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Scholarship Program Highlights Resilience in the Face of Adversity

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There were three times more applications for the 2021 Adventure Travel World Summit Scholarship Program than ever before, a reflection of the great need for support from the industry 18 months into its greatest challenge in modern history. More than 160 applications were submitted from adventure tour operators and accommodations in more than 50 countries for three available scholarships, sponsored by the Jordan Tourism Board. ATTA narrowed down the field of finalists and then a committee composed of ATTA advisors, cast votes on answers to essay questions about how they remained resilient and supported their communities through the pandemic, and what actions they are taking to combat climate change and improve the diversity and inclusion of their own companies and clients. 

“It was incredibly challenging this year. There were so many more applicants who shared incredible stories of resilience and how they are supporting their communities. They were awe-inspiring,” said Mira Poling Anselmi, ATTA Community Director. “But it also gave me a sense of despair because of how difficult the current situation is for the staggering amount of people who rely on tourism to survive. We hope the resources, tools, education, inspiration, and networking opportunities that come with membership, online courses, and ATTA events, will help to keep these businesses on track so they can thrive again in the future.”

In regards to community support in the face of the pandemic, many companies told stories of the fundraisers they created for their frontline workers, the guides, porters, cooks, drivers, and their families, some of the hardest hit in the industry. Others used their vehicles and personnel to contribute to relief efforts, transporting food parcels, personal protective equipment (PPE), medical equipment, and sanitization supplies to rural areas and underserved communities. Several sponsor the ongoing education and care of individual children and one even uses their profits to feed a local orphanage.

To the question of resilience, they answered with stories of giving up their offices, their equipment, and their own salaries to support their employees and contractors. They shared knowledge, resources, and technology with other tourism businesses – many helping to train and professionalize others in their local industry. They renegotiated leases and contracts, updated their cancellation and rebooking policies, developed new safety and sanitation protocols, and worked with clients to move their trips forward, then move them again. Many used the downtime to work on their websites and marketing, while others conducted training exercises and further education for their guides and staff. Many worked on improving trails and infrastructure and one innovative company used the time to have each staff member do presentations on their own fields of expertise and then they studied a new language together. 

Their stories of combating climate change are nothing less than inspiring. With adventure travel relying on natural resources, many adventure travel companies are leaders in conservation and many either have their own or work closely with conservation non-profit organizations. They plant trees, restore coral, educate and train community members to protect their natural assets, and resist the use of plastics. They use people-powered modes of transportation – bikes, kayaks, and their own two feet – to explore. They share stories of their ancestors, local Indigenous communities, cuisines, and cultures, spreading awareness and inspiring others to the cause of preserving culture, language, wildlife, and natural habitats.

The topic of diversity and inclusion got as broad a spectrum of answers as there are cultures of applicants. It has such a wide range of meanings depending on where you are in the world. It might mean taking proactive steps to train and hire more women, more youth, or more guides from rural communities. We saw that it can mean involving people from different religions, different tribes, or different ethnicities. We saw efforts being taken to educate themselves on LGBTQ+ matters and to make operational changes to accommodate people of different abilities. While many felt that they are open and inclusive to all, we saw many others who were actively furthering their education on this topic to work toward being as inclusive as they would like to be.

The 2021 Winners 

Adventures with Locals, Uganda

This “female-owned responsible tourism company built by highly passionate people with different tribes around the country” is a powerful example of travel as a force for good. We asked Rosette Dekool, the Founder, her advice for companies struggling through this time. “The industry will emerge as a stronger force for good. All we have to do is to pivot with new innovative ideas and use this opportunity as a reset to learn how to be more conscious to adapt to the new normal,” said Dekool. “This Jump-start will help us connect and get inspiration from fellow adventure travel professionals and gain new partnerships as we share our experiences to motivate and empower women and the youth in tourism.”

IMPULSE Travel, Colombia

IMPULSE Travel wasted no time after the initial shock of the pandemic shutting down world travel. “After speaking with many of our partners we understood how critical the situation was and how it was endangering the social transformation of Colombia,” said Juliana Medina, Chief of Staff. They answered quickly with Líderes de cambio, a program that started as a crowdfunding initiative to aid 15 community projects throughout the country with resources and education. “It all evolved way beyond our initial expectations and created really strong connections among community leaders, and made room for growth and dreams in a time where most people were thinking of leaving all behind.” To the ATTA community, she said, “our responsibility and commitment is to take this opportunity and amplify it to as many great local operators, guides, social leaders and changemakers in Colombia as we can. IMPULSE exists because of a whole ecosystem that sustains us, so this scholarship belongs to all of us.” 

Experience Jordan, Jordan

Proving resilient in the face of this historic challenge, Ayman Abd Alkareem, General Manager was asked what they had to say to fellow tour operators to which Alkareem replied, “recognize and acknowledge your losses, then take a fresh look at what you currently have and rebuild your business around that. Also, try to get closer to your customers; only by listening and understanding them, businesses are going to be able to understand what has changed and adapt to thrive in the future. Lastly and most importantly, get closer than ever to your team!” They used some of the downtime in Jordan to work on the Jordan Bike Trail with the aim of growing cycling in Jordan and creating a project that many Jordanians could be proud of and benefit from. “The JTB is an innovative concept mixing sustainability and adventure and now provide locals more of a voice within the tourism sector in Jordan.”

To ATTA and Jordan Tourism Board Alkareem said, “We really appreciate the commitment of the Jordan Tourism Board and the ATTA in promoting adventure tourism in Jordan and the ongoing support over the years. The industry is changing in Jordan as a result of this support, where new local suppliers are developing products and experiences aimed at adventure tourists.”

“It has been such an honor to sponsor the ATTA Scholarship fund. I am so proud of the role the Jordan Tourism Board is playing in our continued strive to look out for others and encourage sustainability and meaningful travel not only in Jordan but around the globe” Said, Malia Asfour, Director of the Jordan Tourism Board North America. “Jordanians are known for giving and Bedouin Hospitality taught us that foundation,” she said. “I would like to congratulate all recipients of the scholarship fund and all I ask is that one day you pay it forward so we can continue to help more companies and local communities grow and thrive sustainably.”

There were so many applicants that deserve a scholarship and so many incredible stories because there are so many good people in adventure tourism who are doing amazing things for their communities, guests, and the planet. The three 2021 scholarships awarded included membership in the ATTA, tickets to both the 2021 ATWS Virtual in Japan and 2022 ATWS in Switzerland, online business courses, and a cash travel stipend. In addition to the three winners, ATTA awarded 12 finalists with one year of Business Membership and one ticket to this year’s Summit, plus several more were given a year of Professional Membership in order to access current resources, relevant tools, and online education for furthering their businesses. 

If you or your company are interested in sponsoring some of these incredible applicants, with additional scholarships, contact ATTA Community Director, Mira Poling Anselmi here

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