Text by Ramy James Salameh

On March 24th & 25th 2021, I attended an important travel industry conference developed by ‘The Adventure Travel Trade Association’ (ATTA) called ‘AdventureELEVATE Virtual Europe’; this powerful two-day conference brought together key players from the Adventure travel community, both in Europe and further afield. It was billed as being ‘focused on moving the industry forward with a regenerative eye in order to build healthy and future-proof tourism’. 

Whilst COVID-19 continues to impact every part of our lives, it has also highlighted the fragility of our existence and environment, bringing into sharp focus our own communities, the need to support people within those communities and find innovative ways to protect, preserve and promote areas close to home and further afield in a ‘Sustainable’ and ‘Healthy’ way; both of these goals formed the core of the conference. 

Gergana Nikolova, ATTA’s Regional Director of Europe and Central Asia stated “having the opportunity to bring an impactful event, to the region I lead now, in the middle of this crisis has inspired in me a sense of impact and resilience.” She goes onto say “We invested a huge amount of effort to make this digital event happen because we wanted to offer an ATTA-style platform to reconnect, get practical advice from each other, build on each other’s ideas and explore the market opportunities ahead of us while also keeping sustainability at the core of recovery.” 

The event was bookended by keynote speeches from Anna Pollock, founder, conscious.travel, whose talk was titled “The Promise of Regenerative Tourism”. She stated “post-covid, natures therapeutic services will be in high demand”; also, she went on to suggest that how those services are used, needs every one of us to remodel our thinking, our behaviours and personal roles on this journey. The closing plenary session titled ‘Spendshift’ looked at the future of global travel payments and consumer behaviour, presented by Sydney Banks, Senior Account Executive of Travel, Flywire and Milena Nikolova – Behavioural expert in sustainability, travel and education.

‘Swisstainable’ – Activation behind the tagline 

ATTA and Switzerland Tourism (ST) used the conference to announce a two-year collaboration with focus on ‘Sustainability’. During this tenure, Switzerland will partner with the ATTA on knowledge gathering and sharing, education, market activation and awareness campaigns across ATTA Trade and consumer channels.

“Despite all the difficulties we currently face, let’s never forget – the future of tourism is bright because it is sustainable. In Switzerland, the tourism industry as a whole has just launched an initiative to renew its full commitment to Sustainability. And on top of that, we have created a new term – “Swisstainable” – sustainability, the Swiss way,” stated Martin Nydegger, CEO of Switzerland Tourism 

‘Swisstainable’ is a programme aimed at positioning Switzerland as the most sustainable tourist destination in the world.  

Speed Networking – The power of connecting in 4-minutes: 

One of the most important tools and activities available to delegates was the ‘Speed-Networking’ facility. Nikolova mentioned pre-event that much time had been spent on developing a “platform to reconnect, get practical advice from each other”. The best reflection of this, was through the people and businesses I networked with and their endeavours to ‘build back better’ and by using this very ethos in many innovative and constructive ways will help propel the industry forward.  

What made this even more special was that delegates were randomly brought together for a 4-minute ‘get-to-know session’ which could be extended with the click of a button. I found this to be an immensely useful tool of the AdventureELEVATE platform. Whilst, I cannot mention every person I connected with, what came through was a determination to support the industry through unique and innovative offerings, which link into contemporary trends of how we travel now and want to travel in the future.  Here are some of the companies, people and conversations I had: 

-Sandra Wharton, European Product Manager of UK-based ‘HF Holidays’ – represents this long-established company specialising in guided and self-guided walking holidays. This progressive company continues to look towards the future by expanding their product portfolio into new destinations.

-Elisa Zambelli of Itenerabike.com who facilitates all types of cycling holidays in Italy and beyond. Catering for all levels of cyclist from the amateur to those wishing to take on the transalprando.com long distance race organised by Sports Verona ASD who is taking charge of the first edition of the TransAlp Rando for 2022 and covering three countries Italy, Austria and Slovenia.  

-Ana Leal, owner of Portuguese DMC Domitur.pt is galvanising the industry to get behind her initiative and promoting the worldwide event www.bike4tourism.com which will take place on May 30th 2021. This is an innovative way to share the values of sustainable and responsible tourism through cycling. People will virtually travel the world without needing a passport and join others to try and break a world record!  

-Johan Delfalk, CEO of Adventura Sweden whose innovative active incentive products such as ‘Hiking Conferences’ exemplify mental and physical wellbeing through experiences in nature, something Anna Pollock raised in her opening speech.

-Claudia Rulvinho of Cardeal Aparthotel has renovated, renewed and regenerated family-owned apartments in the Algarve using her long travel industry career experience and local expertise to develop a new business. 

-Natalie Beckett of Meetnetwork.org (MEET – Mediterranean Experience of EcoTourism) represents this association of Mediterranean protected areas, who continue to develop high quality ecotourism products for the benefit of conservation. Within their expanding catalogue of products visitors can select a variety of EcoTourism experiences.

Marko Lenarcic, Director of Slovenia-outdoor.com stated travellers have started to avoid mass tourism and prefer individual and personalised experiences outdoors, which improves their health, and the outdoors is gaining so much importance. His portal presents outdoor products, providers, destinations and experiences.

What is sure is that ‘holidaying in the outdoors’ and ‘associated green experiences’ will be in sharp focus as we move into a new era of travel behaviour and desire. Furthermore, regeneration and sustainability must be the key drivers of future-proofing a healthy tourism industry for all generations. The ATTA community and platform has never been so important, especially as the pandemic has accelerated our need to cherish the very thing that will aid our mental and physical recovery – the environment.