Take A Deep Dive Into 2022/23 Adventure Travel Trends And Find Out Who's Travelling Where And When
Updated: Jun 30, 2022
By Pru Goudie
As we approach the European summer, short-haul travel appears to be back, but what challenges are we facing, and what about long-haul travel, when is that set to return?
Last week Adventure Travel Networking (ATN), in partnership with SPIKE Insights and AITO - The Specialist Travel Association, took a deep dive into what trends are emerging for the British adventure traveller. Trade members from all around the globe registered to join the webinar; from the UK, Slovenia, Pakistan, Guyana, Colombia, Morocco, Japan, Nepal, Norway, Czechia, Greenland, Canada, Argentina, India, Italy, Moldova, Bulgaria, Iceland and Finland, all curious to hear what our survey revealed.
So, what age group is most likely to travel first, where are they heading and what's influencing their travel decisions? Our thanks go to both Roy Baker and Jon Walton at SPIKE Insight, and to AITO - The Specialist Travel Association for sharing this data with us. Also we thank Fiona Marshall from Macs Adventure who is a respected voice in the industry and we're grateful for her comments and insights into how the adventure travel industry is accelerating out of the pandemic, despite the challenges!
"Coming out of the pandemic is proving to be a hard landing", says Roy Barker, Co-Founder of SPIKE Insight.
"There are a lot of economic and other headwinds facing us all but perhaps with more force for the travel industry than for some others. Inflation, stagflation, Ukraine, staff shortages, confusing Covid rules - all this is affecting our market" adds Barker.
However, one thing we have all learnt about travel is that there is no such thing as a 'normal year' in travel anymore, nor are there ever times of smooth sailing! So, with the many uncertainties still affecting our beloved industry what were the encouraging stats and the key take aways from the webinar?
"Look who owns the most average individual wealth – the 60 to 64 year olds – but those in their 50’s will catch up too." reports Barker.
"An incredible 75% of the total wealth of the UK is owned by those aged 45 to 74" says Barker. "They’re keen to travel, have the disposable income and wealth and are less restricted by growing families."
Barker goes on to say "50% of people said they were more likely to use a tour operator or agent now than they were before the pandemic."
"When asked 'Do you think you will be taking more, less or the same number of holidays than you did before the pandemic?'
for 2022 we saw a 16% net decrease (but that will still be a massive increase on 2021!)
for 2023 we’re seeing a net increase of almost 25%. That is intent, of course, and it may not translate into actual demand but as a sentiment, as a desire it is very powerful.
When will people travel?
As one might expect people are more confident travelling closer to home – and these are the destinations that have, often, opened-up more quickly and easily. Of those that are going to travel to Europe only 16% are delaying until next year.
For longer haul it is nearer 35% that are putting off their travel until next year – still pretty encouraging given the time between booking and travel is often greater for long haul destinations.
"But it would be wrong of us not to look at where the market may have slipped backwards slightly," say Barker. One question the survey asked since the start of the pandemic is “How do you expect the financial position of your household to change over the next 12 months?”
"And for most of the pandemic we were getting surprisingly consistent and positive results – for most people in the mature, affluent market their expectations were pretty positive but that has started to change."
"The majority of those respondents see minimal difference to their financial position over the next 12 months. Of those people who indicated 'feeling a little worse off' we do not feel that this will affect their holiday plans and spend – for this market."
"The reasons we think that are because holidays to many people are a necessity not a luxury. We asked the people who are feeling a little worse off whether they saw holidays as an essential part of their lifestyle – and almost 80% agreed."
"16% sat on the fence and only 6% disagree that holidays were essential to them."
"That tells us that people who are only feeling slightly worse off are unlikely to cut back on their holiday expenditure just yet. And there’s more support for this. The financially resilient have also been saving for their holidays – for many people the pandemic meant they had spare cash - we’ve run other surveys where similar audiences have saved the money they would have spent on travel during the pandemic and ear marked for travel later, and this underlines the theme of 'pent up demand'."
On balance, the future is bright.
The demographics are on our side
Travellers surveyed all said they would use a tour operator or agent to book their next holiday
The return to travel is well underway and will continue to grow into next year
Even with the current economic and geopolitical challenges, we believe the bounce back is strong enough to weather the storm!
Fiona Marshall, Head of Product, for Macs Adventure added further insights confirming that the above survey results resonated hugely with what they were seeing at Macs with their customers. "The demand to travel in the UK has in fact been so strong both from Brits and from US customers, with the dollar being so strong right now, it's great value for them to be travelling in the UK right now and they're super keen."
"Once the restrictions to travel were lifted around Easter and the form filling got simpler the bookings for Brits to travel to Europe immediately kicked in" says Marshall.
"The pent up demand is certainly there, the booking figures for Europe are now equalling the demand for travel in the UK."
Other trends emerging in customer behaviour are;
Customers booking upgraded trips and taking the opportunity to 'treat themselves'.
They're prepared to pay a little bit more to stay in nicer accommodation
Customers are choosing the longer trips and taking the approach of giving themselves plenty of time to travel and looking after themselves, having been denied their travel for so long!
Despite all this optimism there are still some headwinds surrounding the unpredictability highlighted above, reports Macs Adventure.
Some destinations that were up and coming prior to the pandemic such as the Balkans have slowed down due to their perceived proximity to Ukraine. Other issues include staffing shortages in hospitality such as restaurants, bars and cafes. This extends to hotel availability as well, such as the Isle of Skye where trips have had to be cancelled as it's impossible to get accommodation. This is the case also around the other bucket-list zones in Europe, where accommodation availability is proving to be difficult.
Forward pricing is proving to be an issue at the moment with no suppliers wanting to commit. Normally companies would be pricing now for the following year, however due to the uncertainty suppliers are reluctant to offer prices and contract for next year just yet.
"With everything so volatile, the cost of oil and fuel, the cost of food, it affects everything and creates a reluctance to commit to forward pricing, which is a problematic area throughout the supply chain", says Marshall.
Further to the issue of pricing, Jean-Marc Flambert, Director of Your Tourism Partner, works with many DMCs in Sri Lanka. His comment was that whilst prices are increasing rapidly in Sri Lanka due to domestic and economic challenges, because Sri Lanka prices in USD they have been able to hold the prices for 18 months to two years ahead.
"Additionally, and interestingly, due to the pandemic and the renewed interest in nature and wildlife from travellers visiting Sri Lanka this has brought a change in demand to itineraries." says Flambert.
Traditionally 2-days in 10 were spent in a wildlife park, now travellers are opting to spend up to one week in nature, hiking and visiting wildlife parks which is encouraging that this will help protect the natural environment and wildlife in Sri Lanka.
"So whilst many things feel 'back to normal on a day to day basis in the UK' it's not quite there operationally and tour operators are still having to negotiate the many bumps in the road! But saying all this, customers are very much out there travelling and very happy to do so, having been restricted for so long and they're having a great time", says Marshall.
John Telfer, Non-executive Director at HotelPlan UK added observation on behalf of a number of DMCs regarding long-haul travel.
"One of the good news items it that the UK is 'first out of the traps' to travel, ahead of countries such as France, Switzerland and Germany which is a positive." says Telfer.
"The big overriding factor is that travellers are booking their trips much closer to departure, even more than normally expected. This has often been the case for Europe, but this trend is emerging for long-haul travel." adds Telfer.
At this time of the year businesses would usually see a distinct pivot away from short-haul to long-haul bookings, however Europe is still very much the dominant destination being booked, despite the downturn in Eastern Europe due to the war in Ukraine.
Long haul is coming back, with Americas and Africa on a par, the area being a bit behind is Asia and that is thought to be driven by high value destinations and countries such as Japan who have only just opened to tourism and of course China, which is currently a no-go country.
Telfer concluded with the fact that "because the UK seems very normal right now and as people go out and experience this 'normal' their thoughts will quickly extend to where they want to travel to next".
It is expected that we could see a return to long-haul travel very quickly.
Jim Eite, Director of Business Development for Exodus Travels and Headwater Holidays echoed the sentiments of Fiona Marshall with regards to domestic product and the comments from John Telfer regarding long-haul travel .
"The demand for those perceived 'once in a life-time trips' is growing." adds Jim Eite from Exodus.
In summary, UK adventure tour operators feel the bulk of their customers are largely insulated from the 'cost of living' crisis, so we have many reasons to be optimistic, especially for seeing a return to long-haul travel in Q4 2022 and in 2023.
With travel starting to accelerate there will be more operational issues to navigate. We will still be ironing out domestic availability in the UK, hospitality challenges across the UK & Europe will persist, travel restrictions could continue to come and go and supplier pricing commitment for 2023/24 may not be forthcoming due to all the uncertainty ricocheting round the globe.
Barker concludes his presentation with the following comments.
If you were to look at the market now – we have a number of strong plus points:
· Financial resilience
· Pent up demand
· Increased savings
· And a desire to use operators and agents more
Balanced against that we have some negative factors:
· Stock market performance
· Supply side issues
· Staffing shortages
· Aviation contraints
· Potential strikes
"If, like the Bank of England, you see these as relatively short-term issues then the plusses should be enough to carry us over these temporary bumps and set us up for a bright future!"
Listen to the full presentation from Roy Barker, Spike Insight (below)
for sharing this data with us.
SPIKE Insight; Visit Scotland; Macs Adventure; Explore; Exodus; Inside Travel Group;
Renato Granieri - Travel & Wildlife Photographer; Shutterstock.
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Pru Goudie, Founder