There are many parallels between the human-powered outdoor gear and apparel industry and the adventure tourism industry. Each is deeply rooted in values-based leadership, driven toward progressive business practices, and committed to sustainability, education, training, and innovation, protecting the very people and places upon which businesses in both industry sectors depend. The Adventure Travel Trade Association’s (ATTA) leadership recognizes the promise of building bridges between the two communities and has pursued connectivity between them since its start 15 years ago.
In its first decade, the ATTA experienced varying levels of success onboarding mostly North American outdoor brands (such as GORE-TEX, Teva, Eagle Creek, ExOfficio, and Columbia) as partners for ATTA member benefits, events, media outreach, research, and other creative activities. The ATTA also made solid progress with years of engagement in North America’s Outdoor Retailer winter and summer trade shows. Still, during this period, the ATTA faced two primary challenges with outdoor brands: First, brands generally believed the adventure tourism market size was simply too small to pursue. Second, some brands shared that they sought benefits more tailored toward their needs.
The first challenge became a moot point when the adventure tourism industry boomed from $89 billion USD in 2009 to $683 billion USD in 2017 — and continues to demonstrate exponential growth, rapidly altering gear/apparel brands’ perceptions of adventure tourism’s potential.
The second challenge was fair. Until recently, the ATTA simply could not dedicate sufficient resources to most effectively serve the gear supplier member category, despite solid successes registered among our active gear suppliers.
Meanwhile, in late summer 2018, amidst significant disruptions to each sector, global challenges altering strategies, and discernable shifts in consumerism, the ATTA opted to take a more proactive role. The association believed in the promise of bringing the two industries together for high-impact collaboration.
To do so, the ATTA committed energy toward enabling effective partnerships between the two industries. This time, it piloted efforts in Europe with the engagement of Martin Kössler, CEO and founder of HuginBiz, with whom the ATTA had built a relationship over the past decade. As co-founder of the Scandinavian Outdoor Group (SOG), board member of the European Outdoor Group (EOG), and advisor to the ISPO Group, Kössler is among the most connected strategists in the global outdoor gear/apparel sector.
Kössler’s in-person interviews of adventure tour operators attending the 2018 Adventure Travel World Summit in Tuscany coupled with the ATTA’s May 2019 Adventure Tour Operator Gear Survey offered keen insights for change to the ATTA’s approach. In short order, Kössler, in collaboration with Chris Doyle, the ATTA’s executive director of Europe and Central Asia, revisited the ATTA’s strategy, enhanced its benefits, and made ATTA introductions to key outdoor brands throughout Europe.
The interim results? In just nine months, the ATTA forged a strategic partnership with the ISPO Group for OutDoor by ISPO (held February 2019) and established active relationships with the EOG and SOG, all of which resulted in the ATTA assisting ISPO Group in delivering its first-ever (adventure) tourism exhibit, the Adventure, Tourism & Travel Hub, at the world’s largest outdoor gear trade fair, OutDoor by ISPO, 30 June-3 July 2019 in Munich, Germany. The ATTA worked directly with an OutDoor by ISPO-appointed design/exhibit agency to architect the entire Hub to facilitate meetings, speaking opportunities and presentations, and branding benefitting the ATTA and Innovation Norway, which shared the space with the ATTA. The ATTA negotiated to secure Innovation Norway’s participation. As such, the branding was far more colorful and high-quality, and it synced up with the content and story the ATTA sought to convey about partnerships between destinations and the outdoor gear industry.
At OutDoor by ISPO, the ATTA delivered a series of five educational seminars focused on building bridges between the two industries, digitalization, innovation, and sustainability. To effectively illustrate reasons for increased collaboration between the two sectors, the ATTA recruited representatives from a national-level destination (Haaken Christensen, the senior advisor of adventure tourism, sustainable tourism, and food for Innovation Norway), an award-winning European adventure tourism operator (Gert Niebouer from SNP Natuur Reizen of the Netherlands), and a North American outdoor gear brand (ATTA gear supplier member and AdventureConnect global partner Grayl, represented by its founder and CEO Andrew Weber) to share case studies on how and why the adventure and outdoor industries should work together more. All three are ATTA members and deeply ensconced in sustainable practices, and they each conveyed the opportunities and challenges of such a collaboration.
Feedback from all adventure tourism representatives was positive and highlighted why closer collaborations are important. “I think the two industries have an important role in joining forces and seeing the bigger picture in the value chains of both our industries, and this is emphasized by the good discussions we had during and after our two adventure presentations,” Christensen said. “For us as a national tourist board, I think the opportunities in communicating safety and the importance of correct clothing and gear use are particularly interesting. The adventure industry is a gear-consuming industry, and I think there are many opportunities for service innovation and new ways of cooperating with the outdoor industry.”
The seminar programs were well received by attendees. The overall exhibit and content program set a precedent for OutDoor by ISPO’s inaugural show in Munich; until 2019, the outdoor gear and apparel sectors were previously a part of ISPO, which was a much broader show that included team sports, the ski industry, and other tangential areas. It is expected that future OutDoor by ISPO trade fairs will include an adventure tourism component.
For the ATTA, the impact was clear. With more than two dozen meetings, the ATTA secured 17 commitments by outdoor gear/apparel brands to become ATTA gear supplier members, most of which seek direct involvement in the 2019 Adventure Travel World Summit’s inaugural Gear Trail Partnership Program. There, outdoor gear and apparel brands will have meeting/exhibit space and participating brands will collaborate to create adventure traveler gear displays, with some brands offering an opportunity for Summit delegates to test and try on upcoming seasonal gear.
Before OutDoor by ISPO, the ATTA already had 14 gear supplier members. Before the Summit, the ATTA expects this number to more than double. Outdoor gear brands already committed to ATTA membership and the ATWS Gear Partnership Trail include ECCO, Thule, Eagle Creek, Pacsafe, Mink Campers, and Light My Fire. Additional brands will be shared as agreements are signed.
In addition, the ATTA participated in the 2019 Outdoor Retailer in Denver, Colorado, for the first time and ISPO Shanghai to test the waters for possible collaboration. Results from both continue to be evaluated, though early reports indicate similarly positive results.
While the ATTA’s gear supplier membership category has already been enhanced and tailored, the association will continue its work with outdoor gear and apparel brands to create additional services offering increased mutual benefit to the adventure and outdoor industries. For adventure travel companies, this includes access to gear-testing programs, pro deals, and fleet sales. For outdoor gear companies, this includes access to the ATTA’s vast global network for match-making programs, access to influential adventure travelers (including guides, company owners, and travel journalists) for producing testing and seeding programs, and cooperative marketing and research initiatives.
In key meetings with all C-level executives, leading gear brands enthusiastically committed to ”locking arms” in jointly developing the services and pursuing social and environmental sustainability initiatives. The ATTA’s desires to bring the two industries closer prompted the following frequent refrain from gear/apparel brand leadership: ”The time is right and this is a common sense approach we are prepared to pursue.”
Are you interested in learning more about how your company (whether from the adventure tourism or outdoor gear industry) can become more involved in this collaboration? Write to [email protected] with your ideas, questions, and interests.