By: Kirk Smock, Tourism Project Leader, USAID Small Business Expansion Project (SBEP)
AdventureWeek Western Balkans (AWWB)
With support from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and the government tourism agencies of Kosovo, Albania and Macedonia, the Adventure Travel Trade Association’s (ATTA) first-ever European AdventureWeek will take place in the Western Balkans from 25 August-4 September 2014. AdventureWeek is an intensive familiarization tour (FAM) concept designed by the ATTA to generate immediate visibility for destinations by leveraging their global membership network of outbound tour operators, specialized media and travel advisors.
For each AdventureWeek, the ATTA partners with destinations to feature the best adventure travel products offered. In Kosovo, Albania and Macedonia, a group of 15 outbound tour operators and six travel media from North America and Europe will experience activities ranging from biking and hiking to paragliding and horseback riding, they’ll visit monasteries, mosques, ancient ruins and rural villages, and learn to cook traditional meals and share tea with locals. All ground providers involved in the journey — from tour operators to accommodations — will be small or medium-sized locally-owned businesses. AdventureWeek also includes a business-to-business Marketplace event in each country where local inbound tour operators will have a chance to conduct meetings with all participating buyers.
Creating Regional Partnerships: National Geographic, the ATTA and Adventure Travel
The idea to hold an AdventureWeek trip in Kosovo, Albania and Macedonia grew out of the regional tourism development work being carried out by the USAID Regional Economic Growth (REG) Project (formerly the Regional Competitiveness Initiative). In an effort to build effective regional cooperation in tourism, the REG Project partnered with National Geographic to develop an online platform promoting the region as a single destination: the Western Balkans Geotourism MapGuide (www.balkansgeotourism.com). The MapGuide has helped to create partnerships that span all Western Balkan countries and serves as a marketing and research tool for consumers, tour operators and media.
The REG Project also established a connection with the ATTA when they brought them in to lead a workshop on adventure travel product development and marketing. The rapidly growing $263 billion adventure travel sector (the ATTA defines adventure travel as any trip that includes two of the following three elements: Interaction with the environment; Cultural exchange; Physical activity) is an obvious choice for the region’s development focus.
When the USAID Small Business Expansion Project (SBEP) in Macedonia began its tourism project, it was recognized that synergy could be found by developing and promoting Macedonia’s adventure travel market. The SBEP began working closely with the REG Project and the ATTA to do this within a regional context. A long-term partnership with the ATTA and its members was recognized as the best way to link the Western Balkans with a segment of the international tourism market that places high importance on responsible and social development, minimizing environmental and cultural impacts and creating sustainable economic opportunities in rural communities.
A Unique, Replicable Model of Regional Tourism Development
AdventureWeek Western Balkans is an unprecedented example of cross-border partnerships and cooperation in developing tourism products that can be marketed and sold globally. To guarantee success, beginning with the earliest stages of development for AdventureWeek, the REG Project and SBEP began coordinating with the National Tourism Agencies and local tourism stakeholders from Kosovo, Albania and Macedonia, the ATTA, USAID Missions, and other USAID anchor projects (in addition to SBEP in Macedonia, the now-completed USAID Rritje Albania/Competitiveness Enterprise Development Project provided early assistance, and a new USAID project in Kosovo will also provide support). The countries have been working closely with each other to develop a market-ready, multi-country itinerary that can be marketed and sold by inbound tour operators in all three destinations.
AdventureWeek will bring the eyes and ears of the adventure travel market to Kosovo, Albania and Macedonia, and will provide an opportunity for local businesses to start international business relationships, develop their networks and drive new business. The broader vision for the long-term partnership with the ATTA in the region will include additional market linkages, training workshops, a regional summit, more FAM trips and hands-on assistance. These elements will come together to create a groundbreaking tourism model that can be replicated in other destinations around the world.
Why Kosovo, Albania, Macedonia and the Western Balkans?
The competitiveness of the Western Balkans region as a travel destination is found in its rich historical heritage, authentic culture and well-preserved nature. Travelers are looking to push beyond well-trodden destinations and the image of an undiscovered part of Europe is enticing. Individual countries in the Western Balkans can stand alone in their tourism offerings, but by promoting and selling multi-country itineraries within the Western Balkans, the entire region becomes more competitive. Travelers — especially those from the North American market — are drawn by the opportunity to visit two, three or more new countries in one trip.
But to introduce a new destination or destinations into the highly competitive world of tourism is not easy. Flexible independent travelers (FITs) are often the first to push into new regions but it can be hard to sustain an entire industry on smaller numbers of individual travelers.
To build an industry that can sustain small businesses, the larger global travel market must become involved. Ideally, this is done by introducing the region to international outbound tour operators that focus on small groups and sustainable travel practices. The travel media must also play a role, as coverage is needed to generate the interest that fuels demand amongst the consumers.
FAMs are an ideal way of introducing operators and media to new and emerging tourism destinations like the Western Balkans. Buyers participating in AdventureWeek will return home with firsthand experiences that they can use to develop into customized excursions to sell to their clients; media will promote the region through images, words and videos on a variety of media outlets that will reach millions of potential travelers.
AdventureWeek: Bringing the International Market to the Western Balkans
According to ATTA President Shannon Stowell, “Destinations believing in the power of adventure travel as a cultivator of economic stimulus stand to gain much by investing in AdventureWeek. Each destination will get unmatched opportunities to expose their breadth of product to and partner with, learn from and conduct business with a highly qualified group of buyers and media.”
Upon announcement of the AWWB trip, the ATTA community of buyers and media responded with strong interest. More than 70 applicants were received for the 21 open spots. The ATTA has assembled a very strong group of A-list buyers and media from the adventure travel industry, including the Editor-in-Chief of National Geographic magazine, the Publisher of UK’s Wanderlust magazine, a Contributing Editor for Outside magazine, the Managing Editor of Yahoo Travel, a Destination Editor for Lonely Planet and founders and directors of esteemed tour operators including BikeHike Adventures (Canada), Bredeson Outdoor Adventures (US), European Walking Tours (Switzerland), Whole Journeys (US), Hauser Exkursionen (Germany), Austin Adventures (US) and Academic Arrangements Abroad (US).