In interviews conducted at the end of a generally robust first quarter, the heads of the member companies of the Adventure Collection, a consortium of 10 adventure travel companies, identified five trends that are defining travel this year.
1. Bookings are up over 2009 - as much as 35 percent
It's all about the economy. "With more stability in the economy, we are seeing significant improvement in bookings" said Dennis Pinto, chairman of the Adventure Collection and managing director of Micato Safaris.
Jim Sano, president of Geographic Expeditions, added that "as the financial markets are rebounding, consumer confidence is improving."
Improving by how much? Bill Bryan and Cory Lawrence of Off the Beaten Path reported "modest" increases over last year, while Tom Hale, president of Backroads, said, "Our business is up 30 percent and climbing. We expect to be up at least 35 percent over 2009. Virtually every one of our geographical segments is up, with Europe leading the pack."
Echoing his enthusiasm, Marty von Neudegg, director and general counsel of Canadian Mountain Holidays, said, "Our booking pattern in late 2009 and early 2010 has been as strong as we have ever seen in our history. Many of our customers have told us that they made a mistake last year by staying home, that they miss our mountains and that they need to get out again."
2. Time between booking and travel is reduced
Last year, said Pinto, the time between booking and departure shrank from the usual nine months to just five months. This year, he says, long-term planning has rebounded somewhat, but the consortium's leaders agreed that booking times have shrunk over the past two years.
"The 'cycle' of booking has changed dramatically," explained von Neudegg. "Many people are now waiting until the last minute to book. Contrary to common thought, however, they are not just looking for deals and discounts. They are looking for value and want to be sure that whatever money they are spending is being spent in the best possible way. For our ski clients, for
example, this has meant that they're watching the weather and booking when they're confident that the weather will provide what they're looking for, like cold snow or clear skies."
3. Travelers are booking based on value rather than price
Value is key, agreed all the leaders; cutting fares alone is no longer the path to success. Based on Geographic Expedition's research and feedback, said Sano, "Travelers are more value conscious than ever - even at the highest levels. Accordingly, companies need to work harder to articulate their value proposition: the importance of everything from the quality of their guides to the comprehensiveness of their emergency coverage to their sustainable travel principles and practices."
"Most seasoned travelers will not respond to hype or deals that look too good to be true," agreed von
Neudegg. "They are looking for authenticity and places that deliver on their promises."
Bryan and Lawrence reprised this theme, saying, "We know that our group programs need to be smartly priced and very much need to stay with the principles we hold most dear - connectiveness, authenticity, and creating as much value as possible."
George Wendt, president of O.A.R.S., also underscored the importance of value and quality over cost. "Travelers tell us they are increasingly influenced by company reputation and recommendations from friends when making their travel decisions," he said. Wendt also highlighted the importance of social media in helping to communicate the value of his compan, saying: "O.A.R.S. has over 2300 Facebook fans and we believe that their enthusiasm for the travel experiences they have had with us--shared virally through social media--is a major factor helping to boost our bookings."
4. Pent-up demand spurs trips with loved ones
Asked "Why do people want to travel this year?" Bryan and Lawrence responded, "First of all, there's pent-up market demand. People who did not travel in a substantial way in 2009 want to do more traveling in 2010."
Hale concurred, "While I don't expect an immediate return to 2008 levels, there's a pent-up demand that is helping all trends."
One particular trend that has emerged is travel with loved ones. Pinto dramatically detailed the growth of this sector for Micato. "About 35 percent of our trips are now family safaris - multigenerational trips usually involving three generations of travelers - as compared to less than
10 percent a decade ago," he said. "We now have teams in Africa who are dedicated solely to our family trips: Our Family-to-Family Safaris provide families with a wonderful way to reconnect and spend quality time together, while also offering opportunities to immerse children in experiences that teach them about the importance of nature conservation, cultural appreciation and philanthropic giving."
"Many of our travelers simply want to share an active adventure with loved ones," said Hale. "In response, we have developed a full program of Backroads Family Trips."
5. Prime inspirations are connection and renewal
When asked, "What are the principal reasons for Geo Ex customers to travel in 2010?" Sano immediately ticked off three: "renewal, reconnecting with places and people, and giving back."
Bryan and Lawrence noted the same goals among their clients: "There is this constant searching to learn more about our country and the world and at the same time to connect with different environments, different cultures, and different countries."
"Backroads travelers want to meet new people in fascinating circumstances," said Hale, "explore new cultures, bike and hike and do really great and exciting things that help connect them with nature, and regenerate themselves so they return with a renewed sense of appreciation for all we
Pinto agreed: "We are seeing increased demand for trips that incorporate more than just wildlife. Our travelers want a broad spectrum that also includes culture, philanthropic activities, cuisine, etc."
Von Neudegg summed it up, saying "2010 is a year to connect again. The time has come to
rejuvenate and refresh. People want real opportunities to make genuine connections with fellow travelers, new cultures and the land itself. When we reflect on our past travels, it is those deep and meaningful connections that are the most important part of the journey. When we stop traveling,
those are the things that we crave and miss the most."
The members of the Adventure Collection are: Backroads, Bushtracks, Canadian Mountain Holidays, Geographic Expeditions, Lindblad Expeditions, Micato, Natural Habitat Adventures, NOLS, OARS and Off the Beaten Path. For more information about the Collection, visit www.adventurecollection.com.