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How have adventure sports developed over time?

Trends in adventure sports in a post-modern society

The essay delineates main trends in the development of adventure sports and looks into possible future scenarios. Since the 1970s there has been an increase in adventure sports of various kinds. The concept ‘adventure sport’ is used in a wide sense, covering sports that are labelled ‘alternative’, ‘extreme’, ‘X’, ‘gravity’, ‘lifestyle’ and ‘action sports’. The rise of adventure sport must be seen both on the background of developments inside sports itself and the environing society. Adventure sports have things to offer that are difficult to find in other sports, like strong sensations and risk. They represent an opposition and protest against certain aspects of modern societies, but can also be said to express key ideas in modern and post-modern society such as individualism, technology, self-realization and transcendence. The essay discusses various theories and recent empirical findings that may explain and predict developments of adventure sports in the future.


Adventure Sport, also referred to as Extreme Sport, is one of the fastest growing parts of both the leisure and tourism markets. The reasons for this are many and varied but all come down to the simple fact that done right these are fun and exciting activities that can take people to some of the world's most beautiful places.

What are the ‘Adventure Activities’?

Definitions of adventure sport vary and the reality is that adventure is a pretty personal thing! One person’s easy day out is anothers extreme sport. At Trexpert we have done a lot of work in classifying and segmenting the adventure sports market and we find this understanding is vital to developing reliable business models and visitor forecasts. As to the actual adventure activities that can take place on or in built facilities the following examples give a pretty good summary. And new variations are emerging all the time. At Trexpert we are always looking for the next big thing!

Kids SnowsportsBoulderingDownhill BikeCanyoningSkydiveKids Caving

Snow Sports

  • Dry Slope Skiing

  • Dry Slope Snowboarding

  • Skeleton/Luge

  • Skating


  • Trail MTB

  • Freeride MTB

  • BMX

  • Skateboard

  • Mountain Boarding

  • North Shore

  • Freestyle


  • Indoor Lead Climbing and Bouldering Walls

  • Ice Climbing Walls

  • Via Ferrata

  • Abseiling

  • Outdoor Bouldering

  • Deep Water Soloing

  • Ropes Course

  • Canyoning

  • Coasteering

  • Caving

  • Zip Wire

  • Zip Coaster

  • Fan Drop

  • Bungee

Water Sports

  • Water Skiing

  • Wakeboarding

  • Canoeing

  • Diving

  • Surfing

  • Rafting

  • Tubing


  • Sky Diving

  • Hang Gliding

  • Paragliding

  • Gliding

  • Paratube


  • Auto-belay Fun Walls

  • Adventure Play

  • Trampoline Parks

  • Adventure Maze

  • Zorbing

  • Alpine Coaster

Emerging Sports/Activities

  • Parkour

  • Adventure Racing

  • Rollglider

Participation in Adventure Sport

Evidence of participation levels within the vast majority of adventure sports is sparse and where it exists is often misinterpreted. At Trexpert we have built up a library of evidence as to participation rates. We have studied and interpreted these reports and added our own research. We have also commissioned research to explore the crucial questions of latent demand and barriers to participation. 

Overall we see strong growth across the full spectrum of adventure activities, with the more established activities such as climbing and mountain biking seeing growth fuelled by new and more welcoming facilities (climbing walls and trail centres) that make it easier for people to ‘have a go’ and so tap into latent demand. 

A key characteristic of adventure sport is the scale of this latent demand and in our research we often see the number of participants being greatly outweighed by those who would like to have a try but have not had the chance. It is this latent demand backed up by a strong base of enthusiasts that the multi activity VX approach seeks to meet.

Adventure Tourism and Recreation

According to research instigated by the Adventure Tourism Travel Association (ATTA) the global adventure tourism market was worth $263bn in 2012. This market appears to be growing rapidly - by 17% between 2009 and 2011 and then 65%  from 2011 to 2012. This contrasts with a steady 4% annual growth rate in mass tourism over recent years and would make adventure travel the fastest growing sector of the tourism industry.

Adventure travellers are described as:

  • Confident, well-travelled consumers who want something more than sun, sea and sand

  • Demanding an authentic ‘off the beaten track’ experience that they can’t find in guide books

  • Geographically and environmentally aware

  • Active (from walkers to mountaineers)

As to the UK market - Mintel estimated that in 2000 the total activity holiday market (domestic and international) was around 14.7 million trips. As a percentage of all domestic holidays in that year, 10.6% involved an activity, with overseas activity holidays representing 9.5% of all international holidays. More recently studies in the UK and US have looked at the value of the outdoor recreation market per se (of which adventure sport is a major segment) and found this to be very significant.

Adventure Sport and Regeneration

Increasingly regeneration professionals are recognising the potential of Adventure Sport as a place-making device capable of delivering significant visitor numbers whilst helping change perceptions of an area. Within the UK we have seen Scotland, Cumbria and Wales adopting adventure sport as a key part of their visitor economy offer. Cumbria’s ‘Adventure Capital’ campaign made a bid for primacy in England, whilst in recent years North Wales has taken a proactive approach to developing an impressive adventure sports cluster which now includes some internationally renowned facilities. In Lancashire the Adrenaline Gateway project has sought to link activities as varied as dry slope skiing, climbing and mountain biking in order to differentiate the area and offer a great day out to people within a two hour catchment. Helping government to develop such adventure sport strategies is a core area of our consultancy work.

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