If lying on a beach with a pina colada in hand is your idea of a great vacation, then adventure tourism probably won't appeal to you. The growing numbers in the market indicate that it appeals to an increasing amount of vacationers, however. A study by the Travel Industry Association of America (TIA) shows that roughly 20 percent of adult travelers are adventure tourists. The same report finds that 10 percent of all Americans have already embarked on an adventure vacation. Revenues have skyrocketed, with The Wall Street Journal reporting in 2003 that the adventure market topped $245 million dollars [source: Xola Consulting].
Just who is most likely to embark on an adventure tour may surprise you. While "hard" adventure tourists are typically college-educated, single males in their 20s, "soft" adventurers are made up of a wide range of people. Baby boomers and seniors help to make up the growing number of soft travelers. But it's adventure-seeking women that make up the fastest-growing segment of the industry.
Two-thirds of divorces for couples between the ages of 40 and 60 are initiated by women, and many of these women turn to adventure travel as an exciting transition into their new lives [source: Time]. The cliché male midlife crisis typically involves a sports car and hair replacement surgery. The midlife crisis women are experiencing takes the form of a spiritual journey. A new breed of travel agency specializing in adventure travel for women is a large part of this rapidly growing industry. Traveling in groups with women of similar backgrounds and experiences is proving to be very appealing for women in their 40s. While about half of these adventurers are divorced, the others have husbands that don't mind separate vacations to meet their individual needs [source: Time]. Many men aren't interested in going on a culinary or wine tour, so their wives are going it alone or with a group. Adventure Women, in business since 1982, says that 70 percent of their guests are repeat customers [source: Adventure Women].
For both men and women, the benefits of adventure travel can be great. The more physically strenuous vacations have obvious health benefits and can help build self-esteem through accomplishing difficult tasks. The "peak experience" you have when reaching the summit of a mountain can be achieved by accomplishing any physical goal. Physical challenges require intense concentration and focus, which is a great mental workout.
Aside from building self-esteem, there are other psychological benefits. A sense of danger and stepping into the unknown can be a mentally stimulating experience. Many adventurers say that they encounter a heightened sense of self and feel more alive during their journey. A sense of calm and clear headedness also contributes to the psychological gains of adventure tourism [source: Swarbrooke]. Emotional and spiritual discovery are important elements of adventure travel. Some may find it at the top of Mount Everest, while others can gain it through a calming bird-watching tour.
In the next section, we'll learn about some of the more interesting adventure vacations being offered today.