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Four Fast-Growing Niches in the Travel Business

July 26, 2011
URL: http://www.entrepreneur.com/article/220038

An August 2010 study by New Mexico-based adventure tourism consulting practice Xola is full of good news for those looking to invest in an adventure tourism business:

In other words, there are legions of weekend warriors out there looking for a bit of excitement on vacation. Consider the following opportunities through the perspective of entrepreneurs who have already found success in them.

Zipline tours. Zipline-based tourism is flying high these days, according to Michael R. Smith, president of AdventureSmith and moderator of ZiplineNirvana.com. Just make sure that the wire leads somewhere interesting. "When ziplines are utilized as a vehicle to transport guests through an experience rather than as the experience in itself, I believe there is great holding power," says Smith, whose ArborTrek Canopy Adventures does just that. The costs of launching a zipline tour vary by topography and dozens of other variables--Smith has seen courses built at prices ranging from $200,000 to several million dollars--but no matter what you have in mind, he says your first step should be to hire a consultant who understands that ziplines are more than a forest thrill ride.

Trekking. The European trend of trekking--days-long walks through settings urban or wild--is about to make a footfall in America. "There's been more interest in our trips to Utah, Arizona and Nevada," says Louis Marino, a certified international mountain leader and director of Alpine Interface, a Canadian firm that also offers walking adventures in such far-flung locales as Tibet. Starting up a trek can be a daunting proposition, both in cash and logistics; Marino pegs the cost of running just one trek at close to $15,000 (depending on the number of participants), a figure that includes certified guides, camping equipment and insurance. Still, Marino says the opportunity is a viable one: "With high airfares and steeper prices at the pumps, many Americans are staying closer to home and exploring the beauty in their backyard."

Horseback riding. "The economy took a dive for some industries, but for us, it has taken a turn for the best," says Carmen Cornielle, founder and general manager of Los Angeles Horseback Riding, a company offering trail rides into the Santa Monica Mountains, just minutes from the bustle of L.A. "Nowadays people do more local vacations; the trend is to do the in-town weekend getaways. Since we're in such a prime area, to most of our guests it feels like a mini-vacation." Cornielle, who chose not to reveal her startup costs, attributes the company's success not to exponential growth, but to continual reinvestment in improvements to the customer experience: The trails are better landscaped, and Saturday rides at sunset are now punctuated by a complimentary dinner and champagne toast.

Specialty tours. Armed with $30,000 in startup funds and an encyclopedic knowledge of Seattle's famous Pike Place Market, Angela Shen founded Savor Seattle, a company offering food-themed specialty tours of Seattle's downtown. Coming from a background in brand management at Quaker Oats, Shen saw an opening in Seattle's food culture: "It seemed like there would be travelers, like me, who would want to learn about and eat the foods that are special to the area they're visiting," she says. She secured partnerships with Market vendors and local restaurants in a variety of ways: "Everything from a quick 30-second pitch with a handshake to PowerPoint presentations with ROI estimates." The legwork paid off: Savor Seattle has expanded to five separate tours in the space of five years, and year-over-year business grew by 51 percent in 2010.