Gear brands are taking advantage of the adventure travel boom—and not by making duffels.
The United Nations World Tourism Organization has recorded robust growth in the number of international tourist trips over the past three years, and outdoor brands are jumping to take advantage of the adventure travel boom: planning itineraries, running trips, and providing everything from climbing clinics in France to volunteer opportunities in Nepal.
This October, Arc’teryx became the newest brand to come aboard with the launch of Arc’teryx Trips. The Vancouver-based gear brand will run between 20 and 25 itineraries per year and already has 10 locations on the docket for spring/summer 2020.
Just a few months prior, Backpacker Magazine launched Backpacker Trips, leveraging the magazine’s position as a trusted source of destination information. The media company will provide everything from domestic backpacking itineraries to international voluntourism trips. Even REI, which has been running adventure travel vacations since 1987, has leaned harder into that sector this past year. In 2019, the Co-op added 60 new itineraries, dramatically expanded their cycling offerings, acquired longtime partner Arizona Outback Adventures, and launched Under 35 Trips designed specifically for young people.
“All of this is in response to the really strong growth we’re seeing,” says Justin Wood, senior manager of adventure travel at REI. “Millennials are one of our fastest-growing demographics, but we’re seeing increased interest in adventure travel across the board.”
It’s no secret that experiential marketing is a great way to connect with your consumers. Take the Fjällräven Classic, the Cotopaxi Questival, or the dozens of brand-sponsored road tours and demos as examples. In fact, one of the main inspirations for Arc’teryx Trips was the success of the long-running Arc’teryx Alpine Academies, which provide low-cost, brand-subsidized clinics from some of the world’s top mountain guides in Squamish, Jackson, and Chamonix every year.
However, unlike festivals or demos, adventure travel provides a new, more targeted approach to developing brand relationships. Multiday trips are totally immersive, and smaller guide-to-client ratios make for a more intimate experience.
That lower ratio might raise a red flag for some marketers, and it’s true: Unlike an email newsletter, which can drop into hundreds of thousands of inboxes in a matter of seconds, experiential marketing has a lot less immediate reach. Arc’teryx, for example, estimates that it will only have about 200 participants complete trips each year.
But, oftentimes, trip attendees go on to become ambassadors for the brand in their own communities. “Having a good time in the mountains, spending time with Arc’teryx staff and Arc’teryx guides—that’s as close as we can bring someone to the brand without being an employee,” explains Jurgen Watts, Arc’teryx’s senior manager of brand partnerships.
What’s more, providing touch points that go beyond product becomes increasingly necessary as brands move toward more durable, sustainable gear offerings. “If we’re doing our job right, you’re only buying a jacket every 10 years,” Watts says. “We need to fill in that interim with something more than just an email every month.” Mountain education and adventure travel are a great way to give back to the consumer, turning a typically one-sided buying relationship into something more robust and longer-lasting.
“People have experiences with us on trips that are really life-changing, and they develop a profound connection with REI in that sense. It helps us be more relevant in our customers’ lives,” says Wood.
The other benefit to doling out high-level mountain education and outdoor experience is that it allows brands to actively grow—and maintain—their audiences. This may be especially true of Arc’teryx, which has a target demographic of intermediate to advanced outdoor users. Arc’teryx Trips, like Arc’teryx Academies, work by churning out newly minted local experts and lifelong brand advocates at the same time.
And you don’t have to be a gear company to benefit from experiential marketing. Backpacker Magazine is trying to cultivate that same kind of relationship with readers.
“Our audience looks to us for storytelling and trip ideas already,” says Dennis Lewon, director of content at Active Interest Media, Backpacker’s parent company. “[Backpacker Trips] is a really natural extension of our brand—it allows us to complete the circle to inspire, educate, and then literally take our readers hiking.” (Other media outlets, like Afar and Outside Magazine already have adventure travel programs.)
Planning and operating an adventure travel arm requires strong partnerships with guides and tourism businesses, serious time commitment, and a lot of logistical problem solving. That makes it off-limits for many small brands. However, the trend still presents some global takeaways: As consumers continue to value experiences and authentic connections, experiential marketing is more valuable now than ever. Small brands might consider planning local guided hikes, and retailers might want to ramp up their own events schedules.
Providing an immersive, one-on-one experience is a surefire way to form lasting impressions. To do that, you don’t have to be in Nepal. But, it sure doesn’t hurt.