Key Points from Caribbean Week on Adventure Travel

Horseback riding is one of the experiences your clients can enjoy in the Caribbean.
Horseback riding is one of the experiences your clients can enjoy in the Caribbean.

Are your clients ready for an adventure in the Caribbean? If so, they’re in the majority, according to extensive research conducted by the Adventure Travel Trade Association (ATTA). That’s such a sea change from the old sun-and-surf-and-rum idea that the Caribbean Tourism Organization asked Shannon Stowell, president of ATTA, to offer a seminar for travel agents at the June 2-6 Caribbean Week. For tips on how you can better deliver adventure, aka experiential travel, look for Recommend magazine’s July issue. Meanwhile, here’s a peek at some of the findings:

  • “Don’t get too hung up on the term ‘adventure,’ warns Stowell. “Consumers apply the word to almost any interaction with the environment, physical activity, or cultural exchange—pretty accessible activities for the most part.”
  • “Luxury travel is leaning more and more toward adventure travel, and vice versa.” Also, “adventure” travel increasingly means day trips by travelers staying in very comfortable hotels.

The following findings are preliminary, but the sample sizes were so large that attention must be paid:

  • 24 percent of American travelers are classified as “grazers,” people who will take a few off-property excursions (e.g. snorkeling cruises, island tours, rum tastings…).
  • 20 percent are “adventurers” who choose destinations precisely because they offer diving, hiking, birding, plantation tours, etc.
  • 7.5 percent are “enthusiasts” who will devote an entire vacation to surfing, diving, or some other passion.
  • Only 34 percent of U.S. travelers are “pure mass travelers”—that is, people who are not interested in venturing off property.
  • The most rapid area of growth is in customized “adventures” often involving soft adventure and/or cultural activities. This is big with family groups.
  • The only area of adventure/experiential travel that has shown a (slight) decline is voluntourism.
  • As recently as 2007, only a minority of tourism boards were promoting adventure tourism. Now, just seven years later, almost all of them are. (To that end, Grenada recently rebranded its image; Anguilla will do so shortly, too.)
  • Clients want more adventure tourism, and not just in the Caribbean, but in almost every region of the world.
  • The average true adventure trip lasts more than a week and costs $3,000 pp. The vast majority of travel agents report an increase in such bookings, especially soft adventure trips.
  • The majority of tour operators who offer experiential travel now work with agents, and those who don’t, want to. Curiously, many bookings for these trips (e.g. birding, diving, cooking) are arranged by phone rather than online, which figures, because clients do have questions. Still, Stowell would like to see tour operators and agents improve at working with each other. “The ballroom is here and the music’s playing, but some people are still standing awkwardly against the wall.”

Challenges and opportunities peculiar to the Caribbean?

1. Adventure tourism in this region is not yet well understood by sellers and buyers. Google search  “adventure travel” in the Caribbean, said Stowell, “and you get results like poker tournaments.”

2. Health and safety are issues, both real and imagined.

3. The product still feels activity based, but clients do not only want a morning of ziplining; they want a holistic experience.

4. There is an opportunity to innovate, to offer new activities like coasteering. Says Stowell, “This is pioneer time.”