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Adventure tourism is a growing market among seniors

This is an excerpt from Leisure and Aging by Heather Gibson & Jerome Singleton.

Adventure Tourism

Muller and Cleaver (2000) defined adventure tourism as “physically bracing, adrenalin-driven, somewhat risky, with moments of exhilaration punctuated by many opportunities to assess and reassess what has been done or accomplished” (p. 156). An essential component of adventure tourism is travel to unusual, exotic, and remote wilderness destinations (Kane & Tucker, 2004; Millington, Locke, & Locke, 2001). Activity, experience, environment, motivation, risk, and competence were identified as primary dimensions that often characterize the traveler's perception of adventure travel (Sung, Morrison, & O'Leary, 1997). Examples of adventure activities are white-water rafting, horseback riding, hiking, skiing, scuba diving, mountain biking, backpacking, and camping.

Swarbrooke, Beard, Leckie, and Pomfret (2003) concluded that adventure is not defined according to the specific activities that are undertaken but more by the state of mind and approach of the participant. However, there is no doubt that adventure denotes action, which is not a passive experience and is generally found to be engaging and absorbing. Adventure also involves effort and commitment, and mental and physical preparation or training is often necessary. Studies have suggested that older travelers are finding adventure tourism more appealing and are becoming more adventurous than previous cohorts, wanting to travel to experience something they find personally satisfying.

The adventure experience varies along a number of dimensions, including type of travel, group membership, and amount and spectrum of risk (Cleaver & Muller, 2002; Ewart & Jamieson, 2003; Muller & Cleaver, 2000). Thus, participants can engage in the adventure activity according to several dimensions, such as location (a remote wilderness trip traveling alone versus a trip to Cancun on a cruise ship), which suggests that there are a variety of levels and types of risk and danger that need to be seriously considered (Bentley & Page, 2001).

Baby boomers in particular often crave adventurous and authentic learning experiences and prefer to be part of the decision-making process. Some older adults are now demanding trips that “involve physical challenge, if not actual danger, travel that involves an inner journey, intellectual challenge, as well as exploration of new places and cultures” (Lipscombe, 1995, p. 44). This finding is supported by Fortosis (2009), who contended that many baby boomers desire a stimulating cultural and social experience that entails lots of interaction and adventure.

The research indicates that baby boomers prefer soft adventure experiences under controlled conditions that are less physically demanding and the use of trained guides who are employed to provide an educational component (Muller & Cleaver, 2000). Travel companies should be aware of these preferences as well as of the importance of catering to their customers' health needs, providing activities that are less physically demanding, slower-paced tours, greater choice in regard to food menus, and plenty of social activities so as to enable the group to mix and get to know each other (Massow, 2000). Gender differences have been noted, with older males preferring more physically demanding activities, such as white-water rafting, rock climbing, and caving, and older females preferring less physically demanding but more educational activities, such as bird watching, horseback riding, and bush walking (Muller & O'Cass, 2001).

Adventure tourism is one of the fastest growing segments of the tourism market. It has become so popular that approximately 100 million adults have chosen vacations that are classified as soft adventure (Miller, 1997). In the past, the tourism industry has focused on young, wealthy, and able-bodied adventure tourists; however, this is slowly changing as marketers become increasingly more aware of the active and adventurous baby boomers (Lehto et al., 2008; Muller & O'Cass, 2001; Patterson, 2002). It has been acknowledged that people over 50 are more adventurous than their parents, and they are often driven to discover new destinations and to try out new and exciting leisure activities (Sellick, 2004).

Strategic Management (2007) suggests that seniors are flocking to adventure travel, with interest so high it is now regarded as one of the hottest niches in the travel business. This has been attributed to the fact that baby boomers often become bored with merely being mass tourists and passively sightseeing, indicating strong preferences for more exciting, challenging, and authentic experiences at travel destinations (Boksberger & Laesser, 2009). This new generation of retirees is “hungry to get off the beaten path” and is driven in part by “more and more retirees with time, money, and a yen for the exotic” (Symonds, 1998, p. 102).

Many older adults want to escape the stress and boredom of their everyday routine, spend their vacation time on pleasure-filled trips with a range of exciting and new physically challenging activities, and meet people and build new friendships (Camden & McColl-Kennedy, 1990; Kluge, 2005). Gene Wellman, a 71-year-old retired environmental consultant from Klamath Falls, Oregon, typifies this type of traveler: “Wellman has no desire to be herded onto sightseeing buses. So he and his wife Genevieve joined a small group trip to French Polynesia and Peru” (Symonds, 1998, p. 102).

Although there is general acceptance that the baby boomer travel market is a heterogeneous group of submarkets, there is an awareness that adventure tourism is likely to grow more quickly than other segments of the market over the coming years (Kane & Tucker, 2004). Independent adventure travel is becoming more popular than group tours, with the emphasis being on interacting with local residents and gaining in-depth knowledge of an area. Multiactivity trips are also becoming more popular, combining outdoor activities such as trekking, rafting, and diving with an added cultural component.

Based on an examination of the current research literature, future marketing campaigns must place greater emphasis on authentic statements by older people describing their experiences, such as feelings associated with a sense of adventure, escapism, and the challenge of actual involvement. Terms such as enjoyment, flow, and meeting new friends should be emphasized so as to encourage feelings associated with a sense of freedom, fun, and escape from a mundane lifestyle (Coke & Perkins, 1998; Patterson, 2002). These feelings can also be experienced through educational tourism, as discussed in the following section; many older travelers prefer a cultural or heritage experience, mixing with the locals and learning about their culture and traditions.

Read more from Leisure and Aging by Heather Gibson and Jerome Singleton.

More Excerpts From Leisure and Aging