The adventure travel market has seen an average annual growth of 65 percent since 2009, according to a recent study. Get the inside scoop on who these travelers are and the kinds of trips they are seeking.

The 2013 Adventure Tourism Market Study suggests that adventure tourism is strong and growing. Destinations and businesses who understand the needs, preferences and behaviors of this segment will profit from the benefits the adventure market can bring.

The Study

The 2013 Adventure Tourism Market Study was produced through a collaboration of The George Washington University (GW) and the Adventure Travel Trade Association (ATTA). It estimates the value of the majority of the adventure travel market and provides an updated profile since the last study released in 2010. This study is especially useful for destination management organizations, tourism offices and tour operators.

The study surveyed 838 international travelers from Europe, North America and South America. These three regions account for 69 percent of overall international departures.

Hard vs. Soft Adventure

Table 1

Chart A

Respondents were asked to choose the main activity of their last trip, then each activity was categorized as “hard adventure,” “soft adventure” or “non-adventure,” based on previous research in the market. See Chart A.

Chart B shows the 2012 percentage of international travelers classified as “hard adventure,” “soft adventure” or “other” travelers. From a regional perspective, most of the growth in adventure travelers came from Europe and South America.

Key Findings:

  • In 2012, 41.9 percent of travelers from the three regions—compared to 26.3 percent in 2009—reported an adventure activity as the main activity of their last trip.
  • This growth is driven by an increase in international tourism departures, increase in percentage of European and South American travelers classified as adventure travelers, and increase in average spending of adventure travelers from all three regions.

The adventure travel market is worth $263 billion, compared to $89 billion in 2009, resulting in the market having an average yearly growth of 65 percent.

Chart B

Chart B

The Inside Scoop on Adventure Travelers

Only 12 percent of adventure travelers travel alone, while the rest travel with groups, families or significant others.

Adventure travelers (45 percent) are more likely than non-adventure travelers (31 percent) to use professional services such as guides, instructors and tour operators. It is more likely for adventure travelers over the age of 46 to use professional services. The study discussed how the higher use of professional services could reflect both the need for training and special equipment as well as people searching for assistance when trying new adventure activities.

“This would reinforce the growth in the adventure market and provide opportunities for operators and guides who can attract and convert non-adventure travelers who may be open to new experiences,” the report concluded.

Fifty-seven percent of travelers are male, and 48 percent are single/never married.

Chart C

Chart C

The average income level of adventure travelers is $46,800. On average, adventure traveler per-trip spending increased from $593 in 2009 to $947 in 2012, a yearly increase of nearly 20 percent. This increase is likely due in part to a partial recovery from the global recession of 2009. Longer trips may also contribute to higher spending. The average length of an adventure trip was 10 days. See Chart C.

Adventure travelers are younger than non-adventure travelers, averaging age 36. The average age of a non-adventure traveler is 41.

Adventure travelers cited the following (in no particular order) as most important to their travel experiences: relaxation, exploring new places, time with family and learning about different cultures. This suggests similar motivations for travel between adventure and non-adventure travelers. In regard to choosing a destination, adventure travelers ranked natural beauty as the most important factor, followed by activities available and climate.

Adventure travelers value international travel, with 71 percent having a valid passport.

Chart D

Chart D

Adventure travelers are more likely than non-adventure travelers to prepare for a trip prior to departing (12 percent of adventure travelers did not plan ahead, compared to 23 percent of non-adventure travelers). The top two planning methods of adventure travelers were online research and consulting friends and family.

Adventure travelers recommend, review and discuss trips on social media (78 percent of adventure travelers use Facebook). The graph shows the top 10 social media networks among adventure travelers. See Chart E. Only two percent of South American adventure travelers and more than 10 percent of both European and North American adventure travelers did not belong to any social media site.

Chart E

Chart E

Eighty-one percent of adventure travelers said they were likely or very likely to recommend trips to friends and family. Thirty-nine percent of adventure travelers would recommend a trip via social media, compared to only 23 percent of non-adventure travelers.

Eighteen percent of adventure travelers would recommend a trip by posting reviews on travel websites, compared to only eight percent of non-adventure travelers.

The report emphasizes the necessity of maintaining a strong web presence and online marketing strategy.

The Future

Two factors have resulted in the large increase in market size over the past three years; consumers demanded a more thrilling experience, and destinations quickly adapted to meet this demand. The study actually predicts this growth to slow and reach a plateau in 2020 for the three regions surveyed.

However, new market sources for international travel could have a significant impact on the future in adventure tourism. The number of adventure travelers from South America is quickly increasing, and tourism markets are emerging in China, India and South Korea.

Nearly 54 percent of international travelers plan to participate in an adventure activity on their next trip, compared to the 42 percent of travelers currently classified as adventure travelers (most of this increase in interest comes from soft adventure activities). Furthermore, 36 percent of current non-travelers plan to participate in an adventure activity on their next trip, demonstrating a willingness of non-adventure travelers to try adventure activities. This could lead to continued growth in the market as well as sales potential in converting non-adventure travelers.

While 73 percent of adventure travelers plan on participating in an adventure activity on their next trip, only 22 percent plan on doing the same activity as their last trip. This shows the importance of constantly offering new and varied activities.

As more travelers participate in adventure activities, the adventure market is becoming integrated with the travel market as a whole, which will force innovations in the market that continue to push the bounds of excitement, challenge and originality.

Why You Should Care

Adventure tourism has grown both in absolute market and as a percentage of the overall travel market. Growth in the adventure travel market may attract the attention of other tourism businesses such as hotels, attractions and transportation providers.

More and more travelers are no longer satisfied with just sitting on a beach or shopping. They seek adventurous experiences that highlight a destination’s natural and cultural assets. Destinations and businesses that can provide travelers with these experiences will see success in this market.

To see the full report, visit