If the travel experts we spoke to agree on one thing, the future of adventure travel remains bright despite the unprecedented challenges of the global pandemic. “There’s nothing in my 35 years in the adventure travel industry that comes close to that,” says Ben Bressler, CEO of Natural Habitat Adventures, a sustainable travel company. “But if 9/11, SARS and the financial collapse of 2008 taught us anything, it’s important that we adapt quickly and become more resilient at the other end.”
This is especially true for adventure trips that by nature offer all the conditions for an antidote after the pandemic, with an emphasis on small group trips, less touristy destinations and large open spaces. According to an ongoing survey by Destination Analysts, a tourism research and marketing company, more than half of U.S. travelers report avoiding crowded destinations once most restrictions have eased.
What can we expect from the next few months and beyond? Our sources acknowledge that it’s impossible to be sure of anything when we experience a new normal, and they note that a second wave of COVID-19 hits will lead to setbacks. Our return to travel depends on a variety of factors, including “when economies and borders will reopen, how companies will change their operations, whether airlines will conduct rapid COVID-19 testing and, ultimately, when a vaccine will be available,” says Sandy Cunningham, a longtime adventure travel specialist and co-founder of outside GO, the Outside travel company.
The results show that travelers are ready to get there once it is safe. A recent report by Skift Research, the data analysis arm of the travel trade publication, found that “one-third of Americans in our survey report starting to travel within three months of the lifting of travel restrictions.”Most of our experts agreed that travel, just as states and countries are now making gradual reopening, will likely reflect this process, first with near-home excursions, Camping and Roadtrips, then domestic flights, finally followed by international travel. The first steps are already underway with the reopening of national parks, beaches and other parts of the country.
Many have also noted that their guests have decided to postpone trips rather than cancel them, indicating that they will do so once it is safe to try the water. Such changes helped some OEMs stay afloat during this time. Outfitters see an increase in new bookings for the future.
In the meantime, it is hoped that travelers will take more thoughtful and sustainable paths. “We have the opportunity to make changes for which we may never have had the freedom,” says Shannon Stowell, President of the Adventure Travel Trade Association (ATTA). “If there was a time to rebuild properly, the world has the possibility.”
From new health and safety protocols to an increase in more significant trips on the bucket list, our experts predict that trips will change in the future.
Adventure travel will be the first to return.
“Adventure travelers are naturally more intrepid, more willing to make the sacrifices necessary to experience the extraordinary, and they are likely to lead the way,” says Richard Bangs, co-founder of Mt Sobek and the Steller travel app and a member of Expedia’s founding team. Stowell agrees: “some aspects of adventure travel mean it will be a more attractive Option than ever. Closed places such as mass tourism resorts and packed sites will be much less.”
MT Sobek’s future bookings reflect travelers looking for more remote destinations, with increased interest in Alaska and chartered raft trips. To meet this demand, the company recently launched a series of private trips to national parks and other native wilderness areas.
Intrepid Travel, the world’s largest small group adventure company, notes a similar twist to these types of trips. “We’re seeing an increase in interest from our North American customers for active tours that include outdoor experiences like Trekking, hiking, and biking,” says James Thornton, its CEO.
James Sano, vice president of Travel, Tourism and nature protection at the World Wildlife Fund, who has more than 35 years of experience in the sector, says he has witnessed the repeated return of adventure travelers after previous troubles such as SARS. “They are often early adopters and their risk tolerance is greater,” he says. “I think they will be on the front line.”
The first wave will be a return to local and domestic travel, with an emphasis on camping and road trips.
“As many people are forced to part with friends and family, we expect travelers looking to make up for lost time with loved ones to have a meaningful experience,” said Allison Fleece, co-founder of Wow Travel, a women’s adventure travel company. “The pandemic ERA in which we live teaches us everything that is important in our lives and how fragile life can be, and we believe this is imposed by people’s choice to travel.”
After the blockage, trips of several generations will become a popular choice. “The reunion was a big part of our breakup, and what could be better than doing it with all of our loved ones in safe, wild places,” Cunningham said of Outside GO. In fact, the group retreats of the glamping operator are seeing “an increase in requests for small weddings and accommodation, as well as delayed birthdays and anniversaries,” says Peter MACK, CEO.
We will use the services of travel agencies and OEMs more often.
When thousands of Americans were stranded abroad, when barriers quickly closed international borders, it was much easier for those who had a travel agency or OEM to return home than for those who did not.
“When the COVID-19 crisis began, our first priority was to ensure the safety of our customers and employees around the world,” said Thornton of Intrepid Travel. “Our local guides and global operations team worked around the clock to help more than 3,000 travellers safely return home after the borders closed.”Outside GO also went into emergency mode:” from the safe evacuation of customers from countries to the entry into force of blockages, imploring on your behalf travel insurance companies to work with our partners on the ground to offer a refund for unused parts. short trips, our team worked hard and hard to do everything, ” says Cunningham.
“There has been so much frustration for so many people who have booked tickets through online services, with registrations that lead nowhere,” Cunningham adds. – Contact between people is more important than ever.”
Since the travel landscape will be very different for some time, and information found on forums and other sites through online sources may become obsolete, the travel agency or provider will have more accurate information about access, open companies and places where it is safer to avoid crowds.
OUTFITTERS build closer relationships with customers,share memories of past trips and dream about the future. “We regularly process images and stories for our guests and potential guests to dream about,” says Pony Mount Sobek. There was also a connection within the travel industry itself, where manufacturers supported each other. ATTA has brought OUTFITTERS together through online workshops, and on May 26, it will launch a free community membership for financially compromised businesses, laid-off employees and others who want to try the organization to stay in touch. (This link will be available live on May 26 for those who wish to register.)
The road through the airport can take longer than ever.
If you think it takes a long time for COVID-19 to appear, the journey after a pandemic can be even more intense. “After September 11, a lot of new security measures were introduced, such as the introduction of the TSA, bulletproof and cabins and the national identity requirement,” says Kelly of Points Guy’s. “The consequences of COVID-19, likely to lead to new recommendations in the field of health, such as: simultaneous entry into small groups of people, disinfection of seats and even the removal of seat pockets.”
While most airlines have already tightened aircraft hygiene and crews and travelers are required to wear masks, the FAA has not yet put in place general industrial regulations. This has led to an uneven response from domestic airlines, ranging from Alaska Air, which blocks middle seats on large planes, to other airlines that announce potential temperature tests for passengers before boarding.
Some airlines have been accused of introducing medical examinations before boarding. “Emirates already offers COVID – 19 tests with quick results,” Cunningham said. The airline plans to extend these tests to all flights departing from countries for which arriving passengers must be checked.
Many of us remember the yellow card, a World Health Organization brochure that no longer exists and records the traveler’s vaccine data. “For most of my career, some countries needed vaccines against diseases such as yellow fever, tetanus and typhoid fever, and as part of the accession process, they asked to submit their Yellow Book,” said Sano of the World Wildlife Fund. “I can easily imagine a digital version of this, like a QR code, where you have electronic proof that you have been vaccinated.”
A similar movement is gaining momentum in the form of” immunity passports” issued to those who have recovered from the virus and may have antibodies. On the April 22 first quarter earnings call, Delta CEO Ed Bastian said the company plans to take a number of steps, including passport immunity, according to CNBC. “Could there be a new health agency that needs a new passport to travel? he asked. “We will be at the forefront of all these achievements.”
Chile has already started issuing medical passports, while other countries, including the United Kingdom, Germany and Italy, are considering doing so. (It is important to note that a number of medical organizations have stated that the immunity of those who have recovered from the new coronavirus is not well known.)
Regarding the future of airports, Puerto Rico’s Luis Muñoz Marina international Airport and Vienna international Airport are good indicators of expectations. Luis Muñoz marin has installed thermal cameras that monitor passengers upon arrival at temperatures above 100.3 degrees Fahrenheit. Those who exceed this threshold and show symptoms are examined and quarantined. Meanwhile, travelers arriving in Vienna will receive a COVID-19 smear test, which will be treated in three hours and will cost$204. Those who pass the negative test receive a certificate and are free to move, while those who pass the positive test are subject to a 14-day quarantine. Other protocols that can be implemented include biometric check-in, TSA designation, and a ban on entry to airports for non-travelers.
Travel agencies will review their approach to health and safety.
Adventure travel crew use this time to revise their protocols. At Backroads, a company that specializes in bike tours, that means “improving the safety training of guides and working with hoteliers, restaurants, carriers and other suppliers to adhere to strict safety protocols when cleaning, handling luggage and preparing meals,” says Tom Hale, CEO. He adds: “before starting the trip, our guests are asked to undergo a preliminary medical examination to ensure that we have done our best to ensure that they can leave well.”
Intrepid Travel will consider similar measures in addition to” contactless check-in processes and improved hygiene transparency, ” Thornton said. Katherine Walsh, founder of expedition company Backpack Alaska, said she would begin “making custom tents accessible to everyone, including The Final Solution of bleach that will be rinsed on dishes after meals and individually packaged to prevent cross-contamination, to name a few quelques-uns.Et the oars, known for their white water rafting and sea kayaking, plan to” channel – and for pre-trip demonstrations, apply PSA if necessary and pay increased attention to hand washing and hygiene of vehicles and communal surfaces,” said Steve Markle, the brand’s vice president of sales and marketing.
Host-managed owners also had to review their protocols. On May 1st, Airbnb launched an initiative that certifies hosts who apply their new cleaning guidelines (developed in collaboration with former U.S. Surgeon Vivek Murthy) and adhere to a minimum 24-hour wait time between reservations. For hosts who cannot comply with the rules, the company suggested waiting 72 hours after the last rent settlement before welcoming new guests. Others, such as camping booking site Hipcamp, sent recommendations to hosts regarding new cleaning protocols and guest interactions. Alyssa Ravasio, CEO of Hipcamp, says she has also added ” an extra step to our booking flow, where all Hipcampers must tick a box to confirm that their bookings are not contrary to local regulations or travel bans.”
Glamping operators are willing to make quick returns due to the nature of their hosting configurations. “Unlike traditional hotels or living spaces, our air conditioning systems are made up of fresh air, our hotel lobbies are large canvas tents, and our corridors are winding paths through open fields and natural landscapes,” Mack says of group retreats. The company operates in five locations across the country. “Over the past few months, we’ve continued our retreat in Austin, Texas, and we’ve sold a lot of weekends,” he says. “On the Governor’s collective island in New York since July 4, we have had less than 10 cancellations, and in August, September and October, we are ahead of what it was last year at the time. ”
Under Canvas, which operates luxury tents just across the national parks, will open in the Great Smoky Mountains on May 28, followed by Zion and Moab on June 4, and the grand Canyon and Yellowstone on June 11. Individual registration via a touch kiosk, takeaway food and drinks for tent meals and hand sanitizing stations throughout the camp are some of the new precautions implemented by the company.
Travel will change for the better.
Our experts agreed that in the future, travel will become more targeted. “We certainly think people are more appreciated and attracted to the experiences, responsibilities, environment and meaningful moments that unite people to learn and grow from each other in a post – pandemic world,” said Allison Fleece of Wow Travel. Walsh of backpack Alaska agrees: “I know I was wrong to think that I would spontaneously come out of a trip to a distant destination that seemed exotic. This pandemic has shown that many people yearn for something real and sustainable.”
Others noted that this period could lead travelers and tour operators to prioritize sustainability and ethics. – I think there will be a thinning of mass tourism, a thinning of unnecessary impressions. People will be looking for deeper experiences and less instant gratification from Tourism, ” said Cunningham of Outside GO. Atta’s Stowell recalls what Canadian astrophysicist Hubert Reeves said at the Association’s climate change summit in 2009: “I’m not optimistic, I’m not pessimistic, I’m determined.Stowell adds, ” at ATTA and in our community, we strive to improve travel. When it comes to some of the most disruptive types of tourism, they need to be rethought and completely rebuilt to be healthy for destinations. Now is the time for destinations to take responsibility and demand that tourism help their environmental efforts and help local people instead of being harmful or exploited.”
Many companies are already looking at ways to recover more sustainably, which could prove more profitable, said Sano of the World Wildlife Fund. “As we have seen, based on the environmental impact of this pandemic, travelers will probably be more aware of its effects than ever before,” he said. Ravazio from Hipcamp adds: “in those moments when it becomes incredibly clear that we are all connected, travel gives us the opportunity to practice empathy. How can I respect and educate this community I visit?”
Everyone sees a bright future. “I am more optimistic than ever about the future of travel,” says Daniel Houghton. “Travel offers things you can’t model or create at home. Everything we feel like midlife—fresh air, places we’ve never been, dinners with people we’ve just met—are the best travel opportunities available endlessly, no matter where you are on the planet.”
The Mt Sobek team notes that travel always comes back: “this passion for adventure does not disappear and does not weaken with time. This is a fundamental desire, a strange itch, and when the road opens, travelers will go up and down at full speed.”
Associate Editor Mary Turner and Associate Editor kayleen Lynch contributed to this report.