The Adventure Travel and Trade Association (ATTA) will host their first Adventure Travel World Summit in Asia Sept. 11-14 in Hokkaido, Japan. Outdoor Japan caught up with ATTA Director Shannon Stowell to find out more about what makes this the gathering of the year for the adventure travel industry and how it continues to grow and evolve here and around the world. 

How is adventure travel defined by the ATTA?

It’s common for people to assume that adventure travel means risk, but our studies of travelers shows the three “pillars” of adventure travel are nature, culture and physical activity. This means adventure travel is accessible to anyone. Of course there will be trips to destinations and activities with higher inherent risks (climbing in the Himalayas, for example), but the majority of tours are quite safe and managed well to mitigate unnecessary risks. 

How integral is “do good through travel” to the ATTA’s mission?

It’s the baseline for us. If travel is healthy for the destination, it will be better for everyone involved, from the traveler to the suppliers of tours, accommodations, etc. Our mission and vision involve travel that preserves cultural heritage and the local environment. 

Did the pandemic affect trends in adventure travel? 

It feels like the pandemic turned up the dial for more sustainable options in travel while community travel also has seen a real surge in interest. This is great news for remote communities who rely on travelers’ spending to economically thrive. One interesting piece of information that popped up last fall as I surveyed operators was a focus on sustainability that was particularly driven by their young staff. A focus on sustainable, healthy adventure travel seems to be on the rise!

Is demand still on the rise?

While I dislike the term “revenge travel,” there’s no question there is huge pent-up demand. This is the first recorded time in history travel bookings are still increasing in the face of a recession! It’s proof that people have had it with being stuck at home.

How has ATTA membership grown?

When I started in 2004 our membership was about 80% U.S. based. That number has now dropped to 40% as our international growth has developed over the last 19 years. Europe and Latin America are our second and third highest membership regions with Asia rapidly growing leading up to our first Adventure Travel World Summit in Hokkaido.

How did the summit land in Hokkaido?

Members from Hokkaido approached us more than five years ago wanting to build a plan to develop and grow adventure travel in Japan, specifically in Hokkaido. Since that time we’ve had a wonderful and productive relationship with each other to see that vision come to life.

What kind of potential do you see in Japan?

There is a general appeal (I’m learning) and a relatively low number of travel professionals who have been to Japan. So, I think the strong, deep culture, the love of nature and the growing understanding of adventure activities and travel with Japan are growing rapidly.

What have been some memorable experiences in Japan?

Hiking in Hokkaido, sea kayaking in Okinawa, culinary adventures everywhere and forest bathing have all been memorable. Of course Japan, particularly Hokkaido, is appreciated for its snow sports as well!

How is Japan as an adventure travel destination developing?

I don’t have much personal experience before 2018, but, from what I understand, Japan is mostly in the early stages of developing adventure travel products on a larger scale. This is actually advantageous, because the government and companies have the opportunity to learn from other destinations’ mistakes and avoid the same pitfalls.

I think Japan’s culture has been wonderfully preserved over the years and still seems to be holding strong. This is such a powerful thing for visitors to experience—especially in a world that increasingly looks more homogenous and commoditized. Japan remains unique, beautiful and exciting for the discerning traveler.

What are the summit’s goals each year? 

The main goal would be for our delegates from around the world to have an incredible experience in Japan for themselves personally and for their businesses and organizations. We also want Japan and Hokkaido to develop strong business opportunities for the near future and long haul. We always survey participants if the event was worth their time and resources spent and we’ve had more than 90% say “Absolutely.”

This year’s theme is “Harmony.” How important is it for the industry to be in tune?

I think in a time when we collectively face massive threats of climate change, ecosystem collapse, language and cultural homogeneity, it is vital that we be aligned wherever possible to strive for solutions together. Divided we fall.

How did award-winning author—and longtime Japan resident—Pico Iyer become a keynote speaker?

Pico Iyer is simply one of the best travel writers, speakers and thinkers today. He spoke at our event in 2013 in Namibia and the crowd absolutely loved him. We’ve been waiting to bring him back when it worked out and this year it did! The fact that he’s lived in Japan for 30 plus years will also make it even more special as he connects with our audience.

Investing in indigenous communities is an important goal of the ATTA. How has Hokkaido’s Ainu community responded?

I can’t speak for them directly, but we have met with some of the Ainu leaders in my trips there and they seem to be engaged. Some companies like Tsuruga Hotel Group have taken special interest in the Ainu’s opportunities in travel and that makes us very happy.

What opportunities are there for prospective ATTA members?

We have everything from free community memberships to full business memberships.There’s something for everyone interested in upping their game in adventure travel. Obviously the business membership provides more benefits including education, resources, connectivity within the industry and up-to-date knowledge of trends and opportunities.

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