ADVENTURE TRAVEL Comes in from the Cold

By Bercovici, Jeff | Folio: the Magazine for Magazine Management, February 1, 2004 | Go to article overview

ADVENTURE TRAVEL Comes in from the Cold


Bercovici, Jeff, Folio: the Magazine for Magazine Management


Byline: Jeff Bercovici

Adventure travel was the perfect pastime for the flush 1990s. As the New Economy spiraled upward, a growing number of Americans spent lavishly to unwind in remote, preindustrial locales: the beaches of Thailand, the jungles of Costa Rica, the cave cities of Turkey, even the Arctic Circle. Magazine publishers were quick to spot the trend. In 1992, Straight Arrow Publishers (later renamed Wenner Media) launched Men's Journal, a lifestyle title with a heavy dose of adventure. Five years later, independent Blue debuted, followed in 1999 by National Geographic Adventure. The newcomers joined Outside, which had staked out the territory in 1978 and has won three National Magazine Awards for general excellence, most recently in 1998.

But in the wake of September 11, the market crash, wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and the rise in terrorism, even hard-core adventurers have stayed closer to home. The national zeitgeist turned from living on the edge to cocooning at home. The U.S. travel industry contracted from $570.5 billion in 2000 to $528.5 billion in 2002; the adventure travel category felt greater pain. According to Jerry Mallet, head of the Adventure Travel Trade Association (ATTA), Americans spent $245 billion on adventure travel and outdoor recreation in 2000 ($120 billion on travel plus another $125 billion on related equipment). By 2002, the total had fallen below $200 billion. Spending on outfitted trips dropped 40 percent, and magazines with fortunes tied to adventure travel also got whacked. Between 2000 and 2003, Outside and Men's Journal saw a 23 percent drop in ad pages, compared with 21 percent for all consumer books, according to PIB. National Geographic Adventure, which was in its initial rapid-growth phase, was off about 1 percent. Travel ads constitute 20 to 25 percent of ad pages in all three titles, making it their second biggest category, behind automotive.

Now the pubs that grew fat off the adventure-travel boom and suffered in the bust say 2004 will be a turnaround year. Between an improving economy and an overall uptick in travel (Travel Industry Association of America predicts $568.1 billion in travel spending this year, en route to a record-breaking $594.3 billion in 2005), they expect demand for adventure travel to pick up. At the same time, they have adapted their editorial to be less dependent on luring Americans to vacation in Nepal - still on the State Dept.'s watch list - and more focused on rugged outdoor sports that can be done closer to home, including kayaking, mountain biking and trail running.

Not that the category is out of the woods (so to speak) entirely. "We have another two years before we're really recovered, and that's barring something else happening," says TIA spokeswoman Cathy Keefe. And the turnaround is already too late for at least one title: Blue, which was launched in 1997 to cover "the adventure lifestyle," folded quietly in April, selling its subscriber file to Rodale's Backpacker.

More important than rebounding, publishers say, is the long-term potential for their business. The same lifestyle trends that propelled adventure travel from the margins to the mainstream during the 1990s are still in play.

What are those trends? The most obvious is the growing ease with which both people and information move across borders. "Adventure travel has become more popular because America's travelers have become more sophisticated," says Men's Journal publisher Carlos Lamadrid. In 1987, only 17 percent of U.S. citizens had passports; now 42 percent do, he says. Today, traveling abroad no longer means seeing London or Paris. According to the World Trade Organization, travel to Asia and the Middle East is growing at a considerably faster rate than travel to Europe.

Another factor is the pressure of the 24/7 lifestyle, which makes exotic lands an appealing way to get sane. Lamadrid notes that in Men's Journal's focus groups, readers consistently respond strongly to headlines promising "hideaways" or "secret" vacation spots. …

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