Connections Across Communities: Successful Surprise Matches

5 March 2021

Last month, the Adventure Travel Trade Association (ATTA) and five partners, hosted a virtual AdventureConnect networking event. The event concept was simple–it was a gathering of a diverse range of global organizations and their communities to meet and build relationships with new communities outside their normal purview. 

The idea for the event came from a couple of conversations that ATTA CEO Shannon Stowell had with colleagues from ITAC (Indigenous Tourism Association of Canada) and BTT (Blacks in Travel and Tourism). “We talked about how relationship building was one of the strongest agents of change and diversity.  We tend to gravitate toward the comfortable and known. That’s why we created Come Together- to meet people that we would not necessarily know from our existing circles of travel industry contacts,”  explains Shannon.  “That’s also why we made the meetings randomized- so no one could hang out with the people they already knew!” 

The event kicked off with a welcome and introductions by each of the five partners–Arrival, National Blacks in Travel and Tourism Collective, Impact Travel Alliance, Indigenous Tourism Association of Canada, and TravelMart LatinAmerica. The organization introductions were followed by an inspirational speaker Kylik Kisoun Taylor, Owner and Guide of Tundra North Tours in Inuvik, Canada.

The event’s final three hours were dedicated to open, random, one-to-one networking through the event platform Hopin. Attendees clicked on the networking button to be paired with another attendee through video chat. With around five minutes allotted for each conversation, attendees could extend their conversation or automatically move to the next meeting. Event networking also included the option to direct message other attendees to set up meetings to connect through chat and video features. 

Following this event, the ATTA team wondered if the event was successful in connecting attendees to new contacts, so we followed up with attendees to get their take on the event. 

Why Come Together? 

Diversifying Networks

We reached out to attendees and asked why they attended Come Together.  Several attendees mentioned that they came specifically to engage with other professionals in tourism and most noted that connecting with a diverse group of attendees was a top reason for attending. Iris Serbanescu of Tour Radar shared that she hoped to “connect directly with a diverse array of individuals from other associations outside the ATTA.” 

While diversity was top of mind, seeking others with shared values was a common thread as well. Chris Tait of Klahoose Wilderness Resort  said that he was “looking to connect with others in the industry to find commune discussion and ideas to develop  business that reflects the values and traditions of the Klahoose people and all the Coast Salish nations that we operate in.” 

Learn about Host Organizations

Lawrence Phillips of Green Book Global (aka "Black Tripadvisor"), who learned about the event through BTT, shared, “I did not know what to expect, but I really enjoyed myself. At the very least, I attended hoping to gain more insight about what types of itineraries/excursions adventure travel offered around the globe and see what was being done to market to black travelers.”

While some, like Lawrence, came to network and learn about adventure travel, many attendees already working in adventure travel saw it as an opportunity to learn about the other partner organizations. 

Socialize, Check-in, and Keep the Hope Alive  

One year into the pandemic, attendees operating in travel and tourism sought to find community, support, and potential business opportunities at Come Together.  Michael Eugene of Experiences Caribbean said, “like most tour operators, we have been without work since March and have struggled with basic bread and butter business survival issues. Come Together seemed like a means to stay connected with the trade and to keep hope alive.”

Come Together also appealed to many as an opportunity to safely socialize–something deeply missed over the past year.  “After so many months of WFH (work from home) and no in-person adventure travel events, I attended Come Together as a replacement for those unplanned yet often amazing, spontaneous connections you make at cocktail events, to check-in with old friends, get a random sampling of how people in our industry are feeling about the coming months for adventure travel, and to learn about ATTA’s new partners,” said Jillian Dickens, of Bannikin Travel & Tourism

Were interesting connections made at the event? 

In addition to understanding why people attended, we wanted to learn if some enjoyable or productive connections were made. So we asked a few attendees if they could tell us about an interesting conversation or connection they made at the event. We were specifically interested to learn if the connection helped to diversify their networks or if they felt like they gained new ideas from the connections they made. 

  • The diversity of attendees offered such great networking opportunities.  Many have connected with me on LinkedIn, as well as emailed additional information. Not all benefits will be immediate, however, having them as a resource is a great start.  Vistra Communications has extensive experience with multicultural communications, and the multicultural connections are a plus for us as a company and our clients. - Angelique Lenox, Vistra Communications
  • I connected with someone representing a development agency with no experience with the tourism industry. They were exploring adventure tourism as one to invest in now. This was nice to see, not that I needed validation about adventure tourism rebounding in a big way. I think the best example of [gaining a new idea] was learning of the Blacks in Travel and Tourism talent directory that matches travel brands, associations, etc with Black tourism talent. Such a valuable resource. - Jillian Dickens, Bannikin Travel & Tourism
  • I connected with an inspiring industry colleague named Lawrence Phillips, who founded Green Book Global, which is, in short, a 'Black Tripadvisor'. The idea came to him when he was travelling the world as a young man and realized he had to factor in which destinations were safer for him to be travelling as a black man, adding a layer of complexity to his research and planning. He created Green Book Global as a crowd-sourced review site that is built around the very distinct needs of the BIPOC community. His story is not only inspiring, but I have not seen anything like this (and I work in travel marketing!) so I believe his platform fills a gap that will encourage black travelers to feel evermore comfortable discovering the world.  - Iris Serbanescu, TourRadar
  • I thoroughly enjoy the networking session! At first, I thought the few hours offered to network was too long but once I started to get the hang of it, it wasn't long enough! I recall trying to squeeze in just 1-2 more networking connections before the event was over.  One connection was with a large OTA for tours which I actually connected with a couple days after the event (because we ran out of time).  After understanding their commitments to diversity, equity, and inclusion and the fact that Green Book Global’s has a particular focus on Black Travel, we came up with the idea of possibly doing some strategic consulting with the company to help them authentically meet the needs of Black Travelers. It is our hope that by leveraging our  COVID & Black Travel Survey where over  2000 black travelers were surveyed, my extensive background in consulting, and our social media reach of 100K+ followers on Instagram, that we can really add some value for businesses looking to expand their fluency in this market. -  Lawrence Phillips Green Book Global (aka "Black Tripadvisor")
  • Wonderful conversations with the team from the Indigenous Tourism Association in Canada prompted a real look at how we can work to further relationship building with the local indigenous communities in the regions where we operate – specifically in Canada, but in other parts of the world as well.  - Aly Jacobsen, Natural Habitat Adventures
  • This is all part of the work-in-progress, and strategy and benefits to attending any trade show. There is always so much to learn and we always set aside time to browse around and pick up new ideas and industry trends. We were also able to meet a few tour operators that had been on our radar for a while not to mention the possible connections that the BTT will provide. - Michael Eugene, Experiences Caribbean 
  • I think the one-on-one networking opened me up to so many conversations and connections that I never would have made. I loved hearing about what others were doing and creating. Even if we couldn't help each other right now, it was a connection well made. - Jen Parlin, GOEX Apparel
  • The event was more than I had hoped for and I made some great connections. Connected with a number of tour operators, some of them working in completely different markets, I was able to make some links for possible future business. Above all, I enjoyed talking about Pakistan as a destination with people during networking.  - Raza Aktar, The Wander

The Power of Diverse Networks

In our request for feedback, most responded that an underlying reason for attending the event was the opportunity to diversify networks and meet new people. Some approached it through the lens of social justice and the importance of companies choosing to take action for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) in their organizations.  Aly Jacobsen of Natural Habitat Adventures attended with this in mind. “I had hoped that the forum would be a place to exchange ideas about how to further goals of diversity, equity, and inclusion in the adventure travel industry,” said Jacobsen.  

Iris Serbanescu shared a similar sentiment,  “I think the topic around diversity and inclusion is a timely one, and this event gave companies who want to work with the BIPOC community a starting point. It's imperative that any D&I initiatives from a company in tourism are not performative but come from a place of trust and understanding. For me, being able to connect with enthusiastic folks from the Blacks in Travel Collaborative sparked many insightful conversations on what it means to establish mutually beneficial relationships in this industry.”

Whether to socialize, check-in, meet new people, or intentionally diversify networks with a focus on DEI, AdventureConnect: Come Together provided an opportunity to start and strengthen business relationships with potential partners, employees, and colleagues outside typical bubbles of operation.

Interested in partnering with us on a future Come Together event? Contact us at [email protected].