Thrill Seekers Lead Demand for Activity Travel

Majority of U.S. outdoor adventure & activity travelers in 2024 are motivated by the thrill of trying something new, latest Arival research finds

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Although the pandemic feels like a distant memory, the impact it had on the experiences sector remains. One group of operators in particular is feeling the after effects of the return to normalcy and that is the outdoor adventure and activities operator. 

The latest Arival report takes a closer look at this segment. Based on a survey of 1,000 U.S. travelers, the newest report from the 2024 U.S. Experiences Traveler research series delves into the mind of the outdoor adventure and activities traveler: who they are, what they want, and how they choose, book and share in 2024.

One of the highlights from this report on the outdoor adventure and activities traveler segment is that amid the overall demand for these types of experiences returning to pre-pandemic levels, the types of travelers that are seeking outdoor adventure activities differ significantly from their tour taker and attraction visitor counterparts.

Back to Reality: Overall Participation Down, Individual Spend Up

During the height of COVID-19 when our ability to travel was severely limited by lockdowns, social distancing and masking rules, most experience operators were reeling from the negative impacts on their businesses. Activities operators, however, saw their businesses explode as travelers and locals alike shifted to experiences that were outdoors and didn’t involve large groups. In 2021, as pandemic restrictions began to subside, 72% of travelers stated that they did activities compared to 59% pre-COVID.

The gravy train, however, seems to have slowed down and participation levels have returned to 2019 levels, indicating that the increase in spend and attendance was only a short term anomaly rather than a long term increase.

Arival graph showing the percentage of travelers participating in activities over the years: 2019 (59%), 2021 (72%), and 2023 (58%)

But the news isn’t all bad. For travelers who do activities, their overall spend on activities and the number of activities that they are doing has increased. This indicates that for those that do activities, the desire to do more and the willingness to spend more has increased.

Activities Travelers are Built Different

The most significant finding, and the one that means the most for operators, is that activities travelers are not the same as tour takers or those who enjoy attractions. Although there is some overlap between the types of the travelers, activities travelers tend to be younger, more affluent, and much more passionate about the activities that they do.

Arival graph illustrating traveler motivations for activities. 67% identified as Thrill Seekers, 32% as Passionate Enthusiasts, and 26% as Along for the Ride.

Activities travelers tend to fall into two distinct but related groups. The first are those who are looking to do something they’ve always wanted to do but haven’t. We refer to these travelers as “Thrill Seekers.” An example of this traveler might be someone who has never tried scuba diving before but wants to try it for the first time.

The second group are those who do the activity on a regular basis. We refer to these as “Passionate Enthusiasts.” Using the aforementioned scuba reference, an example of this type of traveler might be someone who scuba dives on a regular basis and is looking to scuba dive in a new destination.

Operator Takeaway:

Why are these two groups so important for activities operators? Unlike tours or attractions which have a more general appeal and do not have specific requirements to participate, activities generally require some physical requirement or skill. This means that operators have to be sensitive to the needs of both novice participants, such as the Thrill Seeker, or a more experienced participant such as the Passionate Enthusiast. Providing an equally satisfying experience for two fundamentally different groups of customers may be a challenge however and may require a re-thinking of how the activity is designed and delivered.

Learn More About the Outdoor Adventure & Activities Traveler

Learn more about today’s tour taker in our latest report, the Outdoor Adventure & Activities Traveler, available exclusively for Arival Insider Pro Access members — sign up and/or log in and download your copy today.

The Outdoor Adventure & Activities Traveler report is the latest in a series of reports based on Arival’s U.S. consumer research. Look for more reports and articles in this series, focusing on:

Also, join us for the next Arival event to learn more about what travelers are looking for and how to reach them, as we explore the latest travel trends, research results and experiences industry insights, with practical tips and takeaways for operators of tours, activities, attractions and experiences.

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Header photo: Stephen Joyce

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