Adventure travel developed as a segment of the tourism market during the latter half of the 20th century out of the more general traditional notion of outdoor recreation. Adventure travel differs from from earlier forms of outdoor recreation, however, in that it offers travelers greater opportunities to experience specific physical activities (eg. rock climbing, diving, snow-boarding, kayaking, abseiling) that involve greater levels of skill and, within acceptable limits, risk. With traditional outdoor recreation, the primary attraction is the specific setting: with adventure travel, however, travelers are attracted primarily by the activities offered. Adventure travel is therefore primarily associated with travel products where the primary purpose is to engage in activity and participatory experience rather than the more passive sightseeing associated with traditional outdoor tourism.
The travel industry has evolved considerably since the 1970s. Changes include sociodemographic shifts which have seen a growth both the disposable income and available leisure time of many travelers. Travelers generally have become more discerning, have more travel experience, and have come to enjoy the benefits of cheaper, more convenient transport and other technological advances. As a result, substantial changes occurred in the demand for international travel products. The 1990s saw rapid growth in the evolution of specific segments of the tourism market including ecotourism, nature tourism and other special interest tourism which catered for the new breed of sophisticated traveler with both the means and the will to travel.
While travel costs will always remain a significant factor in decision-making for most travelers, the notion of tourist satisfaction is today of increasing importance. Increasingly, travel products must provide something other than simple value for money to attract tourists pursuing deeper, more satisfying purposes. In short, new patterns in travel choices have emerged to accommodate a much greater spectrum of travel interests, activities and experiences. Adventure travel today is increasingly the travel mode of choice for sophisticated travellers seeking to experience a holiday rather than simply sit in a tour bus passively sightseeing.
The increasing interest of many travellers in actively experiencing their holiday has also been matched with a rapid expansion in the range and quality of travel-related equipment available, extending the capability of tour operators to deliver more diversified adventure travel products. Australia has been at the forefront of these developments, and adventure travel is now one of the fastest-growing travel market segments in that country. Continuing to grow in their scope and appeal, it appears today that the variety and availability of adventure travel products for a broad spectrum of abilities and interests and abilities is almost limitless.
In Australia, the notion of adventure in travel is inextricably linked to that of the Outback. This means that true adventure travel is more likely to be found away from the comfortable, urban east coast, and in particular away from the area located south of the Brisbane-Adelaide line where over 80% of Australians live in urban and suburban settings oblivious to the geographic, climatic and cultural realities of the majority of the Australian continent. High on the list of authentic Australian outback adventure travel destinations therefore are Central Australia and the Northern Territory, far north and western Queensland, Western Australia and South Australia. The island of Tasmania also provides many exciting opportunities for adventure travel in unique wilderness areas.
Quality outback adventure tours in Australia are characterized by many factors, including the use of four-wheel-drive vehicles rather than buses, access to spectacular remote sites, provision of challenging adventure activities, and active hands-on participation in daily routines. The use of 4×4 vehicles typically allows tour operators to access more remote, difficult and spectacular country. By encouraging active participation in daily routines such as cooking, cleaning, setting camp and packing up, adventure tours engage travelers in the complete outdoor adventure experience rather than simply waiting on passive participants hand and foot.