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Adventure tourism comes to Asia
Kristian Gotthelf
6/24/2004

In a recent issue of Newsweek Magazine the changing face of travel was investigated, with an analysis of the latest trends in tourism. One such trend is fantasy sports camps. In the US, sports camps are among increasingly popular services. Here participants, usually middle aged men, spend time with retired sports stars fulfilling a lifelong dream in everything from Formula 1 to boxing. Newsweek is predicting that the fantasy camp format will spread throughout Europe and then Asia citing an American baseball camp with plans to open shop in Japan.

The travel industry is alive with a buzz of things to come. Good things, which will come in the form of specialized holiday day-trips. Polarization happening in the industry is based on demographic variables such as income, sex and age. Not so long ago the “new’ travelers were backpackers trotting the globe, but that large group of Westerners and Japanese have grown up and are working (except for the hardcore trekkers camping out in Goa). Despite extensive travel experience they also have more time to travel than previous generations. These reformed backpackers know precisely what dosage they want in terms of adrenalin, relaxation and self discovery. They will seek destinations and service providers who offer such services. The future will tell whether these customized trips will become increasingly popular and if they are eventually swallowed by the main stream or will become galvanized and specialize in a certain group of people. Innovative travelers want the envelope pushed. They want instant gratification and are willing to pay for it. This means a larger demand for custom travel designed either, traditionally, by the traveler themselves or by someone who can offer a package and push the right buttons in their communication towards these choosy customers. The difficulty in marketing holidays has always been promising quality and visualizing the service, which does not become easier in a segmented market.

South East Asia already offers a chance to self discover while helping others (and really has for decades) in the NGO organizations where volunteers help out in refugee camps. Newer forms include eco-travels in newly established national parks, Thai Boxing camps and Buddhist temples especially catering to foreigners. So it is almost inevitable that the region also offers what one could call X-Tourism or adventure travels. This is tourism for thrill seekers who refuse to even think about a group tour let alone staying in a hotel. Of course backpacking is no longer an option for this niche: it’s all been done before; the jungle trek on elephant back, buying a used car and doing a road trip. The trails of Generation X are now literally the beaten path and that form of adventurous exploration of Asia has become main stream.

The discussion of X-Tourism owes something to various new media, such as the success of reality TV shows featuring survivors and contestants in staged “danger situations”. Also the evermore realistic computer games can be an influence. Finally, there are X-games which have evolved and if you do X-Games why not go on an X Travel? The trick for the service provider is now to fill the gap between the old and tried form of holidays and extreme danger such as, well, war. For there is a big difference between being near danger in a controlled environment and actually being in life threatening danger. The traveler wants a controlled adventure, but not staged - something that is more fun and at least appears more purposeful than running with the bulls in Pamplona.

Globally, the most famous company that offers such products is Incredible Adventures well known for its MIG flights and “Ops Missions”. The number of companies offering similar products is on the rise including startups mushrooming here in Asia. “On-the-Edge Adventures Asia” based in Hong Kong offers a customized package where the traveler is dumped in the middle of nowhere with a few instructions on how to get to the next check point. On the ten day journey the traveler experiences a variety of extreme emotions covering Thailand, Laos and Cambodia. What exactly happens, well, that is a secret and part of thrill explains Robert Davies, Director of OTEAA. “What we offer is a roller coaster of emotions, where the traveler has no idea what will happen next, but is safe at all times,” and he explains further “Only South East Asia can give the right backdrop to what we offer.” All of Mr. Davies’ clients are Western professionals who want an unforgettable, eye-opening experience. Although this business is successful, a quick search on the internet reveals that there is already a lot of competition in customized traveling.


Kristian Gotthelf
Researcher
Bangkok University
Rama 4 Road, Klong-Toey,
Bangkok 10110, Thailand
Telephone (662) 350-3500 Ext. 1610
E-mail: kristian.g@bu.ac.th

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