The Adventure Travel Trade Association (ATTA) made it to a powerful global stage for the Ministerial Roundtable at the Tourism Expo Japan held in Osaka at the end of October.
I was honored to represent the adventure travel industry for my fourth time speaking at the event. Fellow participants included senior executives from the UNWTO, World Travel and Tourism Council, European Tourism Commission, and the Pacific Asia Travel Association. Additionally, Tourism Ministers and ambassadors from Botswana, India, Indonesia, Brunei, Italy, Japan, Malaysia, Thailand, and Uzbekistan joined the discussion, bringing diverse perspectives and experiences to our conversation.
Tourism Expo Japan is organized by the Japan Association of Travel Agents (JATA) and is the largest industry exposition in the country, aimed at promoting the Japanese market to the world while also providing a platform for destinations to showcase their offerings to Japanese travelers. Coming off a successful Summit in Hokkaido, it reaffirmed the strong partnership between Japan and the ATTA.
After a two-year hiatus due to the COVID-19 pandemic, this year's Ministerial Roundtable theme was “Rethinking Tourism for a Better Future” – essentially what sustainable adventure travel is all about. For my part, I thought back to a recurring message that has been at the forefront of how we talk about tourism ever since ATWS 2022 in Lugano, Switzerland. In his closing keynote, Jean-Claude Razel challenged the industry, “Don’t sell what customers want. Start selling what destinations need.”
While the adventure travel community has heard this call to action many times over the past couple of years, it is still a new and somewhat radical concept to the larger tourism industry. My message focused on the importance of building back in a way that is healthy for destinations instead of going back to the pre-pandemic status quo. What I shared on that global stage, I’d like to also share with you today:
“As the tourism industry recovers from the global pandemic, things will be different. Business travel has not recovered as quickly as leisure travel, and some of the challenges we were facing regarding overtourism have quickly come back. There was a lot of talk about ‘building back better’ during the pandemic, but as an industry, have we actually done that?
We still face the hard realities of not only overtourism, but climate impact, environmental degradation, and social erosion. At the ATTA, we believe the industry needs a change of philosophy at the very base. Travel is a privilege, not a right. The customer is often not right, and it is our responsibility as an industry to take the wheel.
It’s time to stop building, developing, and investing resources into what customers demand, and instead build what your destination needs. With 1.8 billion international travelers predicted by 2030, soon the problem will no longer be framed as, “Will we attract enough customers?” Instead, it will be, “How do we manage tourism in such a way that it is healthy for our destination?”
We should not have arrivals as a measure of success, but rather a much more complex set of measurements of the health of travel and tourism in our countries. This will only be possible if the “magic triangle” of governments, businesses, and NGOs work together to demand that tourism be managed in a way that is healthy and good for the destinations.”
As the ATTA continues to grow in size and reach, it is up to all of us to spread the message of sustainability as we work individually and collectively to ensure that tourism benefits destinations and local populations. Thank you for being part of our community!