The explosion -- and survival -- of adventure travel specialty magazines and Web sites in the past five years indicates a consumer market exists to keep booming businesses alive. National Geographic Traveler, blue, trips, Outdoor Explorer, iExplore.com, planetoutdoors.com, adventureseek.com and GORP.com are among recently launched on- and offline magazines attracting a growing audience and more advertisers.
"Nowadays, people can trek to Nepal and learn how to weave with local merchants and bring home a rug as a memoir of the experience," said Brenda Saget, publisher of Conde Nast Publications' House & Garden. "People are very much into the record of the experience."
INDULGING THE EXPERIENCE
And very many people are indulging in the experience. One-half of U.S. adults -- 98 million -- have taken an adventure vacation within the past five years, according to the Travel Industry Association of America's National Travel Survey. Men and women are roughly equal in their propensity to embark on an adventure trip, with 50.3 million men and 47.7 million women taking trips in the past five years.
Advertisers have not only bought into the trend, they're using it in their creative. Ads for iExplore.com, created by Cramer-Krasselt, Chicago, feature images of elephants in Zimbabwe and the tagline "Come back different." Merrell Footwear, via JDK, Burlington, Vt., shows hikers and dogs tramping through exotic locales in the company's footwear ads.
Even advertisers like Volvo Cars of North America have broken into this previously unexplored territory with fresh ad campaigns aimed at the new adventure yuppie audience. Recent ads from Messner Vetere Berger McNamee Schmetterer/Euro RSCG, New York, depict the new all-wheel-drive Volvo Cross Country in front of a rocky waterfall setting, describing the vehicle as a "luxury car" for your body and an "SUV" to the elements. The tagline: "Adventures in luxury."
RETURN TO THE THRILL
"Baby boomers in particular have known travel as a right rather than a privilege. There is no place that is off limits, but now they want to do it differently. We find that they think of themselves as forever young, and if they can put some risk into a trip, they will do it to get that thrill again," said Tom Wallace, editor in chief at Conde Nast Traveler. "The industry has certainly responded to this consumer demand. If Volvo is aiming at this demographic, they wouldn't be able to sell to them by aiming to an `older' audience. To be successful, and Volvo has recognized this, marketers must appeal to the youthful characteristic inside."
"We know our readers are going on more active trips -- just lying on the beach is no longer sufficient," said Ellen Asmodeo-Giglio, VP-publisher of Travel & Leisure. "The percentages are shifting toward action-oriented doers."
In TIA's adventure travel study, two-thirds of respondents -- regardless of age or gender -- described their interest in adventure travel as "middle of the road fans" vs. "fanatic" or "new to it." Eighty-five to 90% of all respondents had a positive reaction to adventure travel.
What is most significant to marketers is the mass appeal of the adventure idea to consumers.
Marketing partnerships fostered by this trend continue to flourish. Visa USA paired with REI.com, the Internet's largest outdoor store, for one of Visa's latest ad campaigns via BBDO Worldwide, New York. American Airlines' AAdvantage frequent flier program has also partnered with travel site GORP.com to offer free miles to GORP members who get their friends to join.
Magazines and ads for products previously unlinked to the idea are also selling the "adventure travel experience." Traditionally staid travel magazines have begun to delve into the adventure travel market, producing stories that cover more exciting and edgy destinations.
In its September 2000 "The World's Best" awards issue, Travel & Leisure ran an article titled " `Survivor' is Over. Now Meet the Real Thing." Author Jeff Wise was sent to jungle survival school in the Philippines, where he ate snails and built fires the old-fashioned way.
ADVENTURE TRAVEL A LUXURY
Adventure travel carries a rugged and challenging air, but it's also arguably a "luxury" item and status symbol in its own right. These days, everyone from celebrities to boys and girls next door are buying into the adventure craze. And buying is right: Ironically, the return to nature can cost a pretty penny.
Experiences such as scaling Mount Everest, riding Moroccan camel trains and trekking through Mongolia demand fees ranging up to $25,000. TIA's survey shows adventure travelers have a median annual household income of about $45,000. Hard-adventure travelers (favoring activities such as whitewater kayaking and rock climbing) spend a median of $465 per trip, while soft-adventure travelers (indulging in activities such as camping and hiking) spend a median of $325 per trip.
The additional cost of mountain gear elevates the costs as well; while numbers vary considerably, the basic cost of outfitting a mountaineer is about $7,000 to $8,000, according to retailer Mountain Gear.
"The overall adventure travel market has no doubt come into the mainstream," said Seale Ballenger, communications director for Outside. "You see advertisers across the board, from clothing manufacturers to car dealers. Even the latest ads by [American Home Products Corp.'s] Advil feature a rock climber. Outside has been in publication for 23 years, but in the last 10 years, we've really benefited from the mainstream movement. We now have advertisers like Tommy Hilfiger and Ralph Lauren."
That increasing interest from advertisers has helped boost overall ad pages for travel magazines. Travel & Leisure, for example, saw ad pages rise 9% to 1,061.99 through August, vs. a year ago, according to Publishers Information Bureau.
Even fledgling publications like blue have seen a marked change in the past few years.
"We observed in the early 1990s a major shift in the lifestyle paradigm," said founder and Publisher Amy Schrier. "The previous sought-after dream identity for the affluent involved fine luxury cruises. Now, trends such as globalization and environmentalism have fed into adventure travel. The new paradigm is the adventurer: a snowboarder in British Columbia or a surfer in Indonesia. The images of these heroes became the dream identity. Blue coined the term `adventure lifestyle' to refer to this interest."
WINNING RALPH LAUREN
Ms. Schrier described blue's readership as "educated, affluent and active consumers." Its advertisers range from outdoors-oriented Salomon to Nikon and Kraft Foods' Altoids.
"When we first started [in 1997], Ralph Lauren didn't want to advertise with us, but since then they've developed Polo Sport and advertised in our September/October 2000 issue," Ms. Schrier said. "It's all in response to the market that has moved in this direction. The media paradigm has shifted from valuing black cocktail dresses to valuing rock climbing equipment. Advertisers like Prada Sport know consumer trends are shifting, so they want to affiliate their products according to this idea."