National Tourism Foundation

Adventure Group Traveler

he Hard Adventure Group Traveler Versus the Soft Adventure Group Traveler

Jasmine Goodnow

Paper Submitted for the 2000 Luray Caverns Graduate Research Grant National Tourism Foundation, Inc.
546 East Main Street Lexington, Kentucky 40508

February 1, 2005

Adventure tourism has become more popular and is expected to continue its growth in the future (Plog, 1991). However very little is known about the personality or travel preference of the adventure traveler. Research is needed to understand the needs and wants of the adventure traveler in order to design appropriate tours and packages and to market effectively. The purpose of this study was to distinguish the personality characteristics of adventure group travelers and determine the specific differences between soft and hard adventure tour participants.

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In order to study the group adventure traveler, participants were selected based on previous involvement in tour groups identified as being representative of two adventure types (the soft adventure group traveler and hard adventure group traveler). After extensive review of the current literature concerning adventure travel (Bay 2000; Fluker and Turner 2000; Graham 2000; Hill 1995; Loverseed 1997; McGuire 1999; and Plog 1991) it was observed that there were no accepted definitions identifying the similarities and differences between the soft and hard adventure group travelers. In order to establish a basis for analysis in this study the following definitions were proposed. Soft adventure group travel is characterized by travel to novel or exotic locations, low risk activities (perceived and true), low intensity activities, high quality food, quality lodging, and transportation. One example of a soft adventure tour is a luxury tented safari camp in Kenya that provides gourmet food, showers, and Land Rovers for a safari tour. Hard adventure travel is characterized by travel to novel or exotic destinations, a higher risk factor of activities that may require greater skill(s), and a higher intensity level of activities. Accommodations are typically more rustic, including tents, rustic lodges, and basic hotels. Food is generally the traditional food of the region. One example of hard adventure travel is traveling by foot on a walking safari through Kenya, carrying all supplies and food in a backpack that weighs approximately 70 pounds. Accommodations are tents and food consists of the traditional fare of goat, cabbage, and chipotes (flour pancake). The risk factor is considered high due to potential wild animal encounters, poor water quality, and countless other risks including but not limited to injury, inclement weather, and sickness. In order to ensure that a variety of adventure travelers were included in this study, a stratified random sample was collected. The past participants of four tour operators specializing in soft adventure and/or hard adventure group travel were randomly sampled. The tour operators sampled were selected according to their reputation as a market leader, type of travel offered (soft or hard adventure), and the volume of repeat business.

Data Collection Procedures

A random sample of the tour operators? past client list (i=4) was conducted with a random start. Participants were contacted and issued the questionnaire via an email letter. Respondents were asked to complete the questionnaire online over a password protected web site. Using the Internet as a survey tool, it was hoped to increase the number of useable questionnaires enabling a greater sample size thus yielding a more representative sample of the adventure group-travel population.


The questionnaire was composed of two sections. Section I was designed to determine the psychographics of each respondent using Plog?s psychographic/allocentric scale. Section II consisted of questions measuring demographics, such as age, income, and education level. Additionally, this section included questions designed to profile the respondents regarding their previous adventure experience and travel behavior, such as perceived risk level, activity level, types of accommodations, and destination choice.

Allocentrism/psychocentrism Measures

Plog?s psychographic scale consists of six items that are scored on a summed-response basis and includes allocentric/psychocentric and energy dimensions. Plog initially developed his scale while studying the behaviors and motivations of international airline travelers. The scale measures peoples travel personality along a continuum from an allocentric travel personality to a psychocentric travel personality. Plog?s (1971) allocentric/psychocentric continuum is composed of five personalities including allocentric, near-allocentric, mid- centric, near- psychocentric, and psychocentric. The allocentrics are described as more adventurous, seeking the new and undiscovered destinations and cultures, while psychocentrics tend to travel to well known and developed tourist destinations with the aid of a package tour. Allocentrics are considered hard adventure travelers due to their desire for adventure, higher levels of risk, higher activity levels and other characteristics consistent with hard adventure travelers. Near- allocentrics are considered to be soft adventure travelers. Near- allocentrics have many of the characteristics that allocentrics have, but they require low activities levels, low risk levels, and more comfortable lodging and transportation. Psychocentrics and near-psychocentrics would not be classified as adventure travelers. They tend to travel, if traveling at all, to familiar destinations, close to home, with low levels of novelty.

Population Profile

A random sample of 1170 randomly selected email addresses from four adventure tour operators were checked for accuracy and those email addresses found to be in error were eliminated. Email invitations were sent to the remaining 754 accurate addresses of past adventure tour participants. A total of 153 surveys were returned, resulting in a 20.3% response rate. The response rate on this survey may have been influenced greatly by the September 11, 2005 tragedy. The data from the demographic portion of the questionnaire suggests that the majority of respondents were female (54.2%), with a mean age of 46 years old, have earned a post graduate degree (59.5%), work full-time (62.1%), have a annual household income of over $100,000 (54.4%), and are single with no children (40.5%).

The respondents preferred to travel with family (41.8%) or with friends (40.5%), and prefer to arrange basic airline and accommodations (64.1%) before departing. The most preferred type of accommodation is a limited service motel (28.8%). Most prefer to travel with a guide when a trip involves some risk (39.2%) and if a new skill is required (37.9%). The respondents preferred to utilize multiple types of information sources including the Internet or World Wide Web (94%), word of mouth (93.5%), travel books (86.9%), travel magazines (75.8%), brochures (74%), travel agents (43.1%), auto clubs (35.9%), and 1-800 information services (26.1%).

While on an adventure trip, forty-two percent of respondents reported their preferred activities as being moderately thrilling, daring and exciting, and forty percent of the respondents reported their activities as being very thrilling, daring and exciting. Sixty-three percent of the respondents reported preferring activities that were moderately risky. The majority of respondents preferred a trip with a moderate activity level (76.5%), and a trip that required some degree of skill(s) (54.9%). The first choice of preferred activities while on vacation was camping/backpacking/trekking (35.3%), the second and third choice of activities related to the culture of the region visited. The majority of participants describe themselves as being both a soft and hard adventure traveler (47.7%), whereas the remaining respondents rated themselves as being a soft adventure traveler (23%), or a hard adventure traveler (21%).

Using Plog?s updated Allocentric/psychocentric scale, the respondents were classified into different travel personality types according to Plog?s instructions. Plog?s personality types range along a continuum from psychocentric (very dependable), near psychocentric (somewhat dependable), near-allocentric (somewhat venturesome), and allocentric (very venturesome). Four different personality types emerged: very dependable; somewhat dependable; somewhat venturesome; very venturesome. The respondents primarily identified themselves as being hard adventure travelers (32), soft adventure travelers (35), or both hard and soft adventure travelers (73), the majority of these respondents were classified as Somewhat Venturesome (65), or Very Venturesome (76) on Plog?s scale (Table 1).

Table 1: Plog?s Allocentric/psychocentric Classification and Participants? Self-Description of Adventure Preference

Self-Description of Adventure Preference

Plog?s Groups          Hard         Soft         Both         Neither         Total

Very Dependable      0               0              0               4                   4
Somewhat Dependable 0          3              5               0                    8
Somewhat Venturesome 5        15           41              4                    65
Very Venturesome    27             17           27              5                    76
Total                         32             35           73              13                  153    



Discussion of Results

Adventure travelers are complex and are comprised of many different variables and demographics (McIntyre and Roggenbuck, 1998; Wright, 1996). Sung Morrison and O?Leary (1996) identified six major components of adventure travel: activity, motivation, risk, performance, experience and environment. Activity was the most important component of adventure travel (Cockrell, 1991; Ewert and Hollenhorst, 1989; Fluker and Turner, 2000; Hendrix, 1999; Hill, 1005; Jensen, 1985; Loverseed, 1996; McGuire 1999; Wight, 1996). In this study we examined respondents preferences regarding the type of activity, activity level, risk, activity preference, and the desire for thrilling, daring, and exciting activities.

Hill (1995) suggests that thrill seeking is the greatest motivation for adventure travel. Hard adventure travel is commonly perceived to be more exciting and thrilling while soft adventure is focused more on the experience, natural environment or culture (Heywood, 1987; Hill, 1995; Wight 1996). From the demographic portion of the questionnaire, forty-two percent of respondents reported their preferred activities as being moderately thrilling, daring and exciting, and forty percent of the respondents reported their activities as being very thrilling, daring and exciting. A rating of very thrilling, daring and exciting indicates that that these respondents were involved in hard adventure activities while traveling. The respondents who identified their activities as being only moderately thrilling, daring and exciting were involved in soft adventure activities. It appears that the sample is comprised of almost an equal number of both soft adventure travelers and hard adventure travelers.

Ewert and Hollenhorst (1989) stated that ?Risk and danger make adventure recreation fundamentally different from other recreation experiences? (p. 127). Low-risk is associated with soft adventure and high-risk is associated with hard adventure (Bay 2000; Fluker and Turner 2000; Graham 2000; Hendrix, 1999; Hill, 1995; Jensen, 1985; Loverseed 1997; McGuire 1999; Plog 1991). Sixty-three percent of the respondents reported preferring activities that were moderately risky. Because hard adventure typically entails high levels of risk, and soft adventure typically entails low level of risk it can be assumed that the respondents may have been bordering on both hard and soft adventure. This may indicate that there is a range of adventure travel that flows from soft to hard. There may not be a distinct difference or category that clearly defines adventure as either soft or hard. Another assumption is that some travelers are involved in both soft and hard adventure travel or that some adventure package tours have both soft and hard aspects within a single tour. Therefore, this study further supports the characterization of adventure travel as being risk-oriented (Ewer & Hollenhorst 1989; Bay 2000; Fluker and Turner 2000; Graham 2000; Hendrix, 1999; Hill, 1995; Jensen, 1985; Loverseed 1997; McGuire 1999; Plog 1991).

Soft adventure activities are characterized by low activity levels that require only minimal fitness levels, whereas hard adventure activities generally require moderate to excellent fitness levels, and may include strenuous and rigorous activities (Flucker and Turner, 2000, Hendrix, 1999). Some examples of soft adventure activities are easy rafting trips, walking tours, and bird watching (Hendrix,1999). Hard adventure activities include rock climbing, mountain trekking, and sea kayaking in rough waters. Loverseed (1997) supports the idea that hard adventure has a higher activity level whereas soft adventure is less active. The majority of respondents preferred a trip with a moderate activity level (76.5%). This supports the premise that there may not be a difference between soft adventure and hard adventure. Moderate activity level falls in between soft adventure and hard adventure. Respondents indicated that their first choice of preferred activities while on a pleasure trip were camping/backpacking/trekking (35.3%), the second and third choice of activities were related to the culture of the region visited. Camping is usually defined by low to moderate activity level whereas backpacking/trekking is generally defined as strenuous to vigorous activity level. Cultural events are typically low activity level.

Current literature suggests that adventure travelers are more highly educated and earn more money than traditional travelers (Loverseed, 1997; Plog, 1992; Wight 1996). Results from our demographic portion of the questionnaire have revealed that the majority have earned a post- graduate degree (59.5%), work full-time (62.1%), have an annual household income of over $100,000 (54.4%), and are single with no children (40.5%). These demographics lend support to the current literature that suggests adventure travelers are highly educated and have a high annual income.

A study by Tourism Canada (1995) indicated that soft adventure travelers were primarily over 45 years of age and hard adventurer travelers were generally less than 34 years of age. Loverseed (1997) suggests that adventure travelers over 45 prefer soft adventure activities such as bird watching. However analysis of our study contradicts the assumption proposed by Loverseed and Tourism Canada. Our study revealed that there is no significant difference between activity level, preferred risk level, preference for activities requiring skill(s), or any other variable associated with soft and hard adventure travel and age. Those over 40 years of age preferred the same risk levels and activities as those under forty years of age. Therefore both soft and hard adventure travel should be marketed to all ages and not segmented based on age. Tourism Canada (1995) also suggested that hard adventure and soft adventure are gender specific. Wight (1996) supports Tourism Canada?s (1995) claim that males participate in more physically challenging activities that are considered hard adventure activities, whereas women tend to engage in soft adventure activities. Loverseed (1997) also supports the idea that males prefer more strenuous and risky activities such as whitewater canoeing and rock climbing. However our study has revealed from the demographic portion of the questionnaire that the majority of respondents were female (54.2%) with a mean age of 46 years of age.

Analysis of gender and variables relating to soft and hard adventure travel again revealed that there is no significant difference based on gender. In our study both males and females indicated that they preferred the same risk level, activity level, desire for daring, thrilling and exciting activities, and activities requiring skills. The only significant difference found was that men tend to prefer a guide more often than women. Therefore both hard and soft adventure should be marketed to both males and females. Further research is needed to explore the differences detected in this study regarding gender and income levels. There may be an emerging trend or a broadening of scope related to gender and income of participants.

Plog?s Allocentric/psychocentric Model

Table 2 displays Plog?s classification of the respondents with the allocentric/psychocentric scale. Allocentrics are synonymous with ?very venturesome? personalities. Near-allocentrics are considered ?somewhat venturesome? personalities. ?Somewhat-dependable? personalities are considered near-psychocentrics, and ?very- dependable? personalities are psychocentrics. According to Plog?s scale only 4 respondents (2.6%) were ranked as being ?very dependable? and 8 respondents (5.2 %) were ranked as being ?somewhat dependable.? This was somewhat surprising since all respondents had completed at least one adventure group travel experience.

According to Plog, psychocentric and near-psychocentrics would not elect to participate in adventure travel. Fortunately, the majority of respondents were ranked as ?somewhat venturesome? (42.5 %) or as ?very venturesome? (49.7%). Therefore the majority of the respondents, ?very venturesome?, were classified as hard adventure travelers and the ?somewhat venturesome? (42.5%) were considered soft adventurers. Those who scored on the dependable side (7.8%) of Plog?s scale were considered to be non-adventurers. However Plog?s scale classifies them as persons who would be unlikely to voluntarily choose to travel on an adventure trip due to high-generalized anxiety and the need for low levels of risk, novelty, and the need for familiar and secure surroundings. They may have traveled on adventure trips because of the persuasion of friends, family, or a variety of other reasons. There were only 12 respondents (7.8%) who scored on the dependable side of the continuum and the other 141 respondents (92.2 %) scored on the venturesome side of the continuum which is exactly where the adventure travelers were predicted to be based according to Plog?s theory of personality types.

It would appear at first glance that Plog?s allocentric/psychocentric scale may be a valid tool to distinguish soft adventure travelers from hard adventure travelers. However a closer examination of the comparison between the respondents according to Plog?s scale with the demographic questions reveal some contradictory evidence.

Table 1: Plog?s Allocentric/psychocentric Classification of Participants

Personality type N Percent Very Dependable 4 2.6% Somewhat Dependable 8 5.2% Somewhat Venturesome 65 42.5% Very Venturesome 76 49.7%


There may not be a distinct difference between soft and hard adventure group travelers. In fact there does not appear to be a distinctive difference between soft and hard adventure travelers, at least in the mind of the travelers themselves. People may not prefer just one type of traveling style but may participate on a variety of different types of trips during their traveling experiences, or even within a given trip. It is apparent that tour companies must fully describe their tour offering according to type of accommodations, activity or fitness level required, and predicted risk level of both activities and destination. Sea kayaking can be either a soft adventure trip or a hard adventure trip and is based on the above variables. Marketing must reflect the difference between what is offered and options available to incorporate a few of the higher risk, less comfortable accommodations, or higher fitness level type activities within the more traditional soft adventure tour package. It is essential in this economy to ensure satisfaction; therefore potential participants need to be matched according to the type of trip and activities that they prefer. A person that may be attracted to a luxury Jeep safari through Kenya may even enjoy a day of trek across the savanna or hike up Mt. Kenya. Responsible marketing and course descriptions will help ensure satisfied customers and hopefully repeat customers.


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