By Moe Carrick, of Moementum, Inc., an ATTA Partner, Past Summit Emcee, and 2013 Peer-to-Peer Director
I admit it: I found myself getting unexpectedly nervous the night before the Peer-to-Peer Exchange in Namibia. The Lead Facilitators were trained and ready, the materials guiding our 30 volunteer facilitators were complete, energy was high, my microphone maven daughter was ready to solicit individual comments—and yet I could feel that bittersweet cold sweat that comes whenever I am doing something with a larger group for the very first time. To my delight, the first official day of this year’s 2013 ATWS in Namibia was dedicated to person-to-person discussion and interaction via the Peer-to-Peer Exchange, a full six hours specifically designed to foster conversation, community, and cohort learning for all attending delegates. And terrifyingly, I was in charge.
Building on the success of the 2012 peer exchange events at conducted during ATWS Switzerland, and utilizing fundamentals that have guided the ATTA 360 small group events in past years, we strategically book-ended the first day of the Namibian Summit with excellent featured presentations and then hosted three large-group sessions for all delegates. Idea generation and open conversation has been a key principle of the ATTA founders since the first Summit in Seattle in 2005, and with the Namibian experience we sought to continue the legacy with a structured, dynamic, but lightly facilitated event. I knew we could pull it off, but the energy of the group was what would demarcate a huge success from a mediocre one.
~ Ani DiFranco
Logistically, people were invited to maximum mixed groups of 100-250 and under the guidance of lead facilitators Luis Vargas, The Clymb, and Manal Kelig, ATTA’s Executive Director of MENA, and myself were guided in small group conversations on self-selected topics of interest. A governing set of ground rules and principles, combined with an engaging warm-up activity in pairs jump-started a high energy, collaborative environment in which people launched into dynamic interactions with colleagues from around the world.
The three rounds of the ATWS Peer-to-Peer Exchange focused on a progression of conversations beginning with wide-open topics, narrowing to more specific and individual challenges, and culminating in personal next steps and action planning. The three rooms buzzed with activity as delegates wholeheartedly opened up to one another with provocative questions, feedback and learning. Phew, our plan worked!
The range of topics uncovered was vast, with myriad, varied delegate questions such as:
- How can I best use social media to reach out to a younger audience to attract them to my business?
- What are three strategies you have found successful to increase low season booking periods?
- How fast and radically will demand shift from mature to emerging markets?
- What are the requirements to making a business both sustainable and profitable?
- How long before I know an itinerary will work?
- Are we watering down adventure travel too much as the industry grows?
- How can I keep good employees?
- What metrics do you use to drive your business?
- How can I think outside the box to shift my thinking in meaningful ways?
- How can I best ensure great guide training and development?
There were some topics that came up frequently, and the ones that had the most interest across all three rooms were:
- Guide training
- Digital Marketing
- Customer retention
- Indigenous tourism development
- Emerging markets
- Engaging new customers
- Long-range strategy
- Sustainable Tourism
As the day went on, new relationships formed and a multitude of ideas were sparked in individuals and amongst some like-minded groups. When asked at the end of the day, one participant said she took away the feeling that “(I) am not alone in the problems I face, which is very reassuring.” Another said, “…As a leader I rarely take the time to stop and think about things. This process helped me truly pause and open my mind to others’ ideas.”
There were numerous requests during and after the Peer-to-Peer event for the ATTA to lead and facilitate ways to help conversations continue in the coming year. Many ideas were brainstormed including using existing resources such as the ATTA HUB, AdventureConect Regional Meetings and informal like-minded network groups. Many people exchanged emails directly with a promise to “continue the conversation” and reach out privately with new associates with whom a day was spent in discussion and exchange. Several people expressed amazement that they were able to have such a high level of open, candid and thoughtful conversations with people they had never met. As we captured on video and film, people were visibly appreciative of the opportunity to both give and receive in a learning forum that transcended mere social interaction.
As the day went on, I felt my anxiety dissipate as the predictable power of collegial exchange took over and the pressure on me, and my co-facilitators, lessened as delegates convened eagerly on provocative topics seeking one another’s wisdom, experience, opinion and input. The structure worked and organically, people got what they needed.
We will be conducting a follow-up debrief call with the P2P Facilitators and ATTA staff to understand both the strengths of the day and to gain knowledge of what we could and should do differently next time as there were some elements that worked better than others in our design and approach. In addition, we are currently planning a formal way for the ATTA to host “mastermind” types of conversations on an on-going process as a member benefit. The idea will be to provide on-going virtual forums via phone and technology in which members can tap into the wealth of expertise, wisdom, and inspiration from one another on specific topics of interest in 2014. Think of it as P2P Live Events sprinkled throughout the year ahead. Stay tuned for more specifics on topics and timing in January 2014.
If you have specific feedback or ideas for the future of the Peer-to-Peer Exchange process as part of the Adventure Travel World Summit experience I would love to hear it: please email me at [email protected].
Thanks for your active participation to the facilitators and all attending delegates in the Peer-to-Peer Exchange 2013. It has been an honor to bear witness again to the magic of community in which our differences make us stronger and we can find comfort in our alliances.