Convention Case Studies

Hokkaido Hosts ATWS2023 - Adventure Travel World Summit Hokkaido Japan

For its 19th annual Summit, the Adventure Travel Trade Association (ATTA) selected Sapporo, the capital city of Hokkaido, Japan's northernmost island, as the venue. The Adventure Travel World Summit (ATWS) is an occasion for international travel buyers and media from 64 countries to meet with local providers of adventure tourism products--an exciting blend of activities, culture, local cuisine and more. Shannon Stowell, CEO of ATTA, is clearly excited about the September 2023 event--the first ATWS not only in Japan, but in Asia.

Adventure Travel Trade Association (ATTA)
Mr. Shannon Stowell

Conference Overview

Event Name Adventure Travel World Summit Hokkaido Japan (ATWS2023)
Dates September 11-14, 2023
Location Sapporo Convention Center
Attendance 773

Hokkaido: an ideal adventure travel destination

"ATTA is an organization with members representing more than 100 countries around the world," Mr. Stowell says. "They are involved in adventure travel tours and the travel business; they have a strong interest in global events like this and they want to be able to share information about travel with each other, so we always hold the ATWS in a new location. We choose locations that have a rich natural environment--mountains, rivers, trails, the ocean--and where there are opportunities to experience and come in contact with the local culture."

That natural environment is very much present in Hokkaido, Mr. Stowell says, and added that there was a similar impression to part of his native US. "I feel like Hokkaido is a Japanese version of Alaska!" he says. "In addition to being able to see an amazing array of wildlife, it is also home to the unique history and culture of the Ainu people, something that is very important to us and the participants. So, Hokkaido is a wonderful destination that combines nature, activities and culture."

The ATWS participants come for more than just the events in Sapporo--this is, after all, an organization dedicated to adventure travel. "Prior to the actual holding of the Summit, about 250 participants will take part in a three- to five-day pre-summit adventure," Mr. Stowell says. "I've always been focused on preparations for the Summit, so I haven't had the chance to join in the pre-summit adventure, but this time I'm taking part in a multi-day tour for the first time. I'm really looking forward to hiking and kayaking with my daughter! Also, on the day before the Summit we also hold a Day of Adventure, which is open to all 800 ATWS delegates. Some 650 people will be taking day tours around Sapporo, hiking, joining in wildlife encounters, enjoying the local cuisine and culture, and learning more about Ainu culture."

Rafting, one of the Day of Adventures available for ATWS participants
Getting to know Ainu culture at the Day of Adventure

Broad Japanese collaboration

Anytime an international event is held, of course, there are concerns about language barriers, cultural differences and so on. For Japan, though the focus on quality, and on working hard to please guests, was not lost on ATTA. "The organizations on the host side in Japan, such as the Japan National Tourism Organization (JNTO) and the local host, the Hokkaido Executive Committee, had very good cooperation with the private sector, and were very positive about holding the ATWS here. As the organizer, I can say that it was very easy to hold the event."

The Japan side proposed the Sapporo Convention Center as the potential venue, so ATTA gave a thorough inspection of the facility to see if it would be an appropriate venue, "And we decided it was! After that we had to work with them to adapt the facility to the needs of the ATWS, but the whole process was very professional, and the staff were very responsive."

The language barrier, too, turned out not to be a major problem. "In general, when an international organization holds an event in Japan, there are concerns about being able to communicate. However, the organizations we have worked with here always had enough people with the language skills to be able to overcome the gaps. The participants were very excited about being here, so really, the language gap was not a problem. International events bring together people not only with different languages but also different cultures, so we need to be able to cooperate, and it's very important on the host side to have people who can ensure that we have smooth communications, and that was certainly the case here."

The keynote speech at ATWS 2023
The lively networking area of the event

ATTA and sustainability

Adventure travel is all about nature and the environment, so sustainability is a focus for the ATTA, Mr. Stowell says. "We're involved in many initiatives for our events concerning sustainability, such as eliminating single-use plastic, reducing food and other waste, and finding alternative energy sources. To give one example, we ban the use of plastic bottles. I know that Japan has a very high rate of recycling, something like 80 percent, which is great, but we think that if we eliminate the waste from the beginning, then through the event you've reduced the energy needed to recycle thousands of bottles.

"We also ask our destinations and venues to reduce food waste. It's estimated that 40 percent of our carbon footprint comes back to food. If you're wasting a lot of food, it means that you're emitting unnecessary carbon dioxide. Japan's major challenge when it comes to waste reduction is in product packaging, because many items are wrapped in plastic."

"We can't change the government, or laws, or the systems, but we do want to do everything we can. It's not just about making the Summit sustainable. What's important is how to achieve sustainability in our daily life and work."

Mr. Stowell has noticed Japanese efforts in sustainability as well, starting with the high recycling level previously mentioned. "When I visited a Japanese ministry last year, I saw a poster for the '30 by 30 goal' (the global goal to designate 30 percent of the world's oceans and lands as protected areas by 2030). This is an excellent initiative, and I know that Japan is aiming at high-level sustainability activities. To really achieve sustainability, we need the magic triangle of government, business, and NGOs. We actually take it one more step and add travelers, and make it a diamond. To solve sustainability issues, we need all of these groups to be involved, travelers should want to make their journeys more sustainable, so we want all of them to work proactively."

Continuing the effect of holding ATWS

Mr. Stowell stresses that ATWS is about much more than simply holding the event itself, and that it represents a long-term relationship with the host country. "For a lot of events, everything ends after you plan, work together, implement it and then complete the event," he says. "We don't want to stop there, so we work with conference venues for three to five years. Adventure travel is a specialized field, so local suppliers who have had no experience in dealing with international buyers will find it very difficult to succeed when they begin doing business with them."

Active business meetings are an integral part of ATWS

Mr. Stowell adds that understanding this came through ATTA's own hard-won experience. "We had one summit where everyone liked the destination, and the event itself was great, but when we returned a few years later we found that only two operators in that area were still working with buyers they had met at the event," he says.

"Adventure travel isn't like traveling around by bus, walking around town and visiting temples. It requires more technical training because it involves hiking, kayaking--you could fall into the water, and maybe encounter a bear! We want the people who participate in ATWS to have a safe, sustainable and wonderful experience, and then to act as evangelists to spread the word about the wonders of the area. So, for us ATWS is not a one-time event, but that the Summit is the peak of activation." That also requires more effort for the host side as well, as well as additional funding, but these are necessary to ensure the ongoing impact of the event.

So with all the planning ready, good communications being created and everything in order, Mr. Stowell is more than ready for the event to happen. "I'm very excited about our first Summit in Asia, and in Japan," he says. "For most of our participants this will be their first visit to Japan. The Summit will be a chance for them to connect to new experiences, new knowledge and many other things in Japan. So for us, and for Japan, this is the start of an exciting journey that will continue for a long time."