This story about REI hit me as a glaring reminder of how significantly covid has affected the adventure travel industry, and that changes to the industry are still evolving. I know of several travel companies who decided to call it quits after the covid-19 lockdowns broke them for various reasons. The shakeup in the international adventure travel community due to a global travel shutdown forced many travel companies of all sizes to permanently close shop. While REI didn't shutter their entire travel operation, they did rethink their strategy for organizing small group outdoor experiences. 

What Did REI Do?

The US-based REI retail and outdoor based recreation corporation permanently removed all 100 of their international trips. The last international departure was on May 2, 2021. However, REI is not completely withdrawing from the outdoor travel scene. They're just putting away their passports so they can focus on domestic outdoor experiences in the United States. I am curious to see how a restructuring of this magnitude will impact, not just REI, but the entire international adventure travel industry and its dedicated core of outdoor-loving disciples

On the surface this situation looks like a potential for travel companies who survived covid lockdowns to reboot and gain market share. But that depends on demand for adventure travel abroad, which I can tell you right now is sluggish. REI is a significant operator in the adventure travel community with a reputation for organizing an impressive collection of well-run trips designed to inspire nature-loving adventure travelers of all ages. As a retail outfitter, REI boasts a mostly loyal circle of 20 million people willing to pay for the privilege of becoming lifetime members of the #optoutside "club.' Was REI's decision a savvy response to a trend they were observing among their members? Or is REI attempting to build a program that is "covid-proof?"  A company doesn't stay in business for 80 years without demonstrating their ability to react to changes in wind direction.

Why Did REI End Their International Adventure Trips?

Why is REI getting out of the international adventure travel business? Apparently, it has nothing to do with the covid pandemic, or so they say. REI made an intentional decision to focus on travel experiences in iconic, domestic destinations and notable outdoor locations in the United States. By staying closer to home, REI believes it can offer more outdoor experiences to more people. You can't argue with that. When covid hit the shores of the US and shutdown literally everything, people headed to the hills in masses. Nature-starved city dwellers and suburbanites suddenly realized they had the time to explore nearby parks and trails. And they did. So much so that many popular outdoor destinations had to shut down due to overuse issues while others had to regulate access. Perhaps REI is responding to a trend that seems like a solid investment given the unpredictability of the future?

If REI Quits Offering International Adventure Trips, Will Other Tavel Companies Benefit?

In my opinion, if the demand for international trips was as robust now as it was before covid struck, I would say yes, there is an opportunity here. Travel companies are clamoring to provide touring and hiking services for the meager numbers of people daring to get back to international adventure trips before the crowds return. However, we're not seeing a booming interest in international adventure travel yet. But I can truthfully say that the early birds are having the time of their lives. We have been organizing hikes and tours for solo travelers, couples, families and even a few larger groups traveling in Peru. They've been to the Amazon jungle, Machu Picchu and the Inca Trail. To say that the day trip to Rainbow Mountain is popular this year, is an understatement.  

With the reopening of the Inca Trail hike on July 15, 2021, we should see even more interest in traveling to Peru through the rest of 2021. But we're not there yet. Reviving the global travel community is like getting a steam engine up to full speed. It takes constant and steady work to build up to a sustainable speed.

Will REI's Members Be Influenced to Stay Home and Explore the United States?

This is the $64,000 question. While I give adventure travelers as a whole, a thumb's up for being willing to test muddy waters, for some people, there is still hesitancy to travel for a variety of reasons. A lot of it has to do with the uncertainty of planning. It's tricky to plan your adventures months in advance when you have no idea if borders will remain open and what will be required for entry to a foreign country. Current travel trends favor people who have the flexibility and willingness to organize epic trips at the last minute. Will nature-loving consumers follow REI to national parks and forgo, or delay their epic international excursions? Only time will tell.

Hope Is On The Horizon for Adventure Travelers

After more than a year of literally nothing going on in the adventure travel world (except perhaps a major restoration of wildlife habitats!), I've been encouraged lately by the interest and the willingness of people to get back to exploring our remarkable planet. We're not out of the woods yet, but people are starting to wake up while we learn how to function and live our best lives in this new reality.