Summit Scholarship Winners Reflect on Business Building Lessons

21 November 2013

By Kristen Gill, Award-winning Writer & Photographer; Member of 2013 Summit Storytelling Team


Left to right: Jeff Ment, Ricardo Fahrig, Christopher Pesenti, Neville Poelina Photo credit: © ATTA/Kristen Gill Photography. All rights reserved.

We caught up with this year’s ATTA Tour Operator Scholarship program winners at the tenth Adventure Travel World Summit in Swakopmund, Namibia. Christopher Pesenti from RED Sustainable Travel in Baja, Mexico; Neville Poelina from Uptuyu Adventures in Kimberley, Australia; and Ricardo Fahrig from Zbulo! – Discover Albania each received a check from the legal office of Rome McGuigan, P.C., who provided financial support to host these early-stage tourism operators at the Summit. Representing Rome McGuigan, Jeff Ment presented the checks to the winners on the opening day of the conference, where ATTA’s Storytelling Team members Kristen Gill and John Canning had a chance to interview them about what winning this scholarship means to them, what they’ve learned at the Summit and what ideas they plan to bring back home.

“We are proud to support these adventure travel tour operators. Each one is making their unique difference in their communities and it is companies like these that will have a lasting impact on our world.” - Jeff Ment, Rome McGuigan

Christopher Pesenti, Founder of RED Sustainable Travel said, “Attending the ATTA Summit in Namibia benefitted me personally and RED as a hybrid tour operator/nonprofit on many different levels. As a young inbound operator, building personal relationships with outbound operators is crucial to our success. Meeting face-to-face and getting to know operators from around the world as people not only helped us strengthen our business from a sales standpoint, it also led to some great brainstorming and exchange of ideas. Journeying through Damaraland with African Eagle was an incredible experience and provided me with some great ideas that we can implement to improve our offering in Mexico. Travelling with the delegation from WINTA added another level of interaction. We dined with the Directors of the Damaraland Conservancy, and I had the chance to pepper them with questions about their experience forming a Joint Venture. Two days later I sat at a table with Maxi Louis of NACSO where we brainstormed over lunch about how Namibia's models for conservation and community development could serve as examples in Mexico. All of this came full circle when I joined field staff from AfriCat on a site visit to a rural community to resolve a conflict between farmers and wild dogs and I saw that the issues are the same no matter where you go.”
"On a personal level, it goes back to something Shannon Stowell said in his opening talk - 'Everyone says wow, you are so lucky, you have the best job! But what they don't realize is that your job is really, really hard.' I think that this counts double for us, as RED is not only a tour operator, we are also providing training and incubating enterprises in rural communities and implementing conservation programs in Mexico. On a personal and professional level, winning the scholarship tells me that there is a group of people out there that think that we are on the right path, that RED's work and our model has value. It gives me a big boost and inspires me to head back out there and keep on doing it."
Christopher Pesenti
RED Sustainable Travel

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When asked how attending the Summit has made a positive impact on him and his company, Neville Poelina, who heads up Uptuyu Adventures in Australia, says “I found the summit inspiring, especially listening to the speakers. The growing of my network on all levels for Uptuyu, WAITOC and WINTA was invaluable. It's good to see the ATTA family just growing and growing.”

When Ricardo Fahrig from Zbulo! was asked to identify the most important things he gained from the Summit and will be taking back with him to Albania, he responded “Confirmation of our work in Albania, key-advice on how to take our business to the next level and contacts I can rely on for help when I have reached a dead end. I made a solid set of contacts ranging from our Balkan neighbors interested in cooperation, journalists that can help to raise the profile of Albania and potential partners who found a new and unique destination. I was able to have our plans for the future peer-reviewed, was inspired by what others achieved and found partners that support our vision of tourism in Albania.”

As part of the scholarship, all three winners will have access to ATTA member resources to grow their business, network, develop their professional skills and be inspired by industry peers and influencers, all with the end goal of taking their business to the next level.

Access more information on criteria used for selecting the scholarship winners.