In June/July 2020, the Adventure Travel Trade Association (ATTA) surveyed U.S. consumers of ATTA adventure tour operator members to understand their sentiment, behavior and expectations amid COVID-19. Among notable findings, the U.S. Adventure Traveler Sentiment June/July 2020 report revealed that U.S. consumers of ATTA adventure tour operators are expected to resume near pre-COVID-19 level travel spending in 2021 — spending an estimated 7 percent less than their 2019 travel expenditure. In contrast, a report by Tourism Economics disclosed that U.S. travel market spending will not recover to 2019 levels until 2024. This finding indicates that adventure travelers will help drive tourism recovery especially for the hardest hit destinations with no real mass-market domestic tourism to soften the blow.

“It also validates the economic strength and resiliency of the packaged adventure travel market segment,” said Shannon Stowell, CEO at the Adventure Travel Trade Association. “While COVID-19 is a major factor influencing these adventure travelers’ decisions and behaviors today, it is encouraging to see that this market segment is ready to make an expedient recovery.”

ATTA underwent its research in partnership with ATTA tour operator members and received support from Euromonitor International and Twenty31 Consulting to compare and contrast results from this survey with the sentiment of general U.S. leisure travelers and consumers.

The report contains sentiments and opinions of nearly 500 adventure travelers from 42 U.S. states and findings indicate shifts in expected adventure travel behavior over the next 12 months. More than half (54 percent) of U.S. adventure travelers have a trip planned in the next six months (through November 2020) and most of them (70 percent) are traveling within the United States in a small group (<10 people) and by car, 100 plus miles from home. Safety is influencing consumers’ travel decisions.

“The ATTA survey findings are consistent with the patterns we are seeing in our ongoing tracking of general U.S. travel consumers where we have identified a segment of the population more likely to resume travel once travel restrictions are lifted. This segment, representing approximately 25 percent of the total travel population, is seeking immersive adventure and cultural experiences and will help drive tourism recovery,” said Joe Naaman, a Partner at Twenty31 Consulting in New York.

Though domestic travel will continue for the foreseeable future, 37 percent of U.S. adventure travelers intend to vacation abroad in the next six months (through November 2020) and more than half (53 percent) in 6-to-12 months (November 2020 through June 2021). For safe travel experiences in the next year, consumers agreed that they expect tour operators and guides to implement safety protocols, effectively train staff members, reengineer experiences with COVID-19 in mind, and adopt flexible cancellation and refund policies.

Safety-led approach to travel is a familiar concept to adventure travel businesses as they exercise safety and risk management plans year-round. To support the travel trade members in updating their existing plans as they prepare to welcome the returning traveler, ATTA has prepared COVID-19 Health and Safety Guidelines for ten adventure activities as well as an overarching guideline for the industry approved by industry leaders and Cleveland Clinic, a well-respected healthcare provider.

A key concern raised by environmental scientists and activists at the onset of COVID-19 was that sustainability and climate change conversations might take a backseat as the world moved toward shutdowns to address the immediate health crisis. However, ATTA research revealed that climate change is on top of adventure travelers’ minds as they look forward to traveling in the future. Two-thirds (66 percent) of adventure travelers ‘agreed’ or ‘strongly agreed’ that they are “worried about climate change” and the same number would “like it if” they knew that their “travel spending helped fight the climate crisis.” Also, compared to the general U.S. consumer, U.S. adventure travelers participate in daily green activities significantly more in everything ranging from recycling to reducing food waste to reducing plastics and energy use. The comparison data was generously supplied by Euromonitor International, a global market research firm, from their annual consumer lifestyles survey.

“As we look to rebuild the travel industry in a sustainable way and target visitors that bring higher value to communities, we should undoubtedly consider adventure travelers’ role in contributing positively to destinations’ sustainability and responsible tourism goals,” says Caroline Bremner, Head of Travel Research at Euromonitor International. “This market segment has a lot of potential value and the means to help drive recovery.”

The multi-topic 55-page U.S. Adventure Traveler Sentiment report is available here.

Photo courtesy Beaufort Kayak Tours