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The Adventure Travel Trade Association (ATTA) formally announced on Oct. 8 what SNEWSÂ® knew had occurred in May — that founder and ATTA President Jerry Mallet of the Adventure Travel Society had sold ATTA to Shannon Stowell, former director of business development for Altrec.com. Naturally, terms of the deal were not disclosed.
When asked why he purchased an association that was, by all accounts, virtually non-operational and certainly not widely recognized, Stowell told SNEWSÂ®, “What I saw in the ATTA more than anything else was potential. Altrec was a corporate member when I was on board and the more I became involved in our relationship with the ATTA I saw it was an association that needed attention and that it was an association the membership really wanted.”
At one point, ATTA boasted 750 members, according to our notes from past interviews. When Stowell purchased the association, membership was hovering around 250, mostly serving outfitters and travel companies by putting out an occasional newsletter and offering a few discounts some could use, others could not.
Stowell said he remained intentionally quiet about the acquisition until now because he wanted to ensure when he did go public, the 14-year-old ATTA was moving forward with new energy and focus.
One of his first tasks was to assemble an active ATTA Advisory Board that Stowell told us would be “representative of critical elements of the adventure travel industry.” At present, the board includes:
> Francis X. Farrell, publisher, National Geographic Adventure Magazine
> Rick Hemmerling, president, Ex Officio
> Perry Lungmus, executive vice president, Virtuoso and former Abercrombie & Kent executive
> Thornton May, futurist, World Bank
> Megan McCormick, host of PBS Television’s “Globe-Trekker” Series
> John Poimiroo, travel and tourism marketing communications consultant, travel editor of California Magazine, and former California state tourism director
> Everett Potter, contributing editor, New York Times Syndicate, USA Today, Outside and others
> Steve Trautman, principal, Solution Strategies, former Expedia.com executive
> Ed Viesturs, America’s leading high-altitude mountaineer, author of “Himalayan Quest”
> Russell Walters, president, Northern Outdoors
Stowell also managed to quickly secure sponsorship support from two key industry players — Ex Officio and Eagle Creek. That was important because he also suspended soliciting memberships in the association and put all benefits on hold until he had “sufficient opportunity to bounce ideas off existing and potential members regarding what they want and need from the ATTA.”
At last week’s Adventures in Travel Expo in San Mateo, Calif. — Oct. 8 to 10 — ATTA had its coming out party, which Stowell told us exceeded his expectations in terms of response.
“While I would say that the show was a bit light in attendance from a consumer standpoint, in large part due to the location, our booth was slammed for three days,” said Stowell. “We had five people staffing the booth and never once had a chance to relax — it was fantastic!”
During the show, Stowell’s team conducted the association’s first foray into what he said will be a hallmark of ATTA — testing and research. During the show, ATTA had folks fill out detailed responses to a four-page questionnaire about adventure travel. All told, ATTA garnered approximately 50 (it’s still waiting for a few final ones to be mailed in) survey responses from the trade, and over 150 responses from consumers.
“The three most important things we have learned our members want from the ATTA quickly is to help them drive more business, lower their costs through membership benefits, and find liability insurance,” Stowell said.
“Our biggest takeaway from an ATTA standpoint from the show was that we need to get our membership benefits solidified as soon as possible,” added Stowell.
In general, Stowell told us they would be coming out with a menu of member benefits that include: Discounts on shipping, office supplies and for member companies exhibiting at adventure travel trade shows; consumer-focused initiatives that will drive business to its member companies, including websites that agree to carry ATTA member links; and securing resources to offer liability insurance to members.
ATTA also is increasing its 2005 visibility at key adventure travel shows, including the Adventures in Travel Expos in Chicago (Jan. 7-9), New York City (Jan. 14-16), and Washington, D.C. (Jan. 28-30), as well as Outside’s Chicago 2005 Travel Show (Jan. 19-23) and The New York Times 2005 Travel Show (March 4-6).
By January, ATTA will have in place a new membership fee structure supported by an entirely new collection of member benefits, as well as new advisory board members, and a new interactive Web presence at www.adventuretravel.biz.
“For the long term, we will undertake research and marketing initiatives designed to drive the overall exposure for the adventure travel industry, because we need to see the pie grow, and not just watch outfitters and travel companies trading consumers back and forth,” Stowell said.
Stowell also indicated an intense desire to build bridges of mutual benefit between ATTA, the outdoor industry, and perhaps other industry groups.
“Certainly a bridge between the ATTA and the outdoor industry makes so much sense,” Stowell said. “The overlap between our two industries is so obvious to me, and the opportunity for mutual benefit is very clear.”
As for Mallett, he remains very much involved in the adventure travel business as the head of the Adventure Travel Society, an adventure travel consulting firm that assists international governments. He has also agreed to continue to work as a consultant with Stowell and ATTA for an undetermined amount of time. Oh, and in his spare time, he’s running for county commissioner in Salida, Colo., on a “recreation and conservation platform.”
SNEWSÂ® View: Not that Jerry Mallet didn’t have the chops to get the job done but like any good ideas man — when he launched ATTA in late 1989, it was a great idea — Jerry finally realized that if ATTA was to succeed, he needed to get out of the way. And he couldn’t have found a better businessperson than Stowell to take the helm and captain the association’s ship out of dry dock and into the open waters of opportunity. As much as we recognize ATTA’s need to come out with member benefits and more soon, we think ATTA has a more pressing agenda — at least for those of us who proclaim to write about the industry. Please, oh please, come up with a definition for adventure travel that is succinct. Even the Travel Industry Association of America (TIA) continues to have trouble embracing an answer. In a 1997 adventure travel study, “The Adventure Travel Report,” TIA stated upfront that: “After a review of available literature and consultation with adventure travel industry groups, TIA did not find any definitive industry standard list of adventure activities…TIA welcomes further discussion and research to determine an industry definition of the adventure travel category.” To date, we know of no further discussion or research that has arrived at a meaningful definition. Mallet even told us back in 1998 that, “Adventure travel is outdoor recreation where the individual participates in an activity that helps to sustain the environment and the local economy.” In fact, everyone we’ve spoken to recently has offered us their own interpretation of what real adventure travel means. From what we gather, if we were to go play lawn darts, an outdoor activity with a certain perceived risk of getting impaled (ergo an adventure), and we traveled to Kenya to pursue this activity where we were sure of benefiting the local economy, would we be adventure travelers? One thing is certain. To qualify for the label of adventure travel, one does have to travel. But if ATTA is really going to get its arms around a definition that will go far in ensuring the association’s success, it’s going to have to narrow the definition just a little bit — like what activities qualify and which don’t. And that is likely to be much harder.
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