This past year of 2023 was a rocky journey. While tourism recovery continued in most regions of the world, with it came the dangers of overtourism as visitor numbers increased. Impacts from climate change and regional conflicts were sobering reminders of the challenges we face within our communities and from afar.
While much of what 2024 will bring is impossible to predict, the Adventure Travel Trade Association (ATTA) sourced input from experts, members of the adventure travel community, and broader tourism research to explore the key trends, issues, and challenges shaping the industry. Our hope is that this collected research and analysis offers insight to inform business decisions, identifies next steps to learn more, and builds a sense of camaraderie in identifying shared concerns as we continue to grow as a community.
In a January 2024 poll conducted by the ATTA, members of the adventure travel community identified which industry trends they think will impact adventure travel the most:
Sustainability (59%), Overtourism (56%), and Off-season travel/Off-the-beaten-path destinations (53%) all were chosen by the majority of respondents (respondents could select as many answer choices as they wanted). Each of these trends will be discussed in this article.
In the same poll, respondents were asked which issues they expect to impact adventure travel the most in 2024:
War and conflict (64%) and climate change (55%) each received majority votes (respondents could select as many answer choices as they wanted). This aligns with opinions from industry experts and a traveler survey from World Nomads and Adventure.travel, identifying the top factors impacting travel decisions as regional/political instability (44%), travel costs/inflationary pressures (43%) and overtourism (24%).
A third question in the same poll asked what challenges adventure travel businesses are facing as of January 2024:
Marketing strategy (55%), growth challenges (38%), and educating consumers about responsible travel (38%) were the top three responses (respondents could select as many answer choices as they wanted). It is interesting to note that only 9% of respondents selected crisis management, possibly confirming that the industry is firmly in recovery mode and moving past the lingering effects of the pandemic.
Many travel companies are starting to ramp up their marketing spend, particularly in the experiences segment. Educating consumers about responsible travel is also a key messaging concern; at AdventureELEVATE 2023 Gordon Seabury, the Founder and CEO of Toad&Co, asserted that at all levels of the trip process, “It is our responsibility to educate the traveler and consumer. We take for granted how much we know because we are insiders.” This knowledge gap will be discussed later in this article as it relates to sustainability.
Through this collected research, we’ve identified seven key areas of focus to pay attention to in 2024. They are as follows: Outbound Recovery and Regional Dynamics; Popular Inbound Destinations; Shifting Demand & Reducing Overtourism; Climate Change & Making Sustainable Choices; Wellness & Meaningful Travel; Artificial Intelligence (AI); and Adventure Travel is for Everyone.
Below, we’ll dive into each category, include a few examples but not an exhaustive list, and hopefully provide enough context and resources for further independent research.
Outbound Recovery and Regional Dynamics
The recovery continues, with the Americas (primarily North America) leading the way in outbound travel, while the Asia-Pacific (APAC) region lags behind. This is due in part to the delayed re-openings of China, Japan, New Zealand, and other Asian and Pacific destinations.
In overall adventure travel trends for 2024, TourRadar’s Wrapped 2023: Global Edition report found that travelers are consistently spending more on their organized adventure itineraries than they were before the pandemic, multi-destination trips are on the rise, and European travelers are leaning toward longer-haul trips. Global travelers are proving to be less impulsive, planning their trips further in advance than in 2019:
Popular Inbound Destinations
In 2024, destinations in Northeast Asia and Southeast Asia are anticipating a robust outbound recovery from China and India. The combination of these opening markets and a diversification of their inbound market mix is expected to result in a more dynamic, complex, and competitive regional travel market in Asia Pacific, with India emerging as a significant player. Japan and South Korea are particularly expected to benefit, with an 83% increase in organized adventures to Japan in 2023 compared to 2019, and a 109% increase in organized adventures to South Korea over the same time period.
There is also a rising interest in Northern European destinations, as travelers may be less attracted to Southern Europe due to climate change concerns like heat waves and wildfires. Norway especially appears to be a trending adventure destination for 2024 as travelers are interested in the country’s beautiful landscapes and outdoor lifestyle. More about shifting demand will be discussed in the next sections.
Although travel is increasing in most areas of the world, one inbound region that deserves close attention in 2024 is Africa.
Africa is emerging as a popular adventure destination, resulting in an incredible 33% growth since 2019 (pre-pandemic), endorsing a flourishing interest in the continent’s diverse offerings, which go well beyond a safari. There’s much more to Africa than wildlife, and the continent is finally being recognized for its diverse countries, rich cultures, and modern cities.
Still, safaris are more popular than ever. TourRadar’s 2023 search and booking data showed that trips to Africa (primarily by North American and European travelers) valued over $3,800 USD had doubled since 2019; the average trip spend for safaris in particular has increased by 65%. According to Backroads, its bookings for active African safaris for 2024 are nearly double 2023 numbers. Combining these high-level safari experiences with other adventure activities like snorkeling, scuba diving, sailing, cycling, and trail running is emerging as a trend in active adventure.
For detailed rebound numbers on regions and destinations, see this WTM Global Travel Report, done in association with Tourism Economics.
Shifting Demand & Reducing Overtourism
The adventure travel industry has been talking for years about shifting demand to reduce pressure on highly popular destinations and bringing visitor dollars to a wider range of locations. One often-cited overvisited destination is Venice, which has now approved the trial of a €5 (£4.30; $5.35) fee for daily visitors, and is banning loudspeakers and tourist groups of more than 25 people, in an effort to protect its natural assets and cultural heritage.
Travelers are also beginning to make their own adjustments. For example, almost half of parents (47%) are planning to take their children out of school to travel outside of peak season. Recently, there has been a notable surge in shoulder-season travel to Europe’s most sought-after destinations, with a particular emphasis on France, Spain, the UK, and Italy. In addition, leisure travelers are adjusting the timing of their trips to align with the more favorable conditions of the shoulder season, characterized by cooler weather and more attractive rates.
Secondary European destinations are becoming more popular, with 2023 showing growth over 2022: Albania (55.6% growth), Malta (21%), Cyprus (20.7%), Montenegro (19.4%), and Iceland (18.1%) top the list.
One way travelers are choosing alternate destinations is by looking closer at the attributes they like about iconic regions and opting for an alternative, or “dupe,” often saving themselves money and experiencing less-visited locations. According to Expedia, travelers are increasingly choosing destinations like Taipei (dupe for Seoul), Pattaya (dupe for Bangkok), Paros (dupe for Santorini), Curaçao (dupe for St. Martin), and Perth (dupe for Sydney) to achieve a similar trip experience in a more enjoyable way. Forbes suggests avoiding the crowds by visiting places like South Africa, Canary Islands, Uzbekistan, Kurdistan, India, Namibia, rural parts of Spain, Greece, Menorca, and New Zealand.
Although this destination substitution often means making a more sustainable travel decision, only 13-21% of travelers view visiting less trafficked or off-the-beaten-path locations as a form of sustainable travel. Research shows that travelers understand sustainable environmental measures like recycling, reducing plastics, and taking public transportation, yet do not fully comprehend how to apply sustainability principles to their travel plans.
Climate Change & Making Sustainable Choices
Impacts of Weather
As mentioned above, climate change and uncertain weather patterns are affecting travelers’ choice of destination. Extreme weather events are also becoming more common throughout the world, leading to concerns about extreme heat, heavy rainfall and flooding, and wildfires.
More than half of the 27,000 respondents to a booking.com survey said that warmer temperatures at home mean they will be traveling to cooler destinations for upcoming holidays, especially those featuring water. These “coolcations” are leading to the popularity of destinations like Iceland, Finland, Scotland, and Latvia.
Choosing Sustainable Destinations
Many of these Northern European countries are aligning with the Global Destination Sustainability Movement’s (GDSM) list of most sustainable destinations, topped by Gothenberg, Oslo, Copenhagen, Helsinki, and Bergen.
Tripadvisor is partnering with GDSM to identify these destinations for users; by combining GDSM ratings with analysis of over 300,000 reviews on their own platform to identify sustainability-related phrases, the new labeling system will provide more information to travelers looking for sustainable choices. GAdventures’ Ripple Score and Booking’s Travel Sustainable Badge program are other ways that travel companies are encouraging travelers to make more sustainable choices.
Travelers are also seeing sustainable and luxurious as compatible ideas, with many looking for accommodations that have “wow-factor” innovation in sustainability and a clear view of sustainability in action. These identifiable sustainability touches in high-end properties are going to become a higher priority for travelers in the future.
For additional information about “future-proofing” destinations, see this Destination Always report from the Economist.
Choosing Sustainable Activities
Although travelers overall need more education and support for making sustainable travel choices, some are taking action. For example, there has been a rise in divers choosing destinations that have more sustainable scuba centers and their efforts to have a positive, regenerative impact on the environment.
Sustainability has been heavily impacting the transportation industry. Rail travel has been experiencing a revival, especially among the luxury niche and scenic train journeys. This is in part due to increasing restrictions on flights leading to heightened demand for rail, but also likely in part to a desire for more sustainable transportation.
There is still tension between the increasing cost of living and the desire to be more sustainable, due in part to a perception that more sustainable travel options are more expensive. Almost half (43%) of travelers in a World Nomads/ATTA survey identified “increased travel costs and other inflationary pressures” as a top factor driving their travel decisions, and this concern can affect adventure travelers’ trip behavior. Proper messaging about the costs and benefits of sustainable travel can make all the difference here.
For more information about the cost-vs-conscience dilemma and balancing sustainability, see this Phocuswright report.
“Greenwashing” and “Greenhushing”
While travelers are seeking out more sustainable options, and some organizations (such as those mentioned above) are supporting them to make those choices, there are many communication challenges. The term “greenwashing,” or falsely promoting environmental or sustainable benefits, has been known for a while. However, in some cases companies are doing the exact opposite and intentionally keeping quiet about their sustainability goals or achievements, for fear of being accused of greenwashing; this new trend is known as “greenhushing.” For example, an October 2022 report from South Pole found that out of the 1,200 studied companies with a sustainability head, almost a quarter were not publicizing sustainability achievements “beyond the bare minimum.”
Other research has found that companies are keeping quiet about much of their climate data, for better or worse. However, public reporting is changing soon; stricter regulations will be implemented in the US this year, and starting in 2025 the EU is requiring mandatory climate disclosures for more companies than before.
Adventure travel companies need to promote their sustainability efforts in an accurate way, detailing what they are doing without crossing the line into greenwashing. It is important for our community to lead the way in the overall travel industry by making changes and educating travelers about how to make positive choices.
Wellness & Meaningful Travel
Due in part to an increased focus on wellness during the pandemic, travelers continue to seek experiences that provide meaning, achievement, and personal transformation to their lives. Especially popular are less obvious, more individual activities that combine thrill-seeking and self-empowerment to create a meaningful experience. This search for self-reflection and personal growth together with active journeys is bringing travelers to cultural locations like traditional pilgrimage sites.
Meaningful travel can involve all aspects of health. One booking.com study found that a majority (58%) of respondents want to travel for the sole purpose of enjoying uninterrupted sleep, and more than half (51%) are seeking to improve their relationship with nature by taking a back-to-basics agrarian trip. This counterbalance to the overstimulation of a post-pandemic world offers a chance to restore and reset, with some travelers taking it as far as booking silent retreats, especially those in nature.
While not all wellness tourism can be considered adventure travel, only 15% of expenditures in this category are considered “primary” wellness trips, or those where the trip is primarily motivated by wellness. The remaining 85% of expenditures (an estimated $554.9 million USD) per year are on “secondary” wellness trips, or travel that includes a wellness component but also other activities, much of which would likely overlap with adventure travel, causing this to be an important market segment to watch in 2024.
Culture and Meaningful Adventure Travel
While culture encompasses a large section of the adventure travel market, a few elements stand out for 2024, especially as it relates to meaningful travel. Many tourists (61% according to a booking.com study) want to learn more about “must-eat” foods around the world, and a resounding 81% want to try Indigenous cuisines.
For adventure travel companies looking to incorporate deeper context and hyperlocal experiences into their tours, sending advance materials to visitors on the history, customs, and people of the region can help educate guests to better understand and respect traditional cultures. Tours can promote living heritage and crafts, and guide their clients on participating and interacting with local people while respecting boundaries. For example, DestinationIndigenous.ca, from the Indigenous Tourism Association of Canada (ITAC), has advice about attending a powwow. Companies can also consider who controls the storytelling around adventure travel experiences, for example by including community leaders in decision-making and storytelling and being mindful of language in marketing.
Artificial Intelligence (AI)
No 2024 trends article would be complete without at least a mention of Artificial Intelligence (AI). Only about a third (36%) of respondents to the ATTA’s January 2024 community poll identified AI as a top trend that will affect adventure travel the most, but it is beginning to take root in the broader travel industry, so it deserves attention. ATTA’s new Growing Your Business in the Digital Era online course teaches how to maximize technology in an adventure travel business, including how to take advantage of AI.
Generative AI (Gen-AI) is a technology that can help human users create content like text, images, videos, and other content. In theory, this gives travel specialists tools to micro-target potential customers, travelers have an “assistant” to help them book and plan trips, and companies can integrate this into their marketing strategy and other potential areas. AI chatbots are becoming more integrated into travel websites, helping answer traveler questions and giving users inspiration for potential travel experiences. It can also be used to make travel more accessible. For example, the new AI-based search engine Geni-us was designed to create individualized itineraries for people with diverse needs.
Expedia and others expect that consumers will use AI to plan trips in 2024, but how, when, and how much is yet to be determined, and different studies show differing results. For example, 32% of American traveler respondents to a Longwoods International study say they are likely to use artificial intelligence chatbot technology ChatGPT as a planning tool for their next trip, but 27% of respondents to the same study had never heard of ChatGPT. A Skyscanner study found that 63% of American (and 44% of global) travelers plan to use AI to more efficiently plan their trips in 2024. Even Destination Marketing Organizations are capitalizing on the potential of AI through providers like Satisfi Labs.
However, caution must be taken as AI tools are no replacement for human creativity and thought leadership. The tool relies on the work of creatives, who have already had their content scraped and work devalued. AI is also not yet reliably accurate. For example, at AdventureELEVATE 2023, ATTA COO and moderator for the Trendspotting Lab, Jason Reckers, asked panelists and ChatGPT the same question. While panelists gave thoughtful and unique responses, ChatGPT recited generic text based on data mined from 2019. The drastic increase in AI capabilities and use cases will continue to make this a trend to watch.
Adventure Travel is For Everyone
Another key trend we at the ATTA have seen emerging is travel professions working to appeal to a wider range of individual needs, preferences, identities, and abilities. Booking.com expects a surge in interest in solo travel this year, especially for women traveling alone. Women over 50 are embracing the freedom to travel alone and the financial and societal shifts that are allowing them to do so – and the industry is finally beginning to pay attention. Backroads launched walking and hiking trips in August 2023 as Women’s Adventures, and they sold out quickly due to high demand, leading Backroads to add additional destinations and activities to keep up with the strong interest from women travelers.
Another notable trend is catering to specific generations. Gen Z, those born between 1997-2012, is beginning to travel without their parents, and their preferences are influencing how companies are marketing to them. They are demanding active, sustainable experiences from safaris to food and cultural tourism. The rise in women traveling alone is also seen in this generation, with 62% of solo bookings for one youth travel brand being women. This generation also expects higher levels of transparency, which enables them to set realistic expectations for what an experience will actually be like. Meanwhile, “skip-gen” travel is on the rise, which involves grandparents traveling with their grandchildren (i.e., “skipping” a generation). These trips range from safaris to ranching itineraries, and allow for a way to encourage cross-generational bonding.
Organizations encouraging diversity in travel are expanding in number and reach. wmnsWORK tourism business accelerator supports women and non-binary early-stage entrepreneurs in launching new tourism initiatives. Black women and other people of color are highlighting the decolonization of travel for the African diaspora. Initiatives like the Carabiner Collective, the nonprofit arm of ATTA member WHOA Travel, aim to bring more diversity, representation, and gender equality to the outdoors.
Travel businesses throughout the industry are working to serve people of all abilities, and adventure travel is no exception. Organizations like AFAR are publishing guides to accessible travel and bringing attention to traveling while visually impaired, and platforms like Wheel the World are making travel reachable for all. We have also seen an increase in influencers who inspire markets such as body-positive travel, like Chubby Diaries’ Jeff Jenkins, and companies dedicated to size-inclusive travel are creating community and joy for folks in bigger bodies.
Looking Ahead to 2024 and Beyond
While our focus here is 2024, the waves of change mentioned in this article are certain to impact the industry and our communities for decades to come. We are only at the beginning of understanding how climate change will impact our planet and our industry, but ATTA remains committed to continuing to do better – through our climate initiative Tomorrow’s Air, increased support for the Adventure Travel Conservation Fund, membership in 1% For The Planet and more exciting announcements to come. Expect to hear a lot more from ATTA about sustainability resources this year and beyond, as it is a topic that touches every facet of adventure travel and is becoming more urgent and important as time goes on.