for change creates the opportunity to educate adventure travelers about the people and processes involved in activities like growing coffee, and more sustainable options.
The Nomad Economy
The remote workplaces of the past two years have led to a transition in mentality toward the concept of digital nomadism, or taking long-term trips while working remotely and living like a local. Work has become borderless, with many companies embracing more flexible work environments and schedules for their employees.
During the pandemic, many countries developed “digital nomad visas” as a way to attract travelers and encourage them to stay longer and spend more. Adventure travelers have high potential to become digital nomads, as they are looking for cultural immersion and local connection. Other possible groups of travelers fitting this lifestyle include employee cohorts that work and travel together (and will look for things to do in each area) and “workcation” packages that encourage families to extend their vacation by working during part of the trip to have more time at the destination. Also known as “bleisure” (business and leisure trips), these “workcations” or “flexcations” allow more travelers to experience new destinations and leave more money in the local economy.
For more information about digital nomads, check out ATTA’s 2021 report Work and Wander: Meet Today’s Digital Nomads.
Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion is Being Recognized
Although this topic has not received much attention in trends reports focused on the overall travel industry, many changes and improvements are being made in the adventure travel niche.
Indigenous groups are being welcomed into conversations; the board of directors of the Hawaii Tourism Authority is majority-led by Native Hawaiians for the first time, and the Indigenous Tourism Association of Canada is making progress with governmental and societal recognition. Tourism Australia has developed a Discover Aboriginal Experiences program, and many other destinations are following suit.
More recognition is also being given to underserved groups in adventure travel. Throughout the U.S., groups are emerging to rectify inequality in tourism and bring new voices to the table: Tourism Diversity Matters, Blacks in Travel and Tourism, and the Pathways Project are just a few examples.
Accessible tourism is also getting prioritized in adventure travel. According to the World Health Organization, 15 percent of the world’s population has an access need, and with the increased interest in nature-based, active, and cultural tourism comes travelers from a wider variety of backgrounds, ages, and abilities. Efforts are being made worldwide to support this community, such as the Society for Accessible Travel & Hospitality (SATH).
This topic was discussed at AdventureELEVATE Europe 2021, and will be the subject of some upcoming ATTA research in 2022. Although there is much more work to be done to ensure equal treatment and representation, conversations are happening, and that is the first step.
Ruralization and Communitization of Travel
Overtourism has been a constant discussion over the previous years, with popular landmarks and destinations like Machu Picchu and Barcelona publicly taking measures to reduce their visitor load. The COVID-19 pandemic has given overburdened destinations a chance to pause and reevaluate their future plans. Tourists are also interested in visiting lesser-known destinations, and supporting local communities through their travel, with half of consumers saying they are more likely to take an outdoor trip than before the pandemic. Adventure travelers want to not only engage with local people, but buy from them, use their transport services, restaurants, accommodation and guiding skills in a sustainable way.
However, this conscious move toward more rural destinations is creating a new kind of overcrowding, in areas that are not prepared or equipped to handle an influx of tourists. Beyond not having the infrastructure needed to accommodate large numbers of visitors, concerns like vaccine equity to protect the local population also exist. In the U.S., national and state parks have risen in popularity to the point of government intervention.
Actions need to be taken now to protect rural and less developed destinations from the negative effects a large number of tourists could bring to their natural areas, culture, and heritage.
Initiatives like the UNTWO’s Best Tourism Villages are highlighting towns around the world where tourism can help preserve cultures and traditions, celebrate diversity, provide opportunities, and safeguard biodiversity. Marketers and operators must work toward a sustainable and inclusive tourism model, as mentioned above. Technology can also help relieve burdens through online reservation systems and timed entry tickets.
Most importantly, tourism must have a social license to operate, where the local people must be consulted at every step to be sure their interests are being met.
Social Divides Deepen
As tourism moves deeper into local communities, social and economic divides are becoming front and center. According to the World Bank, since the beginning of the pandemic an additional 97 million people have plunged into poverty worldwide, raising the global poverty rate to 9.1 percent from 7.8 percent. The most affected regions include sub-Saharan Africa, Latin America, and the Caribbean, which are popular destinations for travelers looking to explore unique and less developed areas.
Host communities with informal workers, women’s collectives, and operators without strong technological access or education have been among the worst hurt by the pandemic. These groups will have a harder time recovering as they have less access to resources such as technology, vaccines, and supporting funding. It is essential for the adventure travel community to recognize and respect these concerns, and work purposely to make changes.
The Financialization of Travel
The very nature of travel makes it a global issue, leading to financial challenges like differing currencies and exchange rates, varying regulations and requirements, and access to bank accounts and credit. Technology is acknowledged as a tremendous challenge for adventure travel companies, as consumers expect to be able to communicate and connect with service providers, and to co-create products to their custom specifications.
Travelers are being inundated with myriad financial products as part of their trip purchase decisions: payments, banking, insurance, buy now/pay later, trip protection, and more. This is overwhelming and can lead to potential clients giving up on a booking and either choosing a simpler solution or none at all.
However, when done in a thoughtful and conscientious manner, technology can be used to support both buyers and sellers. Properly implemented software can automate processes and assist staff by making their jobs easier, and solutions like Flywire are available to help streamline the payment process. Digital financial products can also help open new markets like Southeast Asia and Latin America, where in many countries people don’t have access to bank accounts or credit.
Trends to Watch
While these are 10 of the most important trends affecting adventure travel, there are many other things to watch. Wellness is one overarching trend that will impact this niche, with adventure companies benefiting from travelers looking to have a transformational experience. Another trip type increasing in popularity are self-guided tours. There are also discussions happening on booking window fluctuations and other possibilities as the industry continues to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic. Watch for upcoming research from the ATTA on the status of these trends in the adventure travel industry.