Tourism is one of the most rapidly growing sectors in the world and adventure tourism is one of its fastest-growing categories. Increasingly, countries in all stages of economic development are prioritising adventure tourism over mass tourism for market growth. They recognise its potential for ecological, cultural, and economic value.

But what really is adventure tourism? According to the Adventure Travel Trade Association (ATTA), a global body of adventure tourism sector stakeholders, adventure tourism is a trip that includes at least two of the following three elements: physical activity, natural environment, and cultural immersion. ATTA’s membership includes destinations, operators, agents, outdoor equipment and apparel brands and NGOs.

This holistic nature of adventure tourism has itself endeared to many countries and it is high time Kenya embraced the trend for the following 4 reasons:

1. Adventure Tourism is Resilient

Adventure tourists are passionate and risk-taking. A study of the profiles of travellers in the USA indicates interest in destinations that have previously suffered significant commercial tourism setbacks due to natural and political events, such as Haiti, Rwanda, and Japan.

The Adventure Travel Trade Association reports that adventure tourism operators routinely offer itineraries in places such as Colombia, North Korea, Iran, Rwanda, and other destinations recovering from environmental and political stress, making these destinations accessible to travellers seeking off-the-beaten-path and authentic travel experiences.

2. It Attracts High-Value Customers

Adventure tourists are willing to pay a premium for exciting and authentic experiences. Adventure operators have reported an average of USD 3,000.00 spent per person, with an average trip length of 8 days. Trip costs vary based on length, luxury and activity levels, destinations and distance from a traveller’s starting point to the trip destination.

3. It Supports Local Economies

The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) observes that in most all-inclusive mass tourism package tours, about 80% of travellers’ expenditures (also known as leakage) go to airlines, hotels and other international companies.

Because these companies, most often, have their headquarters in the travellers’ home countries, the local businesses or workers do not benefit. To put this into perspective, for every USD 100.00 spent on a vacation tour by a tourist from a developed country, only around USD 5.00 actually stays in a developing destination’s economy.

According to UNEP, tourism leakage is estimated to be 40% in India, 70% in Thailand, and 80% in Caribbean countries due to factors such as foreign-owned operators, airlines, hotels, and imported food and products.

With adventure tourism, on the other hand, the scenario changes drastically. In a recent 2014 industry snapshot by ATTA, the adventure tour operators polled estimated that up to 66% of the total trip cost from an adventure package remains in the destination visited.

4. It Encourages Sustainable Practices

Adventure tourism practitioners and policy-makers adhere to sustainable environmental practices. This is because they know that without pristine natural environments and meaningful cultural experiences, their destination would lose its competitiveness and tourists would go somewhere else.

These 4 reasons are at the heart of the ongoing global move toward adventure tourism. Adventure Tourism grows more vibrant every day. New variants routinely to the possible experiences for both domestic and international tourists emerge every other day.

Origin, Shape and Size

The market for adventure tourism mainly originates from Europe, North America and South America which together comprise 69% of international travel departures – that is over USD 263 billion in adventure travel expenditures!

UNWTO says most adventure travel companies are small, owner-operated businesses led by entrepreneurs with a passion to share their favourite places with others and that is what makes it so much more exciting. Have you been on an adventure lately?

Although an adventure trip requires only two of these components to be complete, evidence shows incorporating all three tends to afford tourists the fullest adventure travel experience, for example, a trip to Kenya’s South Rift that involves trekking (physical activity) through the picturesque Rift Valley (natural environment) while interacting with local residents and/or indigenous peoples (cultural immersion).

Adventure Tourism is Old

Surprisingly, despite the hype around it, adventure travel in and of itself is not that new. The practice has actually been around for hundreds of years and it was done for scientific, geographic or colonial reasons. Whenever one thought of adventure tourism a few decades ago, iconic names like Marco Polo, Captain James Cook and David Livingstone would come to mind.

In the mid-1800s, adventurers began to push the limits of mountain climbing and river rafting. This interest in such activities led to the founding of the National Geographic Society in 1888 to ‘increase and diffuse geographic knowledge’ and the Explorers Club later in 1904 to ‘promote the scientific exploration of land, sea, air, and space’. Both institutions continue to support adventures and expeditions today.

These days adventure tourism has a new commercial face where travellers hire a professional guide to provide a range of technical support and equipment, as well as culture and nature interpretation.

The transformation from information exploring to commercial guiding started in the United States back in the 1920s when Don Hatch and his brothers decided to build wooden rafts to explore the Green River in what is today known as Dinosaur National Monument.

Hatch eventually formed a company, Hatch River Explorations, which was the first business to receive a national park concessioner permit for rafting in 1953. This triggered a wave of commercial adventure tourism leading to the emergence of companies such as Ker & Downey in 1946, Abercrombie & Kent in 1962, Micato Safaris in 1966 (luxury safaris), and OARS in 1969 (river rafting).