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You’ve crafted the dream itinerary. The destination rocks. Your guides are awesome. But is there still an essential ingredient missing in your adventure formula?
You may view tour planning and guest fitness as separate issues, not part of an integrated system. Both are important, of course, but does a fitness program need to be part of your adventure formula? Through his company, Fit for Trips, professional trainer and adventure enthusiast, Marcus Shapiro, provides comprehensive but simple trip-specific fitness programs. He spoke recently with ATTA about why it is important for adventure travel tour operators to advocate for physical preparedness.
ATTA: First and foremost, why is addressing guest fitness important?
Marcus Shapiro: Travelers truly are interested in pre-departure fitness programs according to proprietary market research conducted by Fit for Trips. The survey, issued in February of 2008 involved paddling, biking and hiking enthusiasts (adventure travel partner clients at three leading operators). The survey asked:
Q: The next time you book an adventure travel trip, would you want available a specific pre-trip workout program targeted to the activities included in your itinerary?
- Yes 63%
- Maybe/Not Sure 26%
- Total: 89%
Your best effort as a tour operator merely creates the potential for your client to have a memorable experience. But it is not until your client begins to walk, pedal or paddle that that potential is realized. Only if guests are energetic, engaged and fit for the activities in their itinerary will they have the best possible adventure travel experience. The full possibility might be realized only after they reach the summit at 19,000-feet, hike for 5 hours, begin the rafting trip of a lifetime, or simply remain alert enough to completely enjoy immersion into a foreign culture. If their trip includes physical challenge (i.e., climbing a cliffside set of stairs, biking up a mile steep hill, or paddling river rapids) they must be fit enough to overcome and move on. Skilled guides and the client perseverance can help travelers persist thru challenging days, but sometimes not without compromising either the clients’ or other group members’ experience.
ATTA: Most adventure travel tour operators understand the value fitness brings to helping guests maximize their travel experience but may feel awkward broaching the subject with potential guests. Any suggestions for them?
Shapiro: Our research reveals that many adventure travelers already work out. Ninety-five percent of those we surveyed responded that staying fit was important to them and 97% indicated that they would take a vacation to meet a physical challenge they were training for. So it’s natural to address fitness at some point in the booking experience. Just because travelers have not expected tour operators to provide fitness advice, doesn’t mean they wouldn’t appreciate it. By offering your guests trip-specific pre-departure fitness programs, you not only enhance your service but also help guests maximize their experience.
In some cases, I believe, it’s a tour operator’s obligation to mention that a general fitness program may not be sufficient to climb Kilimanjaro, for example, or for cycling steep grades. A long distance runner, no matter how fit, will not fully enjoy a multi-day cycling trip without proper training. And even if a general fitness program were enough, wouldn’t a trip-specific training program be better?
In a perfect world everyone would be fit for the trip before departure. In the real world they may need some help.
ATTA: So when is the best time for a tour operator to offer fitness advice or recommend an add-on program?
Shapiro: If you are a hard adventure company, I suggest you address it in the booking process and on the website. If you want to expand the client base to those not quite in shape, you should let clients know that they can get fit for your trips and tell them how, or where to get the information.
If you provide soft adventure itineraries, you could provide the information after the booking if you’re concerned that that by discussing fitness up front travelers may infer that your trips will be too physically demanding. Or, if you feel a traveler is hesitant to book because of their fitness level, or lack thereof, wouldn’t it be nice to be able to offer them a way to go from out-of-shape to their dream vacation? I see offering fitness information and add-on programs as the ultimate adventure travel win-win.
ATTA: How do you recommend tour operators provide fitness advice and information to their guests?
Shapiro: The current business model provides such a high level of service and support, that there isn’t much that the traveler has to sort out on their own. With the exception of a fitness program, almost everything that will enhance the travelers’ experience from recommended reading lists to travel insurance and visa requirements is mentioned on the phone, website or included in the pre-departure packet.
It’s probably not the Last Frontier (there are always ways to improve) but I believe comprehensive fitness advice should become a part of every tour operator’s adventure formula. Currently, very few tour operators provide customized fitness information. Some use Fit for Trips as a turnkey solution. Others provide general advice (i.e. perform the Stairmaster 3 times per week for forty-five minutes), but many recommend nothing.
There are plenty of excellent resources – books, websites, TV programs, etc. – to help people get fit. The book Conditioning for Outdoor Fitness by Mark Pierce and David Musnick, for example, addresses most of the activities included in adventure travel trips.
If it’s a personal trainer they’re looking for, some of the most qualified trainers and conditioning coaches can be found on the National Strength and Conditioning Association website www.nsca-lift.org (‘Find a Personal Trainer’ feature far right column). Tour operators could help by providing trainers with trip details such as daily mileage, terrain, altitude, pack weight, etc.
Or, of course, there’s Fit for Trips, a trip-specific program created to help adventure travel companies offer fitness solutions under their own brand, unique to their trips, their guest needs, their itineraries.
Bottom line: incorporate fitness into your adventure formula and you’ll:
- Increase guest enjoyment with higher energy levels for long days of exploring and learning.
- Enable travelers’ to opt-up to more physically demanding and rewarding experiences.
- Build activity-specific strength and endurance.
- Help active travelers experience less discomfort and pain from overexertion.
- Reduce trip injuries.
- Increased loyalty among clients from higher levels of customer service.
- Reduced costs and operational requirements (e.g. eliminates guides having to sometimes split up groups of clients because some have insufficient levels of fitness).
- And, make it easier for travelers to enjoy the itinerary exactly as you have crafted it.
About Fit for Trips
Fit for Trips strongly relies on travel provider partnerships. Partners refer clients; the Fit for Trips staff reviews the itineraries, and then creates programs so the travelers can physically prepare for the activities on their trip. This dedication to improving the physical fitness of adventure travelers worldwide has allowed Fit for Trips to create pre-departure fitness programs for tour operators that have been recognized as some of the “Best Adventure Travel Companies on Earth” by National Geographic Adventure Magazine. Fit for Trips partners with travel agents and tour operators to provide pre-departure fitness programs for clients wanting to be in the optimal physical condition possible to have the best active trip possible.