January 23, 2009 / 1:25 AM / in 9 years

Top-end adventure industry defies recession

<p>People walk past a lion mount at the annual Dallas Safari Club Convention in Dallas, Texas January 10, 2009. REUTERS/Jessica Rinaldi</p>

DALLAS (Reuters) - Briton Pete Lemon is not letting a recession or a $60,000 price tag get in the way of his dream to ski to the South Pole.

“It’s a lot of money, but this is a once in a lifetime chance to go to Antarctica,” Lemon said in Punta Arenas in southern Chile, where he and a half a dozen other people were readying for a trip that will include an attempt on the highest peak in Antarctica, Mount Vinson.

From arduous trips to the end of the world to bids to reach its highest summit to elephant hunting safaris in Africa, the upper echelons of the outdoor adventure industry seem to rise above the global financial crisis and recession.

Mountaineering and safari operators say this is partly explained by the income levels of their clients, but also because such trips are often once-in-a-lifetime goals that determined individuals have striven for years to achieve.

Further down the income ladder, demand is seen falling for less costly options such as antelope hunts in Africa or climbs that are less taxing than Mount Everest, the world’s highest peak.

Seattle-based Alpine Ascents International will take seven to 12 climbers on $65,000 expeditions up Everest this year, the same as in previous years, said program director Gordon Janow.

But Janow said he expected to see a decline in less-demanding and less-expensive expeditions.

Eric Simonson of International Mountain Guides, which offers Everest trips from $43,000 to $70,000, also said his company, based in Ashford, Washington, would be fully booked this year for Everest packages.

But he said it was not so much a question of wealth as of sheer determination.

“There is a misconception that the people who do these trips are super-wealthy and can write a check without thinking about it,” he said. “They are professionals, engineers -- normal people who aspire to goals.”

THE EVEREST OF SAFARIS

For some, stalking and shooting an elephant or rhino in the African bush is the hunting equivalent of climbing Everest -- with a similar or even higher price tag.

<p>Vendor Ed Rymut waits for potential customers at the annual Dallas Safari Club Convention in Dallas, Texas January 10, 2009. REUTERS/Jessica Rinaldi</p>

Safari operators and guides promoting their services at the Dallas Safari Club’s annual convention this month said they had seen little slackening in demand for top hunts.

“We do about 40 hunts a year and we’ve had one cancellation based on the recession this year. The client said that (the recession) was the cause of it,” said Alistair Pole of Zambezi Hunters, which sells elephant and rhino hunts in Zimbabwe costing tens of thousands of dollars.

“I would say 80 percent of our clients are in the wealthy bracket,” he said.

Permits to shoot species such as rhino and elephant are limited and such hunts can cost up to $100,000 in countries like South Africa or Namibia.

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But there are signs that even the wealthy are starting to feel the effects of the recession so industries which cater to them may get pinched yet.

A report this month said American millionaires have seen their assets shrink by 30 percent during the economic crisis.

And 55 percent are concerned they will not have enough assets to maintain their lifestyles, according to Spectrem Group, a consultancy involved in the affluent and retirement markets.

There are indeed signs of a general slowdown in spending in the multi-billion dollar hunting and outdoor industry in line with the wider woes of retailers and tourism operators.

U.S. retailer Cabela‘s, which claims to be the world’s largest supplier of hunting and fishing equipment, has forecast a modest decline in earnings per share for 2008 as its revenue growth slows.

Several of the safari outfitters attending the Dallas convention said demand was down for basic antelope hunts that cost far less than the pursuit of a trophy elephant.

Jeff Shankle, a small businessman from Mississippi who went to Africa last year to shoot some antelope, falls into that category.

“I went last year but won’t go this year and the economy will be a factor,” he said.

Reporting by Ed Stoddard; Additional reporting by Alister Doyle in Punta Arenas, Chile; Editing by Eddie Evans

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