© ATTA / Hassen Salum - AN Jordan 2023

New Adventure Travel Development Index (ATDI) Coming in 2024

22 November 2023

First launched in 2008, the Adventure Tourism Development Index (ATDI) is a global ranking to assess the competitiveness and potential of adventure tourism in more than 190 countries. The index was developed in partnership by the Adventure Travel Trade Association (ATTA) and George Washington University International Institute of Tourism Studies (GW IITS). 

Christina Beckmann, head of Tomorrow’s Air, initiated the ATDI based on experiences and observations she had with her consulting teams on adventure tourism development projects in Latin America, Asia and Europe. 

“We were lucky to be able to interest the ATTA in spearheading the index, and to team up George Washington University to identify the sources and develop the ranking system needed to bring it to life,” she said. “We wanted to show, through a set of reliable quantitative indicators – in addition to survey data – the potential for tourism success in places where it often was not considered a viable development strategy.”

A key aspect of the ATDI is that it takes a holistic perspective of competitiveness, gathering data across 10 pillars, which are described below. Due to the widely acknowledged importance of sustainability in travel, a primary goal of the ATDI has evolved to collect the most comprehensive information available about sustainable practices for destinations. Because of this increased spotlight on sustainability and the growing need to mitigate the potential negative impacts of adventure travel – such as overtourism, climate impact, environmental degradation, and social erosion – the ATTA and GWU have taken time to reflect and revise the ATDI pillars for 2024. 

The goal of the ATDI is to encourage and facilitate sustainable tourism development. It does not  predict trends, nor is it a reflection of a destination’s current popularity among travelers; annual visitation numbers and tourism revenue are not included in the scoring system. Since 2008, the tool has been used by tourism planners in countries around the world as a resource for strategic planning. The ATDI report is useful for private sector players and others in the adventure industry as well as government planning agencies. In addition to insights for strategic planning, the ATDI’s indicators help promote best practices and highlight addressing areas where there is opportunity for improvement, and examining destination resiliency. 

ATDI From 2008-2020

From 2008-2020, the ATDI reports used 10 categories to rank countries on adventure tourism competitiveness:

  1. Sustainable Development Policy: Government policies that support and foster sustainable and rural tourism development are crucial to adventure tourism market competitiveness because they safeguard the destination's natural, heritage, and cultural resources and provide a positive investment climate for the private sector. When public and private sector actions are coordinated, the private sector flourishes, attracting investment and development to a region.
  2. Safety & Security: Do adventure operators provide for the safety of travelers, and do facilities exist to cope with travel-related injuries? For example, in destinations where scuba diving is a popular draw, do hyperbaric chamber facilities for decompression exist? In destinations where mountaineering is prevalent, are rescue operations available? Do guides have first-aid training? Generally, does the client safety offered meet internationally accepted standards?
  3. Health: A healthy local population is more likely to be able to foster and nurture new businesses, and to care for its resources responsibly. Countries where healthcare is readily available are better able to support adventure travelers.
  4. Natural Resources: Adventure travelers want untrammeled and well-managed natural resources. Destinations with unusual or rare natural resources, which are well-managed and not exploited, will earn high praise from adventure travelers and sustained market competitiveness.
  5. Cultural Resources: Adventure travelers are as keen to learn about new cultures as they are to explore nature. For the adventure traveler, being able to experience local culture authentically is a sought-after outcome of the travel investment.
  6. Adventure Activity Resources: Destinations with resources lending themselves to the development of a particular sport, for example, cliffs excellent for ice climbing, or forests with a wealth of bird species, may find themselves with a market opportunity and sustained competitive advantage.
  7. Entrepreneurship: An adventure market's vitality and strength originate from pioneering businesses with unusual offerings that would seem to appeal only to a small subset of niche enthusiasts. Given this reality, destinations in which entrepreneurship in the business sector is thriving are more likely to become competitive in the adventure travel market.
  8. Humanitarian: Human development is an essential component of adventure travel– the presence of basic services such as sanitation for example, and the potential for blended adventure and volunteering trips. 
  9. Tourism Infrastructure: Adventure travelers, unlike mainstream package tourists, are frequently less sensitive to deficiencies in hard infrastructure, but perhaps more sensitive than other travelers when it comes to conservation and soft tourism infrastructure. While hard infrastructure may take substantial capital investment and years to develop, sometimes the soft infrastructure required by adventure travelers can be developed with comparatively little capital outlay.
  10. Adventure Image/Brand: A destination's image can be one of the most malleable aspects of market competitiveness. Image is also important in guiding and influencing sustainable market development; sustainability and adventure opportunities will attract travelers who value these aspects.

To assess and rate destinations in each pillar, a collection of indicators are used. This information comes from a blend of expert industry opinions and data gathered from interna­tional indices such as the World Bank’s Doing Business Index, Yale University’s Environmental Performance Index, and others. It also considers data by countries for factors such as percent of forest and grasslands, growth/decline of protected species, gross domestic product (GDP), and population density statistics.

ATDI in a Post-Pandemic World

While all of the above are still important factors in any adventure destination, global priorities have shifted since the onset of COVID-19, which occurred at the same time the 2020 ATDI report was published. More than ever, travelers are seeking out nature-based, adventure activities when they travel, with current trends forecasting continued growth as the tourism sector recovers from the impacts of COVID-19.

In addition to sustainable development, the ATDI can be used as a tool for destinations to examine their resiliency. This application is increasingly relevant in the face of climate change, more frequent natural disasters, and the threat of public health crises.

Since the last report, new data sources have also become available to better inform the individual indicators that comprise the pillars. This has created a prime opportunity for ATTA and GW ITTS to collaborate on improving the report and ranking system for 2024. 

The 2024 Adventure Travel Destination Index (ATDI) report is currently in development and is expected to be released in early 2024. ADTI reports are free to download for all ATTA community, professional, and business members. The most recent report from 2020 can be viewed here.

In addition to the comprehensive overview report, individual countries also have the option to learn how vital trends in the adventure travel industry affect their specific destination using data from this annual ranking. It is possible to request a custom report that dives deep to show how a destination fares regarding new trends, as well as how it compares to others. For more information about custom reports, contact ATTA’s research department at [email protected].