By Philip Sheldon, CEO
Our love affair with travel dates back to Odysseus and farther, but ever since ancient times travelers have been seeking more comforts and an easier road to tread. Yet thousands of years later, we find 21st century travelers gravitating away from the comforts of air-conditioned motor coaches and trading in 500-count designer sheets for the hard earth reality of sleeping bags and the open sky. What draws them to the adventure side of travel? Consider…
* Feeling ancient cobblestones under your feet while hiking through a Tuscan hill town
* Biking through Burgundy’s vast fields of poppies and sunflowers—fast as the wind—or slow enough to bend down and pluck a flower from the ground
* Dolphin escorts as you kayak the Gulf of California in the early morning sun
* Zooming across the rainforest rooftops like a bird as you peek into the homes of monkeys, lemurs and other tropical inhabitants.
Imagine putting the “travel” back in travel. That’s what adventure travel is all about.
What is Adventure Travel?
Adventure vacations encompass a wide variety of activities ranging from hiking and biking, to kayaking and rafting, from SCUBA diving and snorkeling, to skiing and mountain climbing. Action is the focus of adventure travel. Trips are designed to make each individual personally (and physically) responsible for getting from here to there. In the process a traveler will actually touch the landscape, rather than just observing it while passing through. One becomes part of the environment whether it is 50 feet below the ocean’s surface while SCUBA diving, horseback riding across the mountains in Costa Rica, or trekking the ancient Inca Trail in Peru. The experience for many travelers is richer because there is an element of challenge and self-examination. The rewards of adventure travel include the satisfaction of knowing you have met the challenge and succeeded in completing the trek.
Adventure trips may include occasional local sightseeing visits to museums and other cultural attractions, but these stops serve to enhance the overall experience, rather than to be the focus of the trip. Adventure travelers are looking for the journey rather than the destination. Instead of merely sitting down and enjoying a first-class meal in a fine French restaurant, you may hike or bike to the countryside of the Dordogne region of France to taste truffles that only moments before had been buried in the ground. And how much richer is a wine tasting after you have spent the day passing amongst the vineyards under your own steam? The activities propel you into a relationship with the environment you simply cannot get by any other means.
How High is the Mountain?
Adventure trips not only offer a variety of activities, they also offer a range of difficulty designed to include people of varying levels of fitness and daring. Active vacations or “soft adventures” offer minimum risks, encourage travelers to try new experiences, and are designed so that the typical fit person can participate and safely enjoy the adventure. In contrast “hard-adventure” or “extreme sports” trips require significantly more skill and fitness, and appeal to a much smaller (but very enthusiastic!) audience. In between, there are adventures that push the limits of a participant but offer the reward of successfully accomplishing a feat of endurance or daring that transcends one’s daily life. A pattern is broken and a new experience is enjoyed—that is what travel is all about!
Gay and Lesbian Adventure Travel
One niche in which adventure tours have remained very popular over the years is the gay and lesbian market. The founder of our company, Hanns Ebensten, ran the first gay trips in 1972, and his initial venture was a Grand Canyon rafting trip. In 1971, Hanns and his partner of 40 years, Brian Kenny, took a Grand Canyon rafting trip on their own, and loved it, except that as the only gay couple on the boat, they didn’t find much in common with the other passengers. Therefore, when they returned home, they decided to invite other gay men to join them the following year. Even some gay organizations so stereotyped their members that they assured Hanns that no gay man would choose roughing it on the Colorado River over spending a night at the opera.
However, the skeptics were wrong. The Grand Canyon trip and other early trips quickly filled up, and an entire industry was born. Thirty years later, the mainstream travel industry has discovered this growing and lucrative market and openly courts gay and lesbian travelers to join them. Hanns Ebensten Travel and our partner company Alyson Adventures maintain a loyal following and continue to lead the market segment in adventure travel.
Several other gay adventure travel companies have successfully competed for the active G&L market as well. In fact there are as many (or more) active vacation G&L travel companies as there are G&L travel companies offering more traditional tours. This seems to indicate that gays and lesbians are more willing than the general public to take a chance when vacationing (something they often have to do in their daily lives).
But they are hardly alone these days. More and more traditional tour companies are offering their clients a chance to “get off the bus” and get on a bike, lace up their boots, climb up the hills, get their feet wet and take an active role in their vacations. There are as many reasons to choose an adventure vacation as there are people who take them, but I believe there is one reason they all do—simply put—they’re FUN! Get out and play!
(Note: this was the Feature Article in Courier Magazine of the National Tour Association in June 2004)