IFC/World Bank Group and ATTA New Traveler Research Confirms Trends in Adventure Traveler Preferences and U.S. Adventure Market Size

3 October 2019

(Seattle, Washington, USA; October 3, 2019) - In partnership with the International Finance Corporation (IFC)/World Bank Group, the Adventure Travel Trade Association (ATTA) released new data on the size of the U.S. and Australian international adventure travel outbound market and the preferences and behaviors of these unique travelers. A key finding in this research study is the importance of cultural connection and interaction with locals in distinguishing adventure travel experiences from other types of mainstream travel.

The IFC/World Bank Group commissioned the study, Shaping the Future of Adventure and Cultural Travel, to develop a detailed profile of international U.S. and Australian adventure and cultural travelers as part of a larger effort to develop and market the travel economy of the Pacific islands of Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands, Vanuatu, and Fiji. A total of 2,514 international outbound travel consumers from the United States (1,239) and Australia (1,275) were surveyed using an online quantitative survey methodology between 30 April and 17 May 2019. The results are statistically representative of the total adult (18+) online outbound travel populations in each of the two study countries.

“Cultural interactions and learning have always been an important element of the overall travel experience that differentiates adventure travel from the broader market,” said Christina Beckmann, the ATTA’s senior director for strategy and impact, who led the study for the ATTA along with market research partner Oliver Martin, a partner at Twenty31 Consulting. “Retailers marketing and selling food, clothes, furniture — you name it — have been focusing on the overall customer experience for the last two to three years. In the travel and tourism industry, we’re seeing more consumers drawn to what we define as ‘adventure travel’ because of how it combines both active and cultural elements to deliver distinctive experiences,” she said.

“This study is part of IFC’s larger efforts to leverage tourism as a tool for economic development in the Pacific Islands of Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands, Vanuatu, and Fiji,” said Jessie McComb, a tourism specialist at IFC. “Understanding the motivations and desires behind travelers from the U.S. and Australia will help tourism operators better develop products to attract those travelers to the Pacific. The reality is attracting travelers from these high-spending markets means more tourists, greater tourism revenue for operators and countries, and more job opportunities for people.”

Emerging from the study are three primary traveler segments — Experience Samplers, Cultural Explorers, and Adventure Intensives — with a combined market value (U.S. and Australia) of $108.4 billion USD. The U.S. outbound portion of the market is estimated at $96 billion USD; the Australian outbound portion is estimated at $12.4 billion USD.

Taken in context with the ATTA’s previous estimate of adventure travel spending from mature outbound adventure travel markets at $683 billion USD, the U.S. market represents approximately 14% of this spending. Martin observed that, while there are myriad market sizing valuations for adventure travel spending with some estimates as high as $1.1 trillion USD, there has been little consistency in how researchers define adventure travel, resulting in widely ranging market estimations. “The work we developed for the IFC/World Bank Group in partnership with the ATTA builds on the ATTA’s previous definitions of adventure travel and basic principles for capturing whether an international outbound trip is ‘adventure’ or not,” he said. “Although this study probed more deeply the cultural component and its prioritization with travelers, there is enough consistency in how we define the international outbound adventure traveler between studies to allow us to confidently estimate the U.S. and Australian international outbound market size.”

Examining the motivations and activity preferences of the three segments highlights the fact that even the most conservative of the market segments still wants to push the boundaries while on an international vacation. This reinforces a theory of adventure travel diffusing into the mainstream travel market presented by ATTA in the past. “What we found in 2015, with the Adventure Grazers, Adventurers, and Enthusiasts segments, was that, although the segments differed in terms of their skill levels and frequency with which they engaged in adventure travel, there was an element of ‘adventure’ in 66% of U.S. travelers’ trips,” Beckmann said, referring to the analysis of U.S. adventure travel segments led by Dr. Philippe Duverger of Towson University in 2014, which served as a baseline for the IFC/World Bank Group study.

A summary of the three segments developed through the most recent research is provided below:

Experience Samplers are mainly women in two age categories: 18-24 and 45-54. They are united in a desire to learn new things when they travel and motivated by having interesting, new experiences. This group has a complex relationship with risk; on one hand they say they want to get the most out of life and take risks, while on the other hand they say they would not undertake so-called “hard” adventure activities requiring specific skills or that are inherently risky, such as rock climbing.

This group is thought to be about 8% of the U.S. population, worth $32.2 billion USD. U.S. Experience Samplers spend approximately $1,800 USD per trip (including flights, excluding gear). In Australia they make up approximately 12% of the population and are worth $5.1 billions USD. Australian Experience Samplers spend $2,300 USD per trip (including flights, excluding gear).

Cultural Explorers are older travelers (55+ years old) and skew slightly more male. They are the most interested in engagement with cultural experiences and enriching their knowledge out of the three segments, looking for destinations where the culture and lifestyle are different from their own. Unlike Experience Samplers and Adventure Intensives, a language barrier will not deter them from traveling far and wide.

This group is thought to be about 4% of the U.S. population, worth $23.8 billion USD. U.S. Cultural Explorers spend $2,800 USD per trip. In Australia they make up approximately 6% of the population and are worth $2.5 billion USD. Australian Cultural Explorers spend $2,600 USD per trip.

Adventure Intensives are in the 25-44 age range and slightly more male in the U.S. and Australia. They are the most adventurous of the three segments and say they’re willing to endure some discomfort for an interesting experience. Unlike Experience Samplers or Cultural Explorers, they also say they like to push their limits and feel that winning is very important. They actively seek out destinations where cultures and lifestyles are different from their own.

This group is thought to be about 7% of the U.S. population, worth $40 billion USD. They spend approximately $2,600 USD per trip. In Australia they make up approximately 11% of the population and are worth $4.8 billion USD, spending approximately $2,600 USD per trip.

Shaping the Future of Adventure and Cultural Travel provides a narrower segmentation than past ATTA studies of U.S.-based adventure travelers by excluding travelers for whom adventure travel was only a secondary motivation for a trip and specifying more closely what constitutes a cultural traveler. However the essential characteristics of the segments are consistent with ATTA’s previous profiling of U.S.-based adventure travelers, reinforcing the idea that a combination of nature, culture, and activity are necessary to appeal to the modern, experience-seeking traveler.

For destination developers and managers, marketers, and tour operators, a key takeaway from this research is that adventure travel is not separate from cultural travel as many have approached it in the past. Looking across the three segments reveals that people who tend to emphasize cultural activities while on holiday will also still engage in soft adventure, particularly backpacking/hiking and camping. The leading travelers of today and tomorrow are looking for differentiated, special experiences, and the best way to deliver that is to blend active adventure elements with the cultural elements.

IFC's work in the Pacific is guided by the Pacific Partnership. Australia, New Zealand, and IFC are working together through the partnership to promote sustainable economic development, reduce poverty, and stimulate private sector investment in the Pacific.

Download your free copy of the report here.


About Adventure Travel Trade Association
Established in 1990, the Adventure Travel Trade Association (ATTA) today is widely recognized as a vital leadership voice and partner for the adventure travel industry around the world.

Membership + Trade
The membership and trade organization is designed to be a force for the industry and exists to drive thought leadership, industry promotion, and opportunities to network and convene globally to create trade and business health. It currently serves more than 1,300 member organizations in 100 countries worldwide. The constituency is made up of tour operators, tourism boards, specialty agents, and accommodations all sharing a vested interest in the sustainable development of adventure tourism.

Adventure 360 - Business Services + Events
Through its growing business services division, the ATTA delivers a portfolio of strategic solutions and a robust ecosystem of events around the globe. Those events include AdventureNEXT which focuses on regional promotion and partnerships; AdventureELEVATE a North American-based educational conference; and the premiere adventure travel global conference, the Adventure Travel World Summit. With specialized expertise in research, events, education, media, and promotion, the ATTA business service division is able to provide valuable solutions to a broad set of partners across many verticals of business.

Adventure Travel Conservation Fund
In 2016 the ATTA partnered with other leaders from the adventure travel industry to start the Adventure Travel Conservation Fund (ATCF), a nonprofit that provides funding, connections and an international spotlight on projects that protect the cultural and natural resources which underpin the adventure tourism industry. 100% of membership dues go towards funding these international projects. Each year members nominate projects, which are then vetted and finally voted upon by the ATCF membership.

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