Tourism Problems Loom, But Adventure Travel Can Be Beacon of Hope

18 October 2018

After a week of one-on-one meetings, deep discussions about business-related matters and trend-setting topics, creative collaborations, and inspiring stories that leave the adventure travel community wanting more, there is one lingering question at the Adventure Travel World Summit: What’s next?

The ATTA's CEO Shannon Stowell offered an honest analysis of the tourism sector and hope for the adventure travel community. © ATTA / Hassen Salum

Adventure travel has exploded in recent years, and the reasons why people are participating in this tourism sector have also evolved. According to research released by the Adventure Travel Trade Association (ATTA) in 2017, an increasing number of people are embarking on adventure travel for transformational purposes and to expand their worldview, learn new skills, connect with people, and get back to nature. As travelers from all walks of life take off for all corners of the globe with these motivations in mind, adventure travel stands at an open door leading to opportunity — an opportunity to positively influence people’s interactions and behaviors long after their trips are over. The industry can be a driving force for solving overtourism problems, reversing natural degradation, and addressing inappropriate encounters stripping local people, wildlife, and the environment of their integrity. This influence has the power to change the world.

“We need healthy tourism to be the standard and for exploitative, destructive tourism to end.”

Never one to shy away from offering honest observations about the industry while also serving as a source of inspiration for the adventure travel community, the ATTA’s CEO, Shannon Stowell, delivered a powerful message to the community during the event’s closing keynote, Forward, sponsored by Australia. He reflected on the first Adventure Travel World Summit to tap into the industry’s original roots and consider what has changed in the years since. Unsurprisingly, topics like climate change and overtourism now play a much more significant role than they did more than a decade ago, and the adventure travel industry now must unite to address the problems in a very proactive manner. “We need healthy tourism to be the standard and for exploitative, destructive tourism to end,” he said.

Stowell outlined the Magic Diamond and the role governments, businesses, non-governmental organizations, and media play in developing positive tourism experiences. © ATTA / Hassen Salum

Stowell explained how four key groups of adventure travel stakeholders — governments, businesses, non-governmental organizations, and media — all play a pivotal role in the industry’s future because they all touch the traveler in a different way. Further, the industry now needs to be more defensive to ensure the preservation of resources that may be gone in only a single lifetime. “How do we do tourism that protects all these places and people, and promotes peace?” he asked. “We will all need to work together.”

The truth is, the industry can’t actually know what tomorrow holds, but Anne Nielsen, chief futurist for Future Nativgator, encouraged delegates to chase “moments of magic” and focus on “better” instead of “more.” “The magic moments for you specifically will be your guiding light,” Nielsen said. “We also see that when people are traveling today, they’re no longer seeking quality but quality.”

Anne Nielsen encouraged delegates to chase their own "moments of magic." © ATTA / Hassen Salum

During her keynote address, Within, sponsored by Visit Sweden, she emphasized the fact people are often so focused on what’s right in front of them that they can’t see the big picture and the opportunity it presents. There is a revolving door of trends and ideas shaping the adventure travel industry, and it can feel overwhelming to keep up with everything going on, but Nielsen suggested there’s power in approaching the hard and hyped with a sense of neutrality. Further, inherent in this chaotic atmosphere is an increased desire for people to feel more connected. “We’re really feeling this need to come together, and looking at problems and thinking this is not just a problem here, this is a universal problem,” Nielsen said. “If there’s one thing our problems are telling us today it’s that no one can succeed on their own.”

So, what's next? After a week of conversation, education, and community-focused and personal reflection, adventure travel professionals have the tools and support to embrace their role within the tourism sector. They have the power to become ambassadors and thought leaders, creating a path that inspires accountability and responsibility into the future. The adventure travel industry can be the difference.

To close the 2018 Summit, Stowell left delegates with a play on the famous Mary Oliver quote: “Tell me, what do you plan to do with your one and precious opportunity to change the world?”