Adventure travelers are flocking back to destinations, and they are eager to take the bucket-list trips that were delayed by the pandemic. According to ATTA’s latest “State of the Industry Snapshot” report, travelers’ top motivations for traveling were “new experiences” and to “go off the beaten path.”
Yet travelers may underestimate the difficulty level of the trips they’re booking, especially those new to adventure travel. Some tour operators are finding that more of their guests are not physically prepared for their trip’s challenges.
At the Adventure Travel World Summit, bicycle tour operators discussed the increasing demand for E-bikes, and the misperception guests have that they can do much more difficult trips with little or no preparation.
Although many tour operators provide activity level indicators and other details about mileage and elevation changes on their trip descriptions, travelers may breeze past them in their excitement to book the trip.
When travelers arrive for their trip physically and mentally prepared, they have a better experience, the rest of the group has a better time, and the guide is able to focus on the whole group instead of one guest who needs extra assistance. Prepared travelers are also less likely to pose a safety risk.
Here are four strategies to help travelers better understand a trip’s challenges so they can ensure it matches their activity level.
Share Videos and Images that Reflect Reality
Social media channels and marketing materials tend to showcase the glory moments of adventure travel, often without indicating the amount of effort required to reach that peak with the amazing view.
Tour operators have an opportunity to set more realistic expectations. Using actual trip imagery, show a representative mix of the terrain, allowing guests to see exactly what they’ll experience. From rocky paths to less-than-ideal weather conditions, don’t be afraid of scaring off potential travelers; give them an accurate sense of potential challenges they may encounter.
Catherine Shearer, co-founder of H+I Adventures, has found that images taken on location during their trips convey both the level of difficulty to help clients be better prepared as well as a better sense of what the experience is like.
Host Destination-Specific Webinars to Build Excitement and Improve Readiness
Destination-specific webinars are another avenue to engage guests in a deeper understanding of what the trip involves. They’re a low-budget way to share stories and details about past trips to build your guests’ excitement.
In addition to the inspirational images and stories, slip in some tips about what guests can be doing before the trip to be able to make the most of it.
Whoa Travel frequently does pre-trip video chats with their travelers, says Allison Fleece, the company’s co-founder. They hold a “Zoom Welcome Call” so their travelers get to know each other, can meet their group leaders, learn more about their adventure, and ask questions.
They’ve found these calls incredibly helpful for expectation setting, and great for team bonding even before the adventure starts.
Conduct a Pre-trip Screening
Trying to gauge a traveler’s readiness by demographics such as age or gender can be misleading. Some tour operators require guests to answer specific questions about their current activity level and experience before booking the trip, especially for more strenuous trips. For example, guests joining a challenging trek may be asked to share information about their hiking experience. Multi-sport trips may require a baseline physical fitness, but no prior experience in any of the specific activities.
At REI Adventures, guests go through a pre-screening process for every trip, according to Cynthia Dunbar, former general manager. They have a team member follow up with the guests as needed, to offer training guidance and educational support.
“Implementing this process helped improve overall trip satisfaction,” Dunbar says.
Questions to ask may include:
- How frequently have you been exercising over the past three months?
- What types of exercise do you do regularly, and for how long?
- Have you had any injuries that may impact your ability to enjoy this adventure?
Have a team member follow up with guests whose answers are vague or indicate they may not be on track to be ready for the trip’s activities. Just asking questions may help guests identify whether they want to seek additional support.
If a guest’s answers indicate they may not be a good fit for the adventure they’re interested in, suggesting a shorter or easier trip to start can help them have a great experience to build on for a more challenging trip in the future.
Offer Pre-trip Training and Support Resources
COVID-related restrictions, increased responsibilities at home, and stress wreaked havoc on peoples’ fitness routines, which some are still struggling to revive.
Several tour operators offer fitness guidelines, exercise suggestions and sample training plans on their websites. They range from basic advice (get out and walk more!) to more detailed guidance based on each trip’s itinerary. Any suggestions for increasing physical activity should include a note about checking with your doctor first.
Tour operators may further improve their guests’ experiences by offering them access to virtual personal training services that specialize in adventure travel preparation. Virtual fitness options have increased dramatically over the past few years to help people engage in more physical activity. During the pandemic, people became more accustomed to virtual classes, personal training, and coaching to work towards their fitness goals.
At a minimum, a personal training service provider should:
- Be certified by a respected organization (for example, ACSM, ACE, NASM, NSCA and ISSA).
- Customize training plans based on the guest’s fitness level and the trip’s itinerary.
- Have personal experience with adventure travel and/or prepared clients for adventure trips.
Ideally, training options should be shared soon after the trip is booked. Most travelers benefit from at least 3 months of specific pre-trip training. This gives the traveler time to gradually increase their strength and stamina before their departure.
Kimberly Daley, CEO of Daley & Company, brought on a virtual fitness service provider during her tenure with Abercrombie & Kent when they launched more challenging adventure trips, and again when she joined MT Sobek as their CEO.
“It becomes a part of giving the traveler everything they need to have an exceptional experience,” Daley says. It also frees up the tour company’s team members from answering questions that may be outside of their expertise.
Investing the time and effort to vet and educate guests about physical preparation in advance pays off when they show up at their destination. Prepared guests are more likely to return for more trips and recommend the tour operator to others.
About the Author
Becki Rupp, founder of Trailblazer Wellness, is certified personal trainer (ACSM) and adventure coach who prepares travelers for multi-day hiking and cycling trips, as well as multi-sport adventures. She provides customized training plans and one-on-one coaching.
Becki offers tour operators sample training plans, screening questions and webinars to help guests better prepare for their upcoming trips. She also pays tour operators a referral fee when their clients purchase a training + coaching package to prepare for their trip.
Becki has hiked, biked, sea kayaked and explored 40+ US states as well as several countries in Europe, Central America and South America. She guided sea kayak tours in the sounds and rivers of North Carolina and Virginia, and searched mountains and forests for missing people in five states as a member of wilderness search and rescue teams. She currently lives in the central Colorado mountains.