Adventure for the Masses Twenty Years Ago Few People Knew about Adventure Travel; Now Millions Are Taking Action-Packed Vacations

By Cardozo, Yvette; Hirsch, Bill | Daily Herald (Arlington Heights, IL), June 4, 2000 | Go to article overview

Adventure for the Masses Twenty Years Ago Few People Knew about Adventure Travel; Now Millions Are Taking Action-Packed Vacations


Cardozo, Yvette, Hirsch, Bill, Daily Herald (Arlington Heights, IL)


We were planning to raft the Middle Fork of the Salmon River, with its mountainous rapids and technical twists. Imagine our amazement when the gear list arrived from the tour company.

Not to worry about discomfort, it assured us. The outfitter would supply tables and chairs for dinner, hot showers at the end of the day, even pillows. Pillows!

Another company that runs a kayaking trip supplies portable toilets that flush. Yet another company manages to come up with a guy on a harp for evening entertainment.

Welcome to adventure travel in the year 2000.

We're not saying the spice is gone. You'll still find plenty of tours where you'll sweat, freeze, drip, shiver and otherwise question your sanity - but things have changed for adventure travel in the past few decades. The trips changed. The destinations changed. The travelers changed and, more important, their expectations changed.

"The Travel Industry Association of America took a survey last year and discovered 100 million people, more than a third of the population of the United States, had undertaken an adventure-travel experience in the last five years," said Richard Bangs, editor at large of Expedia.com.

Bangs should know. As one of the founders of Mountain Travel- Sobek, he practically invented the concept of adventure travel nearly three decades ago.

A century ago, people didn't call these trips adventure travel. They thought of them as simply adventures undertaken by heroic explorers such as Sir Edmund Hillary or Lowell Thomas. They were explorers, Bangs explained, who had extraordinary skill, not to mention time and sponsors.

Then political barriers came down and jets shrank world distances and that opened exotic travel to the masses.

Suddenly, two new groups were making the trips. On one end you found the hippies of the early '70s who simply disappeared for months on end, lived on the cheap and put up with discomfort to explore exotic corners of the globe. Those of us out there ate local food off roadside stands, slept in beds that often included unwanted (moving) protein and had the luxury of spending weeks setting up, say, a trek into interior Nepal.

At the other end of this spectrum you found the gilt-edged folk on Lindblad trips, usually cruising or flying to the ends of the earth, staying in five-star hotels and paying a small fortune.

And now?

"The industry has matured and expectations have changed," said Dennis Pinto, managing director of Micato Safaris, a company that has taken people to the ends of the earth for more than 30 years.

"We've gone from a very wealthy, elderly client to a (merely) affluent client who is middle aged," said Pinto. "We've gone from the kind of client who would take four or five international trips a year to people who take perhaps only one international trip a year.

"And people's expectations have changed. They're looking for a higher caliber of accommodation. They want the cultural experience, and they want an experience that is more intimate and more in depth," said Pinto. "Thirty years ago, you could say, 'Here's a lion, here's an elephant, here's a tiger,' and they'd be happy. Today, they want to know all about the mating habits of these animals, about the ecosystems and they want interaction with the local people."

So, the modern adventure traveler is a baby boomer with a comfortable, but not lavish, income, who is curious about cultures and the outdoors, but not necessarily experienced in back-country travel, who is in fairly good physical shape, but not necessarily willing to endure lots of discomfort.

Then there is the female factor.

Eric Grathwol of O.A.R.S., or Outdoor Adventure River Specialists, a company specializing in water trips, says women account for 60 percent of the people coming on his trips or making the decision to go on his trips.

Twenty years ago, did young men get exotic travel out of their systems early while young women got married and stayed home? …

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