Group trips with friends and family, particularly during quieter travel periods, are among the trends defining multi-day adventure itineraries this year.
Operators of adventure travel tours expect 2024 to bring more demand for private group trips and more bookings during shoulder seasons.
Many active adventure travelers will seek personal enrichment beyond physical endurance challenges. Tour operators will also address a growing appetite for itineraries that take guests off the beaten track in more personalized ways.
Here are seven trends to watch in adventure travel during 2024, according to leading players in the sector.
1. More Shoulder Season Demand
September and October, the Northern Hemisphere’s traditional shoulder season, became the most popular months for adventure travel in 2023. Expect that trend to continue this year.
Booking data detailed in TourRadar’s 2023 organized adventure travel report showed these months replaced 2019’s peak departure period of June, July, and August.
Leisure travelers are continuing to shift the timing of their trips to coincide with cooler weather and better rates of the shoulder season, according to TourRadar’s booking data based on 50,000 active itineraries in over 160 countries.
2. Private Group Tours
Backroads founder and CEO Tom Hale said the company was seeing a rise in popularity for private active adventure group travel during the shoulder season.
“Travelers are looking to avoid peak crowds and enjoy milder weather,” said Hale, whose U.S.-based tour operator specializes in multi-adventure trips, including biking, hiking, and walking.
Private group tours, where only a chosen set of friends or families are included, can often be booked at prices comparable to Backroads’ regular tours, depending on the group size. In 2023, Backroads’ average active adventure trip length was between 5 and 6 nights, with an average cost of $5,077.
“We are seeing increased interest from families with kids of all ages wanting to travel together and share experiences instead of things,” said Hale.
Backroads has launched family-centric tours to destinations like Argentina, the Czech Republic, Alaska, and Iceland to meet demand in 2024. It previously only catered to couples, friends, and solo travelers in these destinations.
3. Northern Europe Sees Growth
Overall, adventure travel bookings in Europe are still below 2019 levels, TourRadar said. Yet certain countries such as Portugal, Albania, Slovenia, Norway, and Finland have experienced notable growth recently.
This rising interest in Northern European destinations might be partly attributed to climate change effects like heat waves and wildfires, which may be making Southern Europe a bit less appealing for adventure tourism.
Norway topped the list for Backroad’s forward bookings for Europe in 2024, as travelers are “drawn to its fjords and the Lofoten Islands.”
“We’re finding that travel to Northern Europe is more popular as Americans who have previously traveled to the perennially popular destinations in southern Europe — Italy, Spain, Portugal, and Greece, for example — are ready for a fresh destination,” said Hale.
4. Creating Transformative Moments
Self-reflection and personal growth have become more important for many active adventurers, according to UK-based adventure tour operator Explore Worldwide. Its walking holiday bookings were up 52% compared to 2019, with Camino de Santiago tour bookings up by 20% in 2023 compared to the year before.
Demand for its Peru Inca Trail treks were also up 40%, compared to last year.
Backroads has seen a doubling of its bookings for pilgrimage itineraries, with Camino Santiago De Compostela walking tours up 50% in 2023 compared to the previous year.
“People seeking active journeys are being drawn to the world’s traditional pilgrimage routes,” said Hale. The company has rolled out a new bike tour in addition to its walking and hiking tours on these routes for 2024.
5. Electric Bikes
The use of electric-assist bikes is expected to grow in popularity this year.
Backroads saw a 43% year-over-year increase between 2019 and 2023 in what it called its Dolce Tempo Easy going Active Tours, which features electric and hybrid bikes. These tours in the Netherlands and Belgium, and in Italy’s Puglia and Tuscany regions, have been the most popular.
The company’s custom-designed e-bikes, introduced in 2013, are ideal for guests new to active travel, with itineraries designed to combine the active part of the trip with individual interests like spa treatments or shopping experiences.
Explore Worldwide has also introduced an e-biking option on “almost all its trips,” with Cycle Mexico as its latest one.
6. Traditional Safaris Become More Active
Combining wildlife spotting with activities like snorkeling, scuba diving, sailing, cycling, and trail running is a growing active adventure trend, according to Southern Africa tour operator Where It All Began.
“Guests are increasingly wanting to mix up the relative physical indolence of a traditional lodge-based safari getaway with much more active experiences pre- or post-safari,” said Philip Rendel, the operator’s founder.
The company saw a 50% year-over-year increase in its repeat customers in 2023, Rendel said. Spending on active safari adventures rose by 60%. (For more context, Skift recently outlined Trends Safari Operators in Africa Are Seeing For 2024.)
G Adventures, known for its active, multi-day trips connecting travelers with locals, has shaped its 2024 glamping safari itineraries around customers looking to go deeper into the destinations they visit. The company has seen a 32% repeat customer booking rate in 2023 — up 28% compared to its pre-pandemic highs of 2019.
Its newly launched “Geluxe” itineraries include a 12-day Zimbabwe and Botswana tour, exploring Lake Kariba by boat, and discovering Zimbabwe’s lesser-known Matusadona National Park on foot.
7. Boats as a Base
Guests will continue to look to the convenience of unpacking once with small river or ocean boats as their base for multi-adventure itineraries.
The operator cited its Dhoni cruise as a way for guests to move “beyond traditional resorts” in the Maldives.
Backroads saw a 19% year-over-year increase in 2023 for its active ocean and river cruises, with most of its ocean and river cruises on Ama Waterways or Ponant ships. Its most popular trips were an ocean cruise that includes a multi-adventure tour of Croatia’s Dalmatian Coast and a cruise of Iceland with stops for walking and hiking.
“We hear from our guests time and time again that when traveling actively, under your own power, you connect with the world in the most fulfilling way,” Hale said. “They tell us there’s no better way to experience a country’s culture and its terrain.”
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Photo credit: Travelers are looking for active adventures tailored to their personal preferences. Source: Backroads Backroads / Backroads