Report from 2015 Adventure Travel World Summit, Puerto Varas, Chile

By Dan Moore, CEO Pandion Consulting & Facilitation

The Adventure Travel Trade Association, an industry trade group headquartered in Washington State, held its annual Adventure Travel World Summit in Puerto Varas, Chile, October 5-9 2015. This is the organization’s 12th Summit, including the first two which were in Washington State, and was the 8th that I have attended. The sold out summit included over 700 delegates from 55 different countries. Delegates included outbound tour operators such as National Geographic Adventure and REI Adventures, inbound suppliers including Seattle’s own Evergreen Escapes, and some of the best-respected travel media such as Outside Magazine, Travel Weekly, and National Geographic.


The theme for this year’s Summit was “Viva la Revolución de la Aventura”. This theme relates to two aspects of the Adventure Travel industry. One, acknowledging the trend that Adventure Travel is one of the fastest growing sectors of the travel industry (growing from $89 Billion in 2010 to $263 billion in 2013*; 4 and 10 travelers choosing adventure*). And two, the efforts made by this industry to address issues of social and environmental sustainability – big challenges for the travel industry.


Speakers included the President of Chile, Michelle Bachelet, celebrity chef Rodolfo Guzman, Canadian Ambassador Tim Martin, and numerous experts from across the travel industry. Sessions included diverse topics such as risk management, conservation travel, adventure travel product development, big data, and indigenous travel. I delivered a presentation on the recently released Adventure Travel Guide Qualification and Performance Standard. Created by 18 professionals from 15 different countries, this standard gives destinations and companies a resource to meet international standards for guides. In addition to the inspirational and educational programming, the Summit is well known for the world-class networking. There are formal sessions, such as the one-day Marketplace (similar to a tradeshow), and the innovative Media Connect, which gives participants a one-on-one opportunity with the top tier travel media in attendance. Plus the coffee breaks, meals, and afterhours were priceless opportunities to share ideas and swap business cards.


For the destination, the Summit is an enormous opportunity to show of the best they have to offer. Attendees got to experience Chile’s adventure offerings on a multi-day Pre-Summit Adventure in places like Patagonia, Easter Island or the Atacama Desert, and on a Day of Adventure activity in the volcanoes and lakes region surrounding Puerto Varas.


Next year the Adventure Travel World Summit will be in Alaska. It is exciting to have the Summit coming home to the United States after traveling the world for the last 10. This will be a great opportunity for Washington State for many reasons. One, many of the international flights, and even some domestic will fly through Seattle opening up the possibility to host familiarization trips and promotions. Two, many of the outbound operators and media will be those that already work with the Western US and will be good contacts for Washington businesses to make. Three, the proximity to Seattle means Washington State delegates will pay less, and travel less to have access to this summit. Who knows, the Summit might be in Australia or India in 2017! Washington State is a robust and diverse destination. It stands very solidly as an Adventure Travel destination due to our diversity of geography, quality outfitters, and solid travel infrastructure. Attending the Adventure Travel World Summit is a great way to ensure we are on the map globally and able to tap into this growing and lucrative segment of the travel industry.



More on the Adventure Travel World Summit 2015:

Video highlights of the Adventure Travel World Summit 2015:


*Outbound travelers from the Americas and Europe – 2013 Adventure Tourism Market Study – Adventure Travel Trade Association and George Washington University Study





Quinquén – the Mapuche community that saved the Araucaria tree


Community based tourism (where local communities deliver and benefit from tourism) to indigenous communities is not only a way to increase economic development, it is a way for indigenous communities to finally tell their history themselves. In the case of Quinquén, a Mapuche community in the mountains 8 hours South East from Santiago Chile, their history spans thousands of years and centers around the Araucaria (or Monkey Puzzle) tree.

I had the opportunity to visit this community after attending the Adventure Travel World Summit in Chile, thanks to Juan Ignacio Marambio of Travolution – a Chilean company that connects international travelers to indigenous community based tourism. Juan has been working with the Quinquén community for several years and assisted them in developing a program that shares their story and specificaly their work to save the Araucaria tree from being wiped out.

The Araucaria produces a piñon, or seed, that people in this region have depended on forever as part of their diet. That is why this groups name for themselves is Pehuenche. Pehuén is the Mapudungun (the Mapuche language) word for Araucaria, so they are people of the Araucaria. The Araucaria is sacred and viewed as brothers and sisters.

In the late 70’s and into the 80’s Chile was in the midst of its neo-liberal experiment, where corporations were given lots of power to reap profit from Chile’s vast natural resources. The timber industry expanded rapidly during this time and the ancient Araucaria forests were a prime target. Without any recognition that the land they were clearing was home to communities that have cared for and depended on these trees for millenia, the loggers moved in and spared no tree. After the pain of seeing their sacred tree nearly eliminated from the landscape, the community of Quinquén had enough. In the mid 80’s, with the support and advice of some international conservation organizations, they placed their own bodies on the line. Litterally forcing the logging companies to kill them if they wanted the trees. The military dictatorship sent the army in to do just that, but the Pehuenche people asked the powerful Araucaria trees to bring a snowstorm to stop the military. That night clear skies turned dark and it snowed more than anyone had ever witnessed in one night, and the army was prevented from committing their atrocities. This gave the community and their NGO allies more time to save their remaining forests.

The Araucaria is now a protected species in Chile, but the powers that be have a way to turn this against those that fought to save the tree. First, the loggers, upon leaving the territory committed numerous acts of deliberate sabbotage – felling trees that they had no intention of using, setting forest fires, etc. Additionally, the law says that no part of the Araucaria can be used. So it is officially illegal for Pehuenche people to harvest the Piñon or the downed trees and branches, as they have done for milenia. The final dagger in the gut is that their is no mention of this struggle in the conservation of the Araucaria. The official story is that the governement realized the importance of the tree and decided they should be saved.

Responsible and sustainable tourism is more than just creating economic benefits to communities. It is about giving voices to people whose history has been excluded from history books and whose contributions have the power to inspire future generations to conserve and respect the balance of nature.