Stretching more than 6,000 kilometers (4,000 miles) through 31 countries, the Silk Road fits most travelers’ idea of an adventure. The UNWTO has a program devoted to developing the Silk Road as a string of sustainable destinations across multiple continents. The ATTA is teaming up with the UNWTO at ITB Berlin for the Silk Road Operators Forum, focused this year on “Unlocking the Silk Road’s Adventure Travel Potential.”
The forum will bring together ATTA member tour operators, Silk Road experts and ministries of tourism to tackle some of the challenges the region presents to itinerary development — challenges that include limited accommodation options (and volume), lack of guide services, difficult infrastructure problems in some countries and unsophisticated cultural opportunities for educated adventure travelers.
But the opportunities the region presents far outweigh the challenges — or at least offer compelling incentives for operators to cooperate with development experts who specialize in Silk Road destinations. “On a recent trip our clients went into the trip knowing that local services might be a bit behind the times, and as such were prepared for that, which was in fact the case,” says a trip expert from Mountain Madness, “But, they enjoyed that part of the adventure and it brought in more of a sense of true adventure travel.”
The UNWTO and ATTA believe that stakeholders can work together to raise the profile of the Silk Road as a world-class adventure travel destination.
ATTA member operators who are already offering trips in the region see further potential for a range of tourism opportunities throughout the diverse path of the Silk Road. Transeurasia calls it “A great culture crossroad, with terrific landscapes. Ethnography, religion, commerce, empire — the region is probably one of the most interesting and complex adventure destinations.” Transeurasia offers a 3-week self-guided trip from Turkmenistan to China, providing local guides throughout to negotiate the more difficult aspects of traveling in the region.
Butterfield & Robinson offers cycling trips along the Silk Road. “As the globe homogonizes, places that are so ancient and lived-in seem to be more and more where we want to go and where we want to take people,” they say.
But for all the stunning landscape and once-in-a-lifetime cultural experiences, tour operators agree that the region could benefit greatly from serious adventure travel education and training, especially to provide a much better understanding of current trends in adventure traveler preferences and expectations. They also see the need for professional guide training and ground operator / accommodation preparation for international inbound tour operators.
“Supporting groundwork already laid by the UNWTO’s Silk Road Program, we envision a triangle of future cooperation between Europe-Asia-Middle East/North Africa that’s bound together by what could become one of the world’s most potentially commanding signature products,” said Chris Doyle, ATTA Executive Director-Europe. “This long-term vision is not without its challenges, with education and training, capacity management, best practices and relevant infrastructure needs in high demand. That said, generating awareness, understanding and commitment throughout the entire tourism supply chain, especially through public-private partnerships, is now essential to craft the Silk Road corridor’s sustainable future.”
UNWTO-ATTA collaboration at ITB was the result of discussions at World Travel Mart in November 2014. The joint public efforts at ITB are the first in what is expected to be a series of engagements at significant trade events, as well as leader gatherings on the Silk Road in the coming months and years to further stimulate actions that help the region to realize a productive, sustainable future.
The Silk Road Tour Operators Forum occurs March 5, 2015, at ITB Berlin from 11:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. On the evening of March 4, the ATTA will host an AdventureConnect networking event, sponsored by Mongolia.