Adventure holidays will be one of four subjects to be discussed at the inaugural Irish Travel Industry Summit at the Clayton Hotel Burlington Road, Dublin, on Friday 24th November 2017. For the June/July issue of Irish Travel Trade News, News & Features Editor Neil Steedman interviewed 13 companies selling into Ireland’s adventure holidays market.
What is an Adventure Holiday?
In one sense all leisure travel is ‘an adventure’, but most of those surveyed regard ‘an adventure holiday’ as one that provides once-in-a-lifetime experiences by meeting and doing things with local people.
Most, but not all, differentiated between ‘adventure’ and ‘activity’ holidays. While many adventure holidays will involve activities, the key question was whether the activity was a new experience for the person.
The following were some of the comments made: “It’s all about discovery, once-in-a-lifetime experiences, human connections, getting to the beating heart of a destination, and understanding the local way of life”; “An adventure holiday has to take you out of your comfort zone in one way or another – physically, culturally, etc”; “An ‘adventure holiday’ varies from person to person, but generally it involves first-time personal experiences”; “Adventure to us means truly getting under the skin of a destination, doing things with local people and having those real life experiences that make travelling worth it”; “Adventure travel encompasses any kind of travel where you are immersing yourself in a new place, meeting local people, trying and tasting local foods, learning about wildlife, exploring hidden places or experiencing local cultures. This doesn’t need to be far-flung. The ‘adventure’ element is in overcoming fears to live a travel dream – rather than searching out a ‘safe’ home-from-home holiday, disconnected entirely from the place you are visiting and the people that live there.”
How Big is the Irish Market?
The answer to that question, of course, depends greatly on one’s definition of ‘adventure holiday’ but, even so, none of the respondents were willing to put forward a figure, the closest being: “In the tens of thousands – if you include the Camino, cyclists, walking, and family multi-active / group adventure holidays.”
However, all reported substantial growth figures for 2016 and even higher increases for 2017 to date, albeit that many were from a relatively low initial base.
Other comments included: “The number of people searching for and booking adventure holidays from Ireland has grown significantly in the last five years”, and “You only have to look at the other specialist operators coming into the Irish market, which is great news for the industry and the consumer.”
Popular Destinations and New Products
Each of those surveyed was also asked which destinations and types of adventure holiday are the most popular in the Irish market, as well as what new products and/or new promotions/incentives they had introduced for 2017 or have planned for 2018.
Adventure Holidays, Drew Duggan: “Our expectations are for continued growth in 2017 as more people switch from traditional beach holidays to a more active holiday. Growth markets are empty nesters, families with older children taking cycling holidays on European greenways, and 25+ as income security improves.
“For 2017 we have expanded our winter adventure programme to Norway, Sweden and Finland. We have added expedition cruising and more gourmet active holidays with a focus on food and wine. We currently feature 185 trips on our website and also have a busy tailor-made programme.”
Bindlestiff Tours, Mark White, Greg Evans Consultancy: “Destinations such as South America, Asia and Australia are still key destinations, however the USA and Canada offer a huge range of opportunities for adventure tours, especially around the National Parks in the western states such as Yosemite, Grand Canyon, Monument Valley and Alaska.
“We have seen a huge growth in ‘out of the ordinary’ private custom escorted tours at every price level from budget to luxury. We are always looking to add unique off the charts experiential adventures. This year one of the products we designed and added is a 4 x 4 overnight on the top of a remote mesa in Monument Valley complete with a 5-star dining experience and fully cooked breakfast at sunrise.
“We have also added some exciting helicopter/boating experiences to remote locations and look forward to expanding our Alaska programme and launching our Western Canada tours in 2018.”
Camino Groups, Eoin Garvey: “Camino Groups is working on an initiative with ‘main street’ travel agencies whereby we operate as ground operators on their behalf for any Camino enquiries that come their way. That way, any travel agency can engage with potential Camino customers whereas in the past, the agency might have simply said “no”.
“We are also expanding into the area of escorted Camino tours for the benefit of customers who might have felt too intimidated to try such a trip off their own bat.”
Camino Ways, Roland Monsegu: “In terms of our walking and cycling products, choosing to walk the Classic Camino route along the French Way is our most popular adventure for beginners. The Camino is a unique form of adventure as often people will not complete it in one year. Being from Ireland is an advantage as we are located so close to some of the most historic walking routes in the world. Adventure seekers and walkers from Ireland can choose to walk the Camino over a number of years, completing different routes at different times over the course of a few years.
“We are always investing in new products and channels that will give our clients the best possible experience. Just this year we designed a new tailor-made booking platform. This is the first customisable route planner for walking tours in Ireland and the Camino de Santiago in the world and we are very proud that our clients are enjoying the features so far.
“This summer we are launching a new website with new design elements and easier navigation. In the coming months we have a number of new products planned for our new brands of IrelandWays.com and TrekkingBug.com.”
Contiki Holidays, Donna Jeavons: “The most popular adventure destinations for Contiki Ireland are Canada, Galapagos Islands, New Zealand and Peru.
“Contiki has added Pride to its Greek Week summer 2017 product itineraries to celebrate the Greek Pride events in Athens and Mykonos. The Greek Week Pride trips will cater for all millennial travellers looking to experience an awesome Greek Pride festival teamed with the idyllic islands and cities that Greece has to offer.
“On the back of record demand for Canada product, we have introduced a new trip for 2018 called Northwest Passage. This trip is an adventure-packed journey through Vancouver, Victoria, Tofino and Whistler, and features nine days of exploration and adventure, from discovering the hip shops and cafés of Vancouver to visiting the Pacific Rim National Park Reserve, and ziplining, canoeing and hiking through the mountains of Whistler. Surf lessons, bear spotting and private sunset dinner cruises are just a few of the Me Time optional experiences available to travellers. Prices for the nine-day trip start from €1,799, including eight nights of hotel accommodation, nine meals, private transportation and an experienced Contiki Trip Manager, and departures begin in May 2018.
“According to Contiki’s 2016 research, 57% of 18-35 year olds ranked food as one of the most important travel experiences, and a desire to see natural beauty motivated 53% of respondents’ travel decisions. To reflect these millennial travel trends, Contiki is launching a foodie ‘Munch USA’ journey and photography-themed ‘Snap Canada’ trip on select 2018 departures as part of the new USA & Canada Limited Edition Series.
“Other new products for 2018 include The Big Kahuna, a nine-day Hawaii island hopper trip stopping in Oahu, Hawaii (The Big Island) and Maui. This is Contiki’s first In-Depth Explorer trip in Hawaii – previously just offering short stopovers. Highlights of the new trip include down time on the beaches of Waikiki, dinner and dancing at a traditional Luau, and hiking the incredible Diamond Head Crater.
“The new trip offers plenty of ME Time optional activities too, including surf lessons in Oahu, mountain biking down the 3,055-metre Mt Haleakala Volcano, and sailing from Maui to Lnai’i. Internal flights, 10 local meals, an experienced Contiki Trip Manager and eight nights of hotel accommodation are all included in the price, starting from €2,565 per person, with departures beginning in May 2018.”
Exodus Travels, Dan Jackson: “For us, the most popular destinations from Ireland are South East Asia, India, Costa Rica and Cuba, but Amalfi and Tuscany are also big sellers, mainly cultural sight-seeing trips and gentle walking holidays.
“We have several new tours to the Balkans and eastern Europe – Albania is one of our biggest selling cycling tours – and we have new trips to Romania, Serbia, and Montenegro. We also go to Kosovo – the whole region is opening up to adventure tourism.
“More special interest tours include the Harbin Ice & Snow festival in China, food trips to Sicily, Vietnam, and Northern Thailand, and trekking in Iran, for example.
“We are always looking at exciting, new destinations and are now going back to Pakistan, northern Sri Lanka, Bosnia…”
Explore, Laura Dewar: “The five most popular destinations in the Irish market are Italy, Spain, India, Portugal and Vietnam. Cycling and walking holidays are showing the biggest growth in this market, so it’s an active demographic. Of bookings made in 2017, 47% have been solo travellers – about the same as Explore’s overall traveller demographic.
“Explore has recently launched a new Simply Thailand trip that offers a 12-day overland adventure through tropical southern Thailand. Travel from the temples of Bangkok to the beaches of Krabi, with time to visit the cave pagoda of Phraya Nakhon, try squid fishing in Koh Phithak, and enjoy a night camping on a deserted beach in Khao Sam Roi Yort. Learn about the Bridge over River Kwai and explore one of the oldest rainforests in the world – Khao Sok National Park. Trips depart in November and December 2017 and January – May 2018.
“Our new 11-day Highlights of Haiti explores the emerald pool of the Bassin Bleu, the gingerbread buildings of Port au Prince, the island’s African roots during a Vodou ceremony, and the vibrant art scene in the capital. Hike to the UNESCO site of La Citadelle, perched atop the peak of Bonnet a l’Eveque. Trips depart in October/November 2017.
“The new 14-day Reunion and Mauritius trip takes in the two contrasting islands in the Indian Ocean. Walk on the crater rim of Piton Maldo and cross the scenic Cirque de Salazie, situated in the forested mountains. Uncover a side of Mauritius rarely seen by most travellers, including stargazing with a local astronomer, exploring the local markets of Mahebourg, and learn how to cook traditional creole food during a cookery class in Port Louis. Trips depart in September and October 2017.
“The eight-day Highlights of Sumatra ventures through jungles and past volcanoes to witness orang-utans in their natural environment in Bohorok. The trip includes climbing Sibayak volcano for sunrise and taking a boat ride on Lake Toba with a chance to visit the indigenous Batak Toba villages. Trips depart July – October 2017.
“For an epic three-week journey, the new Adventure Around the Baltic Sea visits nine different countries. Travel from Helsinki down through the Baltics to coastal Poland, Kaliningrad and Germany, then back into Scandinavia, ending in Stockholm. See areas that few tourists visit working the way around this coastal region, including fairy tale old towns, scenic islands, Soviet war relics and alternative hippy communities. Trips depart until September 2017.
“Our product team is busy working on the 2018 brochures so we will very soon be launching new product for 2018 – indeed, we will soon announce details of some special Beyond trips that will be running in 2019!”
G Adventures, John Grehan: “Top sellers for all styles (Yolo to National Geographic) are Vietnam and Cambodia followed by Thailand, Cuba and Peru. (Peru is the top selling destination for the entire G Adventures global group.) We were awarded the top Inca Trail tour operator in the world in December 2016.
“South America in general is a growth region, with Galapagos and Colombia showing strongly. Our Polar Expeditions are really selling well now and we hope to have a second ship to address the demand.
“Our main focus is to the travel agent and we tailor events along with training to each retailer’s needs. We have given away several sailing trips, we have two fam trips planned for this year, and more and more agents are taking advantage of our massive 70% discount for the trade on most of our trips.”
Intrepid Travel, Andrew Turner: “Some of our most popular destinations for the Irish market are Vietnam, Cuba and Cambodia, with top selling trips including Best of Vietnam & Cambodia, Vietnam Express Southbound, and Best of Cuba Reverse. With the increasing popularity of our Cuba tours, we have continued to add additional trips to this destination in order to meet the high demand that we are seeing from our travellers, with new trips including Cuba Trekking and Beaches and Cycle Cuba. Our cycling trips are also among the most popular of our themed holidays within the Irish market, giving travellers the opportunity to visit parts of the country they would never otherwise get to enjoy by cycling local roads.
“We continue to add more itineraries on a regular basis and offer certain trips that no other tour operators are doing. For example, our Reef to Rock Overland from €805 explores the outback culture of Australia, visiting one of the most remote 4WD tracks in the country in a region that no other travel companies visit.
“We are also really dedicated to making sure that agents understand everything about our trips and as such we have increased the number of fam trips for agents this year, visiting some of our most popular destinations including India, Cuba and Morocco. We have also organised a fam trip to China later this year in conjunction with Finnair and our Intrepid Loves Agents website details all the information for this, as well as other regular incentives in our Spin to Win section.”
Responsible Travel, Sarah Faith: “Our biggest new initiative for 2017 is our Trip for a Trip scheme – whereby for every booking made via our site (where the customer opts in) we fund a day trip for a disadvantaged child in a developing country. It’s a great way for our customers to give something back in a sustainable way and has the backing of travel legend Michael Palin. Since it launched earlier this year, we have given children living next door to a wildlife reserve in Swaziland the opportunity to see native wildlife like zebra for the first time, Cambodian youngsters from an impoverished fishing community on Tonle Sap Lake the chance to explore Angkor Wat for the first time, and children from the slums of Phom Penh the chance to visit a wildlife rescue centre on their first trip out of the city.
“We believe that the future of responsible tourism, and perhaps even ‘voluntourism’, lies in finding innovative ways to make travel more equal for all. Our Trip for a Trip scheme is just one example of this.”
Travel The Unknown, David McGuinness: “The most popular destinations for us in the Irish market are Iran, Ethiopia, India, Colombia and Bhutan. These are generally cultural tours and the primary market is the 45-75 age bracket.
“We have launched new tours to Sri Lanka and we are in the process of launching a Silk Road suite of tours including Silk Road Through the Stans, Uzbekistan, The Five Stans, and individual country options in all five Stans. We will also launch unique Madagascar tours later this year.”
Tucan Travel, Hattie Seal: “We expect an increase in Irish sales as we have strong ties with Trailfinders in Ireland and we also work closely with the USIT branches. We have seen Africa take a huge leap in sales in the past couple of years, not just in Ireland but as a whole, and we can expect this to increase as more people look to venture out of their comfort zones. Adventure travel is steadily becoming more and more popular but I believe we can expect an increase in tailor-made bookings, as more people look to travel further afield with larger budgets.
“We are about to launch our new tailor-made brochure for clients who want to design their own adventure in Latin America and Asia. This gives clients the flexibility when planning their adventure, from excursions included to accommodation styles and dates. We annually produce brochures for our group tours in October, generally with a promotion.”
Wendy Wu Tours, John Booty: “China is the main destination for us here in Ireland with China the Big One, China Trailblazer, and Dreams of Nature. Our Trails of Japan is selling very well in the UK market and we are now starting to see a lot of enquires here in Ireland. Our Japan business is up over 300% since last October and in 2018/2019 Wendy Wu Tours will be one of the largest inbound tour operators into Japan. We still have some availability left for 2017 with savings of up to €300 per person flying from Ireland.
Our first two years here in Ireland have been amazing, with our overall sales +406% on last year, and the relationship with the trade is brilliant. We have some amazing features and products planned for the Irish market and all will be revealed very soon.”