Tourism isn’t what it used to be. Recently, the traditional tourism market has been overturned by a new player in the industry: adventure tourism. The classic sightseeing trips and tropical beach vacations are being replaced with higher-risk adventure activities such as skydiving, rock climbing, and diving.
What is adventure tourism?
Defined by the Adventure Travel Trade Association as a trip involving “connection with nature, interaction with culture, and physical activity”, adventure tourism includes activities such as hiking, rafting, skydiving, rock/mountain climbing, surfing, bungee jumping, paragliding, and kayaking.
There are an estimated 3 million dives annually in the United States alone. There are over 200,000 registered paraglider pilots worldwide, and that number continues to grow quickly. Bungee jumping is also a popular activity among thrill seekers, with thousands of jumps every year.
According to the Global Report on Adventure Tourism by the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), adventure tourism was valued at $263 billion in 2012, with an estimated growth rate of 65% since 2009. When combined with the estimated $82 billion spent on adventure sports gear and accessories, the total revenue generated by adventure travel industry sums up to $345 billion in 2012.
By 2016, the global adventure tourism market was valued at nearly $445 billion. The Global Adventure Tourism Market research report predicts the global adventure tourism market to grow at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of more than 46% by the year 2020.
While in the past, the adventure travel industry serviced mostly Western visitors, emerging markets, especially in China and Asia, are expected to take the wheel over the next decade. The Asia-Pacific region has the highest tourism growth rate, with a forecast of 19% CAGR over the next five years.
Why adventure tourism?
Adrenaline rushes are sudden bursts of energy, results from increased heart rate, blood pressure, and metabolism, usually triggered during stressful situations. The stress hormone, epinephrine, is released to prepare the body for a “fight-or-flight response”.
These rushes can heighten senses, increase concentration and focus, boost physical strength, as well as improve pain tolerance and immune system performance. The health benefits can also last in the long run; adrenaline can slow aging by increasing antioxidants in the system.
A study by Sports Medicine Open argues that adventure & action sports are not only good for the momentary thrill. Research suggests that these activities are meaningful and life-enhancing, with long-term psychological and physical benefits. They provide the opportunity to overcome challenges and fears, build resilience, be active, feel connected to nature, and experience intense emotions.
Future of adventure travel?
Progress is inevitable. Down the road, newer inventions like jet packs could open up an unprecedented world of possibilities for adventure sports.
Developments in technology, for example robot testing and experimentation, also have the potential to make extreme sports such as bungee jumping and skydiving even safer for participants.
This reduction of the physical risk factor, one of the main deterrents to those considering trying these thrilling activities, could possibly help to eliminate the fear-factor surrounding adventure sports. In the future, activities like paragliding could become as popular as soccer or basketball.
As the UNWTO Secretary-General said at the 2012 Adventure Travel World Summit, “Adventure tourism is what tourism should be today and definitely what tourism will be tomorrow.”