With the ongoing global shut down due to the novel coronavirus pandemic, the adventure travel industry is in a precarious spot. Serious issues face the Adventure Travel Trade Association (ATTA) as it seeks to work with over 1,300 members from 100 countries who include tourism boards and tour operators to navigate the pandemic and its effects on business. ATTA president Casey Hanisko, who has worked in everything from space travel to deep sea submersibles, took the time to talk to us about the path her members can take as well as the synergy between the outdoor and adventure travel communities.
How worried are you about the future of the adventure travel industry right now?
Right now, we just want our community to be able to get through the other side and be able to be strategic about what kind of shifts they have to make to their businesses. How can they support their travelers in this time of uncertainty? There’s a concern of how long will it last. Is this something that two months from now we’ll look back and wipe our brow and say we got through it?
What is the short-term plan for getting through it?
For the members and our industry, there’s a lot of discussion around how can they change their cancellation policies to make travelers feel more comfortable about booking trips, about still committing to go on a trip, but feeling like they have the opportunity to back out without financial consequences. But businesses obviously need to protect themselves, too. We need a healthy balance between the two, protecting the business and creating comfort for the traveler. There are also discussions around waiving transfer fees. And everyone is thinking about the regionalization of travel, looking to your local market. If people aren’t going to be leaving their destinations because they can’t travel but they still want to be outdoors or have experiences, how can they find that close to home? So hopefully a lot of these short-term solutions will help people maintain enough business to get through to the longterm. There’s also longterm bookings. I know that there’s some businesses that have said that their future bookings are actually really strong. So, you know, possibly the strategy is commit to a trip for fall 20 or late summer or even next year. It’s really the next three months that are uncertain.
Are there any other long term strategies that adventure travel operators are considering?
Changes to cancellation policies and transfer fees. One of the opportunities that these types of experiences offer is for people to think differently about their business. They might realize that their policies should have been changed but they hadn’t looked at them in three years, Most people go about their business don’t really think about the standards they’ve set up. There may be some businesses that have had to make changes to their teams. I know that there’ll be more businesses that will make a shift to an online approach, either to meetings or business structure. I don’t think that’s going to go away. I think that that’s going to be a potential longterm savings for some businesses where maybe they have more teams working remotely and can save some overhead expense. There are going to be a lot of creative approaches that actually stick around for the longterm, which will actually be positive.
When you travel there’s a lot of risk in general. Do you think there’s ways that the coronavirus pandemic will make people change their behavior when they travel in the future?
That’s a good question. I don’t have a crystal ball on that. I think one thing people probably are doing now is reading cancellation policies and reading the fine print. People got very comfortable, and when they get comfortable they don’t think through the details of things. And then, when something like this happens, all of a sudden you realize you should’ve paid attention to the details. But I think that not only consumers, but also businesses will be realizing that there’s contracts with your employees, there’s contracts with your hotel. So I would suspect that there might be a little bit more scrutiny to the fine print from businesses and travelers alike. Whether that will stick around is a good question, because we all have a pretty good ability to move back into our old habits.
Can you tell me about the latest collaborations between ATTA and OR?
ATTA has been attending the OR show. I’m really trying to create connections between the outdoor gear world and the adventure travel industry world because obviously people need travel, and they need gear to go on adventures. And, obviously, adventure travel consumers are interested in being outdoors. We want to understand if there’s better ways that we can help build bridges between the two industries. Because at times, there was a question of how can we connect? How are the two industries relevant to each other? The adventure travel businesses were having a hard time grasping the connection. So we did the research to better understand the tour operators needs from the gear industry. We also thought it would be useful for the gear industry to see what the tour operators are thinking. Why wouldn’t we offer some opportunities to them? In some instances, the worlds are truly merging together.
It also seems that in adventure travel, outdoor activities are becoming the norm with activities like e-bikes, zip lines, even via ferratas.
We’ve seen adventure travel broadening and softening—broadening because there’s so many different types of activities that actually allow a lot more access to different levels of people’s abilities. Also, people who are older are more inclined to want to do adventure travel activities because they grew up doing that. And the Boomer generation are definitely adventure travelers at heart. They’re used to doing those types of experiences and may want to have them be a little bit softer, maybe they might need an E-bike as sort of a plan B or maybe somebody is a rad biker, but their partner is not. They can still do that experience because now there’s this opportunity to have different levels of it.
How do you see outdoor retailers being able to be more of a part of that shift? Can they offer experiences to travelers?
I think they can but there can also be collaborations. Maybe they don’t just offer experiences but they can have some strong affiliations with different destinations or operators. Or maybe there are particular brands that are aligned with different sports or different types of activities. There’s a lot of really interesting ways to connect. Grayl is a great example of a company that we’ve worked really closely with that has been getting its products in front of operators, in particular operators that might go to destinations where water filtration is important. Grayl has done some marketing with us and our operators to let them know that they can purchase these water bottles to offer them to their travelers to bring on their trips.
Is there anything else you want people in the outdoor retail community to know?
People might be thinking more about being prepared for their journeys. We have a site called adventure.travel And one of the things we’re recommending in it is to be prepared to be in your destination for longer than you have plans. Because what happens if you can’t get back? People may be thinking a little bit more carefully about what they pack and how they pack. And so something for the outdoor community to consider is how you’re messaging what type of bag they bring, what they put in it. They need to know how they can have extra battery life or they should be sold a nimble bag so they can go around a city, because maybe they will need to change where they’re staying. They should be thinking about what is on travelers’ minds right now. This harkens back to our conversation about the softening and broadening of the industry. One thing that we know is that travelers aren’t always well prepared for their adventure travel experiences. They’re not thinking through if they need really good hiking shoes instead of running shoes to if they even need a waterproof jacket. So the outdoor industry might want to think about how to spark and really get travelers to think about the needs that they might have on the ground in a more careful way. There could be an opportunity get people to realize that like things can happen, weather can come up, global situations can arise. Make sure you’re prepared. Make sure you’re thinking through what you need in a destination. That could be interesting for outdoor market.