Chris Doyle ( Executive Director-Europe of Adventure Travel Trade Association)

Adventure Travel Trade Association (ATTA), a global membership organization is home to a thriving community of more than 700 responsible, profitable businesses, destinations and media who transform customers and businesses alike into advocates for sustainability and justice worldwide. The members include tour operators, destination marketing organizations, tourism boards, specialty travel agents, guides, accommodations, media and service providers. ATTA brings to its members opportunities that drive new customers, lower costs and increase returns on investment.
In an exclusive interview with TTW, Chris Doyle the Executive Director-Europe of Adventure Travel Trade Association talks about the future goals and prospects of the organization.

TTW: How does ATTA promote sustainable tourism?

Chris Doyle : First, I’d like to clarify the Adventure Travel Trade Association’s perspective on sustainable tourism. The ATTA believes “sustainable tourism” must today be viewed as the norm, not the exception. There is much talk throughout the trade about “sustainability” – in fact, the notion extends throughout most tuned-in industries today. From every aspect of a business, an emphasis on sustainability should be expected and/or mandate internally. Otherwise, it’s a dead-end game.

For the ATTA, we exist to support and benefit from the creation of sustainable adventure travel markets with focus on people, planet and profit. We pursue this mission by creating and maintaining a lively, engaged network of destinations, tour operators, travel agents, accommodations, service partners and media partners worldwide. With this membership focus in mind, we actively recruit members carrying the spirit of best practices, and which work diligently in practical terms to deliver products and services that at once deliver exceptional travel experiences for travelers, and that do so in a fashion that protects the people and place visited.

More importantly, we’ve been working for years now to determine the actual economic impact of adventure/specialized travel in terms of how much on every dollar stays within in a destination. We theorize, based on field reports, that close to 70 cents on every dollar stays within the destination, compared to other reports indicated that mass tourism leaves closer to 15 cents on every dollar in a destination. We sense that when more revenue stays within a destination, many great things can happen – and namely, that it’s a more sustainable model when an entire community is able to determine its own economic potential through ownership and engagement of all people within a community.

We provide access to and deliver global and regional news, research, events, networking and education, most of which either directly calls out sustainable practices and/or supports operations that do so.

The ATTA has been, and remains, active in myriad trade organizations, media outlets and “think tanks” seeking to improve the sustainable business model, including the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), WTTC (World Travel & Tourism Council), GSTC (Global Sustainable Tourism Council), National Geographic and many other organizations which exist to improve the very way in which we, the ATTA and our membership, conducts our business.

TTW: What were the challenges faced in the recent years?

Chris Doyle : If you mean in terms of the adventure tourism industry at large: Economic volatility. Geo-political strife. These very serious issues impact the quality and quantity of travelers traveling, and it drastically affects tourism in very specific regions. The Arab Spring in particular has had devastating impact on the Middle East, North African region. I’ve just returned this week from Jordan, and while Jordan is a very open and accepting destination, in particular for Americans, it’s arrivals are suffering in measures they’ve not seen in some time. And, they’re sitting on extraordinary assets of this world, from its people, its Wonders of the World, UNESCO sites, culture and so much more. It’s truly difficult to watch destinations affected by the dynamism of our world. That said, in adventure tourism, the silver lining is that adventure travelers are often the most resilient, quickest to return to challenged destinations and lean in and face the winds of change despite serious adversity. In Jordan, I was surprised and delighted to see so many Americans traveling. I asked a few of these travelers what their families say about their traveling to the Middle East, and most were very concerned for them. The reality on the ground, by all circumstances I experienced and by interviewing locals throughout the country, the fear was largely unfounded.


TTW: What were the measures adopted to cope with those challenges?

Chris Doyle : The most successful industries, organizations and companies often survive significant challenges by thorough preparation, exceptional product and/or services, and laser focus on the fundamentals. Unfortunately, since 2008 in the initial wave of the world’s major economic woes, several companies have had to fold. That said, in adventure tourism, the percent of failures was very small, especially in comparison to mass tourism. Adventure tourism saw growth, even during the difficult financial periods – it was just registered at a slower pace. Many companies tightened belts, looked for potential partners, collaborated – even with competitors – for the good of the industry and as a survival technique. Product offerings were reduced, and of those journeys that still operated, attention to quality was at an all-time high. This shift of emphasis, quality over quantity has been sustained since, so today, many tour operators within our space worldwide, have done much of the cost-cutting, operational re-alignment, etc., and have come out stronger

TTW: What are the benefits of associating with ATTA?

Chris Doyle : We, the ATTA, are a business and strategy organization. We act quickly to serve the needs of a rapidly changing industry – we operate in many ways a fast-moving “dot-com” company vs. being hampered by by-laws, etc. We respond to market demands, and we take corrective action when our industry opines that we’re off course. Still, we carry the flames for responsible tourism development, which creates a winning environment for all stakeholders, most importantly, the traveler.

The benefits of associating with a dynamic group, driven by the needs and interests of the industry itself, are a potent recipe for success. ATTA Member benefits are wide-ranging and how you view them, depends on what part of the industry you represent.

TTW: How will ATTA’S introduction of legal document templates help tour operators?

Chris Doyle : Intended primarily for small- and medium-sized tour operators, the new benefit builds upon the ATTA’s increasing array of cost-saving operational services provided to its members, including the recent additions of reduced-fee services such as credit card processing, e-commerce transactions, mobile payments and currency conversion. ATTA’s new legal tools also join other specialized offerings including customer insurance and evacuation services for ATTA members’ clients. Even “small” benefits like these legal templates can take enormous pressure off of our small and medium-sized enterprises. The ATTA has for years heard from members that they wanted support in this area and now we’re able to provide a very specific need to meet market demand.

TTW: What are the emerging markets you are planning to target and how?

Chris Doyle : The ATTA in 2004 basically started from scratch, with a loosely affiliated group of about 100 members, many of whom were based in the USA and did not realize they were members. Fast forward to today, and the ATTA has grown to approximately 800 members representing about 70 nations. We’re a small team – today, only 11 full time employees. Our growth trajectory has always been steady – at about a 45-degree angle over the past eight years. Our growth focus has been and remains on quality vs. quantity. Getting the right business and organizations together to make a real difference in the industry, to showcase to travelers the best of the best, to influence the very way in which tourism is developed globally. We’ve maintained that course. And yet, the ATTA has weak areas – weak areas weak areas that we’re preparing to address. For example, even in my own case, we’ve shifted our focus to be more regionally specific, to deliver more tailored benefits to regions, and to more adroitly connect the industry. I now serve as Executive Director for Europe – a brand new position as of January 2012 and one that will take some time to fully transition into. Europe, one of the single most influential markets, is underrepresented in the big picture and so we’re dedicating efforts there.

TTW: Tell us about your goals for the year 2012.

Chris Doyle : The 2012 Adventure Travel World Summit theme is “Prosper with Purpose”, which we’ve brought back from the 2011 Adventure Travel World Summit because it has resonated well with the industry. And, in particular for 2012, focusing on the fundamental business disciplines during challenging economic times is key – that is, ensuring that from an operational standpoint, we’re streamlined, delivering quality products and services in a timely manner, etc. While we’re working on many big picture fronts, for 2012, during a transition year (remember, we’ve realigned strategically to better serve our membership worldwide), it’s important that we ensure a smooth running organization with attention to detail.

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