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More than 250 adventure travel industry professionals from around the world convened on the shores of Lake George in New York state for the sold-out AdventureELEVATE event 10-12 June 2019. Under the theme AWAKE, the gathering focused on gaining fresh perspectives for the North American adventure travel market by tuning delegates’ intuition, creativity, and collective intelligence on the latest trends and dynamics to find innovative ways to tackle the industry’s challenges.
But how do you get a group of adventure travel professionals at an industry gathering to get outside of their comfort zones and take a breath of fresh air — especially when they work in the business of helping other people get beyond their comfort zones and see things from a new perspective? It turns out exploring the beauty of the Lake George area, a willingness to be in a community with honesty and generosity, celebrating failure as a necessary means for growth, and embracing spontaneity create the perfect atmosphere.
The event began with a Day of Adventure, where delegates participated in hiking, biking, rail biking, paddling, zip lining, horseback riding, and forest bathing during daytime group adventures led by local operators in the waterways, hills, and forests surrounding the 32.2-mile long Lake George. This was one of the first shifts in perspective: discovering the vast remote areas within the 6 million-acre Adirondack Park. They journeyed well beyond the postcard-worthy charm of Lake George village’s lakeside walkways dotted with the ice cream shops, eateries, and historical museums for which the “birthplace” of the American vacation is well known.
Watch: AdventureELEVATE Recap Video
The next morning — fresh off the Day of Adventure and a casual evening reception — longtime Adventure Travel Trade Association (ATTA) member and event emcee Ted Martens of Natural Habitat Adventures and keynote speaker and innovation catalyst Lee Kitchen welcomed delegates to the opening session.
With a great sense of humor and lots of energy, Kitchen set a collaborative vibe for the entirety of the event by inviting everyone to create a list of personal things (people, behaviors, activities) with which they are really comfortable along with things with which they are uncomfortable — and then share that list with another person they’d never met before. Through this “comfort orbit” exercise, Kitchen invited everyone to practice spontaneity and saying yes when the invitation came along to try some of those things that could make them uncomfortable — and to use it as a springboard to find fresh thoughts and new ideas, inspired by the people around them.
An important part of being open to new possibilities, Kitchen said, is being okay with failure and even going so far as to celebrate it. Ted demonstrated by standing up and announcing loud and proud, “I HAVE FAILED!” setting an example that was emulated throughout the event, and met with a round of thunderous applause by everyone within earshot every time, signaling progress.
This openness to connect with one another in an honest way carried into the concurrent sessions. Speakers encouraged delegates to have candid conversations about big-picture industry topics like technology trends; working with travel advisors, media, and tourism boards; collaborating with influencers; marketing to LGBTQ+ travelers; and environmental protection.
Delegates also had the opportunity to provoke new thoughts and ideas in unexpected ways. Local artists hosted outdoor songwriting and watercolor painting workshops so delegates could tap into their creativity. Fully immersive Improv Wisdom sessions helped delegates access the problem-solving capacities of their unconscious mind based on the idea that if you stop working on the problem, the solution will arrive via clues, puzzle pieces, and insights. A screening of the film “Poverty, Inc.” explored the larger problems that charity and development efforts can unintentionally create, encouraging viewers to reflect on how tourism is part of that impact.
Following a model introduced during Adventure Travel World Summit 2018, facilitated Adventure Accelerators gave the floor to conversations about government-supported outdoor recreation and travel advisors in adventure. These sessions built trust through candid conversation, prompting delegate Sole Naranjo of Unique Adventures Costa Rica to note, “People here actually walk their talk.”
Beyond the educational sessions, AdventureELEVATE inspired connection and conversation in many other contexts as well. At an evening cocktail hour set against stunning lake views, the ATTA’s original DNA (Disruptive Networking Adventure) prompted delegates to converse with each other to win gear prizes. And during AdventureExchange, nearly 1,000 one-on-one meetings were held between travel providers, media representatives, destination representatives, service providers, and all attending adventure travel professionals.
During AdventureExchange, local singer/songwriter Dan Berggren provided a live soundtrack, and Kitchen set up an impromptu shop in the back of the room, talking with individuals about their real-time business challenges and guiding them with creative problem-solving tools. Underpinning the ATTA’s commitment to amplify local communities, delegates took this opportunity to speak with, learn about, and purchase handmade goods from artisans Alicia A. Cook (Canoe Woman Herbs) and Robin Lazure and her daughter Nikkita (Black Ash Baskets). Lazure, a Mohawk from the Akwesasne Reservation, has been weaving her beautiful and intricate baskets, made from local ash trees and sweetgrass materials she prepares herself, for 20 years. Cook, a licensed practical nurse and master of traditional medicine with the Saint Regis Mohawk Tribe, offered herbal elixirs and balms made from plant medicine.
Delegates stepped into the closing keynote session with fresh new ideas sparked by the intimate, one-on-one connections they made and conversations they had over the past days. These interactions were fundamental to taking in what the closing speakers had to say about the challenges and disruptions present throughout the travel, technology, business, environment, and political ecosystems.
Kate Williams, CEO of 1% for the Planet, inspired delegates to rally around the idea that travel has the power to transform. The key to using that transformative power for good is within the adventure travel community’s reach if it fully understands and faces the industry’s threats. It is also essential to amplify the positive impacts made by individuals and collectively as an industry.
The ATTA’s CEO, Shannon Stowell, echoed this sentiment, calling on this active, passionate, and knowledgeable community to “use travel experiences as an opportunity to change the way people not only think, but behave,” recognizing this is being done to some extent but much more will require difficult decisions and action. The most important thing people can do is step out of their comfort zones and take those steps with the support of this community and the connections they made throughout the event.
As with any powerful group experience that awakens the mind to new ideas, the shift in perspective unlocks new layers upon which to reflect: who you were, how you felt, and how you did things before — and what you’ve learned, experienced, and want to take with you. For AdventureELEVATE 2019 delegates, the journey from one way of thinking and seeing to the other helped identify ways they can change how they do their work every day. And, when taking risks to do things differently for the good of the planet and people, they are not alone. There is a community supporting these efforts.