Executive view: Shannon Stowell, CEO of Adventure Travel Trade Association

Shannon Stowell.

On balance, we feel good about the outlook for 2024. The Americas continue to be strong. Europe still feels really strong. Asia feels a little behind, and destinations that rely heavily on Chinese travelers haven't fully come back.

But there are bright spots within Asia. Japan is hot. We had a situation where a very high net worth individual wanted to do a luxury trip in Japan but could not find any guides -- they were all booked.

Obviously, the outlook for the Middle East-North Africa region has shifted dramatically in the last few months, and bookings in the region are going to drop. Depending on how long this plays out and how severe it gets, it can have a huge impact on regional destinations.

We've heard from some of the bigger operators that any of the countries that touch Ukraine or Russia remain iffy. People understand where the conflict is and where it could potentially spill into, and tensions remain high there.
And there's concern about potential conflict with China over Taiwan, which would certainly be very destabilizing in that region.

A study I saw said that a higher percentage of travelers are buying insurance. That says something about consumers' mindset on concerns about disruptions and potential problems. I'm also hearing about shorter booking windows again, meaning people are making more last-minute decisions.

The other concern in certain parts of the world is inflation. In addition to other rising costs, I've spoken with operators who have had to double their staffs' pay in order to keep them.

The middle market for adventure travel, in the $2,000 to $4,000 range, may be softening a little bit, but not dramatically. But the high end -- trips above $5,000, land cost only -- is very strong. I'm hearing reports of increasing interest in that range.

Even with the threat of recession, there's research showing that people may be doing fewer but longer trips. How that will impact destinations is still to be seen, but it may end up turning out OK if overall revenue remains the same.

Climate issues are definitely in the conversation, as well. I know of several Western European tour operators who have started to build itineraries in destinations further north. An Italian company that specializes in cycling trips is beginning to offer itineraries in Norway for the first time next year because they're concerned that Italy's just going to be too hot in the peak season for cycling.

After the pandemic, governments saw what was lost when there was no tourism. It's being reprioritized in some countries. I've seen that firsthand in Panama, Japan and Mongolia, where people are elevating tourism in their conversations because it's renewable and more sustainable.

As the adventure traveler has gotten older and become more sophisticated, culture has risen in importance in adventure travel. In the Americas, it ranks second on surveys, and in Europe and Asia, it's No. 1, ahead of hiking/trekking/walking, which are No. 1 in the Americas.

I've heard that election years are down for travel in general, but I think adventure is a little bit different because for adventure travelers, it's not just, "Should I go to the beach this year?" Adventure travelers define themselves by their activities. They may say, "I'm a cyclist," or "I'm a diver." It's so integrated into their persona, who they project themselves to be to family and friends, that they're not going to stop cycling or diving because of something like an election.

This interview was conducted by Arnie Weissmann.

JDS Travel News JDS Viewpoints JDS Africa/MI