Sometimes to better understand customers, you have to see them as they see themselves. More and more, travelers have shed the stereotypical image of a “tourist” as something straight out of the last century.
What might come to mind is the family station wagon packed to the gills and headed for Jellystone Park with the kid’s hoping Yogi Bear and Boo Boo will steal their picnic basket. Or you might envision Chevy Chase as Clark Griswold and family starring in the movie “Family Vacation.” Those are tourists.
Many of today’s travelers are adventure bound, and see themselves as “explorers,” thus creating a new category called “adventure travel.” The Travel Industry Association of America reports that 98 million Americans already have engaged in adventure travel. No longer considered a micro-niche, the size of this market segment has caught the attention of major hotel chains, airlines and even Disney resorts – all businesses that have created vacation packages that include a range of adventuresome activities.
The cruise industry has also quickly adapted to this rapidly growing and profitable segment with new cruise products. Where ships once sailed only for scientific expeditions, now they sail as adventure cruises to places like the Galapagos Islands, jungles of Central America, remote islands in the South Pacific and Antarctica. Floating around in the Caribbean and all-you-can-eat buffets are for tourists.
Adventure travelers plan their vacations around 100-mile bicycle tours, ultra-marathons, ice climbing and wilderness trekking. Last month, I attended a tourism conference in Moab coincidently during their 49th annual Jeep Safari. More than 4,000 rock-hopping, four-wheel contraptions were crisscrossing the desert and attempting to drive over boulders the size of houses. Eck! The event also filled every motel room, restaurant and shop in town. Adventure travel is good business.
The three elements that define “adventure travel” are a cultural exchange, some physical undertaking and relating with nature. And who are these adventure seeking explorers? These are not unwashed backpackers traveling on shoestring budgets. These are well-educated professionals, families, romantic couples and sports-minded people, often in their mid-30s. Not counting travel expenses, they’ll spend $500 to $800 per trip, plus the price of maintaining their toys.
Southwest Colorado benefits from growing interest in adventure travel because of our many historical and cultural assets, abundance of outdoor recreational options, and easy access to both mountain and desert. We promote our backcountry tours, river guides and raft trips, forest campgrounds, national parks and monuments, zip lines, road bike events and extensive mountain bike trails. Our proximity to wilderness areas and Native American cultural attractions are of growing interest – especially to international adventurers.
So whether your idea of a controlled wilderness experience is a kayak run down a raging river canyon or just opening your hotel window at Purgatory Lodge and inhaling some fresh mountain air, it’s OK to shed the tourist label. Go ahead and let loose, you beastly explorer you.
firstname.lastname@example.org. Bob Kunkel is executive director of the Durango Area Tourism Office.