With topics like customer service, the future of capitalism, the peer-to-peer economy and offline strategies, the plenary sessions for the ATTA’s first AdventureELEVATE conference might have sounded like standard business fare to outsiders. But inside the conference center at the Snowmass Westin, attendees were nodding heads, taking furious notes and tweeting up a storm while heavy hitters from the travel sphere gave keynote talks on the theme “Adventure Means Business.”
“There’s no complacency in this room,” said Greg Klassen of Century 31 tourism consulting — the event’s closing speaker. “Delegates here mean business as they seek tools and opportunities to bring their adventure businesses forward, find partners in innovation and create their own competitive advantages for the future.”
Two-hundred and fifty delegates converged on Snowmass, Colorado, for the event that was a deep-dive into the adventure tourism industry. The content was both inspiring and practical for tour operators, tourism boards and outdoor companies who really want a good handle on the state of the industry. On the inspiration side professional climber and world-famous adventurer Conrad Anker presented “A View from the Top of the World,” a recap of his many ascents of Everest and his personal advice on how adventure tourism can help communities rather than cause them harm. “Your clients don’t want life in the normal sense of the word,” he told the delegation in the opening keynote, “They want adventure.”
Anker’s presentation was followed by more inspiration from Kim Coupounas of B Lab, who was joined on stage by Context Travel’s Paul Bennett for a session called “Using Business as a Force for Good + Charting the Future of Capitalism.”
“I’m a capitalist. I love profit,” said Coupounas, “Profit and shareholders are good things, but they are not the only things that matter.” There aren’t metrics or standards for companies to measure their impact on communities, employees or the environment. That’s where B Lab comes in with its certification of “B Corps” — companies that show they’re trying to do good by other measures than simply financial success. The concept of B Corps is best summed up by Coupounas’ question “What if the best companies in the world were the best companies for the world?” A show of hands at the end of presentation made it clear that adventure travel companies are a great fit for B Corp certification and many attendees will get started on the rigorous process right away.
Moving toward the practical, Couchsurfing International founder Erik Blachford presented “Adventure Travel & the Peer-to-Peer Economy” — a session full of statistics and predictions for the industry’s position in an evolving business climate. A tour company can sweat every detail and do everything in its power to create a perfect travel experience, Blachford explained, but guests’ favorite part of any trip is almost always getting to meet “real people” they encounter along the way.
Today’s travelers are willing to put up with spontaneity and change of plans if they feel like they are getting an authentic experience in a place. The peer-to-peer economy in travel means that guests want raw feedback from a company, not scrubbed reviews or polished copywriting. They’re willing to accept the good, the bad and the ugly if they feel like a company is transparent and “real.” Blachford encouraged listeners to include some peer-to-peer products in their offerings, to embrace customer reviews/feedback and to integrate the trust that comes from the peer-to-peer economy into their marketing and communications strategies.
Following Blachford’s peer-to-peer session, Ski.com’s Harry Peisach took the stage for “People Powered: Offline Strategies in a High Tech World.” Ski.com is a website where guests can book ski package tours all over the world. Despite the high tech platform, only 5% of ski.com’s bookings are made online independently; the majority of them come from agents. The more expensive a trip is, the less likely customers are to book online, explained Peisach. Also, ski package vacations are complex and technology can’t replace good old-fashioned customer service.
Greg Klassen finished up the second day of plenary sessions with his keynote “Embracing Disruption: A Blueprint for the Future of Tourism.” Klassen, who is the former head of the Canadian Tourism Commission, had a lot of heads shaking in agreement as he talked about the big changes that are affecting the global tourism industry. “Mass travel overwhelms locals and restricts tourism,” Klassen said, revealing the hole in the industry that adventure travel can occupy. Millennials want culture, nature and history, he explained, and they are the future of travel. Today’s travelers crave authenticity and value experiences over places. Adventure travel is in a great position to embrace these disruptions. Jose Toste, a delegate from the Azores, said that Klassen’s presentation was the best he had ever attended.
It was a great note to end on and it was Greg Klassen himself who told ATTA President Shannon Stowell that AdventureELEVATE was the most “ridiculously awesome” event he’d ever been to — not your typical statement because this was not your typical business conference because the adventure travel industry is anything but typical.