Friends and colleagues trickled in from adventures across Hokkaido on Monday, gathering under Sapporo’s TV Tower to kick off the Adventure Travel World Summit.
While the annual event is held in a new destination each year, Japan is the first country in Asia to host. This year’s theme 調和 (Chōwa, or harmony) is a reminder to look beyond individuality, instead placing a higher value on the greater good. In Japan, chōwa is most often used to describe the collective spirit that connects people together – an incredibly fitting theme for the adventure travel community.
At the opening ceremony, the event emcee, Kensuke Takada, was joined onstage by Sapporo’s tourism mascot – Kyun-chan – a shy Japanese pika disguised as a deer. Together, they led the audience in some radio taiso, a 100-year old movement exercise popular in Japan.
Delegates enjoyed Japanese harp music choreographed with a session that bordered on performance art as a calligrapher used a wall-sized blank canvas and large brush to create the characters of Chōwa.
“He’s like a Japanese Banksy over there,” Takada joked.
In a conversation with ATTA CEO Shannon Stowell, Her Excellency Lina Annab, Ambassador of Jordan to Japan shared with the audience that she recently completed a trek to the summit of Mount Fuji. Often seen as a rite of passage for many adventure travelers to Japan, it was a milestone experience for her. But, she added, the mountain’s UNESCO listing is endangered due to the number of travelers going there.
“Paradise found is paradise lost,” Annab said. “It’s important to keep the balance so the essence of a place is not lost. We are like minded and are looking to go somewhere where we can do good. Encounters with the people and the small exchanges you have are what makes the experience.”
The Summit serves a bit as a marker of a new year for ATTA, reflecting on the previous year and looking ahead to the future. In his address to the adventure travel community, Stowell noted that overtourism is back, and is projected to become more of an issue over the next few years.
In the face of tourism growth paired with increasing impacts due to climate change, the future could easily feel bleak. But where there are challenges, there are opportunities. Stowell shared examples of collaboration and sustainability initiatives within the ATTA community, from a coastal garbage cleanup to the Tsuruga Hotel Group in Japan deciding that adventure travel will be better for Hokkaido than casino tourism.
“Certification is great, it raises the bar, it helps spur others to do more, but some of the most amazing and impactful activities have nothing to do with certification. It’s just bold action.”
At a press conference following the opening ceremony on Tuesday, Takeshi Mizuguchi, the Director of the International Tourism Division at Hokkaido District Transport Bureau and the Executive Secretary of the ATWS Hokkaido Executive Committee, reflected on the growth of their partnership with ATTA.
"In usual tourism events, there can be competitiveness between other destinations, but this is not the case at ATTA events, where we all work together to solve issues,” he said. “It's fundamentally different than other tourism events in which Hokkaido has taken part. At ATTA events, we are all partners. We find great significance there."