Like many people working in the adventure travel industry, Shannon Stowell has walked a circuitous path to get where he is today. Stowell, who has been with the Adventure Travel Trade Association (ATTA) for 14 years and is the organization’s CEO, took full advantage of nature’s playground growing up as a teenager in Colorado, but it was an immersive, three-month experience in Fiji that truly left an impression on him.
Today Stowell is completely immersed in the world of adventure travel, sharing his experiences and inspiring people around the world to travel from a place of positivity. He recently took this message to TEDxBend with his talk “Change the World … Take a Vacation,” which highlighted how adventure travel can positively impact local cultures and the environment.
In 1960, people took 22 million trips. This number has increased significantly to 1.3 billion trips taken in 2017, Stowell said in his talk. The growth has been so explosive, in fact, that the term “overtourism” emerged recently to describe the negative impact travel has had on cultures, the environment, and the economy. “Many of the world’s iconic destinations are being loved to death,” Stowell said, illustrating the point with an image of hundreds of people at Angkor Wat in Cambodia.
Further, travelers reaching destinations via cruise ships or staying at all-inclusive resorts or in international chain hotels often leave slim financial benefits in their wake. In fact, studies have shown that up to 85 percent of the money they spend leaves the destination entirely.
Though mass tourism often turns a transformative experience into merely an indulgent one, Stowell told the TEDx audience that, not only can people travel in a responsible manner but that they should because it can have a very real and tangible positive impact. “You can travel in a way that does do good for the world,” he said. “You can travel in a way that protects wildlife. You can travel in a way that honors and supports people. You can travel in a way that furthers economic prosperity and peace and can be a mind-blowing experience all at the same time.”
Adventure travel, which works at the intersection of nature, culture, and activity, is a model where approximately 65 percent of the money spent by a traveler stays in the destination by supporting local guides and businesses. In turn, these locals have a reason to protect and preserve the surrounding environmental landscape.
So, how can someone change the world by taking a vacation? Stowell offered three specific questions people can ask when choosing an adventure travel outfitter to create a win-win-win situation for travelers, the local residents, and the environment — a situation that is significantly richer than mass tourism could ever be. “Adventure travel has forever changed my assumptions about other people and about the world,” Stowell said. “We really can change ourselves and the world by going on vacation.”