Who’s Who in Travel? Shannon Stowell
This month Global Adventuress is highlighting the travel expert Shannon Stowell in our “Who’s Who in Travel” segment.
Shannon Stowell is the president of adventure. Literally. Shannon is the President of ATTA — Adventure Travel Trade Association (since 2004), the largest professional organization for adventure travel companies, destinations and organizations worldwide. Under his leadership it has grown over 900 members. He has worked in outdoor gear, and non profit, co-founding Altrec. He has served on the board of the Global Sustainable Tourism Council for 3 years.
Stowell co-authored: Riding the Hulahula to the Arctic Ocean- A guide to 50 Extraordinary Adventures, published by National Geographic. He has loved adventure from and early age and filled his life with experiences and knowledge. Shannon is a former biologist turned into an adventure expert with his wife Gabi by his side.
We are thrilled to share travel expert Shannon Stowell with our readers.
Q&A with Shannon Stowell
1. Tell us about how you founded ATTA, Adventure Travel Trade Association?
The ATTA started some time in the mid 90’s but had fallen short of serving its members. When I took it over in 2004 it had withered to about 100 members who either didn’t know or care that they were members anymore or they were quite upset with the organization. So we really started from less than zero. I left my job at an online retailer in order to do this and had to take a lot of the classic entrepreneurial risks. We rented out our house and lived with my parents for a few months, I sold my most valuable possession (a first edition of Moby Dick I had stumbled across at a garage sale), sold returned outdoor gear from my former company and put my home up as collateral to the venue where we held our first Adventure Travel World Summit. Had it failed, I would have lost pretty much everything. Turns out, it was the right bet to place.
2. Where did your passion for travel come from?
As a kid in the mountains of Colorado I had lots of adventurous activities to experience but I think the travel bug came from reading. I was voracious and consumed hundreds of books about faraway lands and places so my imagination was quite active. I went to Fiji for 3 months with a non-profit right out of high school to help build a building and that really confirmed that traveling was something I loved. Then fast forward to adulthood and I had the opportunity to launch the international division of an environmental laboratory in Asia- that turned into a lot of travel and further confirmation that this was where my energy was most stoked.
3. What adventure has pushed you beyond your comfort zone?
Many. Within reason I try to push my boundaries, which seem to get tighter as I get older. Traveling in Iraq, skydiving in Namibia, climbing in Ecuador, climbing in Rainier- those top the list of things where I really had to think thrice about what I was doing. I’m not foolhardy and also not an adrenaline junkie. But it is exhilarating to do things you can’t imagine you could.
4. Any favorite destinations in the world?
Many. People often ask this question- ‘What’s your favorite place?’ and the simplest answer- there is none. It all depends on a bunch of factors and the type of place you’re seeking at that moment in your life. Sometimes we want solitude (so I’d put Greenland in that list), sometimes a crowd (Rio de Janeiro), sometimes nature (Brazil, Mexico, Norway), sometimes just completely off the normal trip (China, Namibia, Bhutan), sometimes a place you really don’t understand (Iraq, Kosovo, Macedonia) and sometimes familiar but adventurous (Colorado). There are few places I haven’t enjoyed- once I retire I’ll name those- haha.
5. Where are you off to next?
Guizhou, China and then Alaska!
6. What are the Top 3 Destinations on your travel bucketlist?
Not to be a contrarian but I’ve stopped using the term “bucket-list” and have instituted “life-list”. I like the positive ring better…. But I would love to see Pakistan, Mongolia, and of all places…. Italy. I have not been to Italy.
7. If you had a private jet for 24 hours, where would you go & what would you do?
I’d love to go north on the longest day of the year and skirt the continents landing in Alaska, Canada, Greenland, Norway (Svalbard), Russia and back to Alaska. I’d power up with coffee and not sleep a wink. We’d land wherever we could, jump on a boat and buzz around to see the wildlife. It would be powerful reportage on the changes in climate as well….
8. How do fellow adventurers, adventuresses, adventure travel companies get involved with ATTA?
Adventurers can find the best of the best companies on www.adventure.travel– we only list ATTA members who have all signed the Values Statement which is very important to us. We only want companies who believe in sustainable and responsible travel in the ATTA network. Adventure Travel companies can join as members, as can destinations who are trying to develop and market their home turf.
9. What are the latest trends in the adventure travel industry?
Customization of trips and blending of interests- for example biking and hiking and food. Or river rafting and culture. Or wine and hiking. Customers are also asking for responsible and sustainable actions- you might call it Conservation Travel, which the WWF is also doing a great job of highlighting. This is a way for travelers to actually benefit the wildlife in a destination instead of depleting it or damaging the habitat. Customers are looking for small group trips and authenticity. I think people are finally getting tired of ‘shrink-wrapped vacations’ and ‘all-inclusive holidays’ which often translate to over-crowded mass tourism experiences that lack any shine of authenticity.
10. Where do you see adventure travel heading in the next 5-10 years?
If I could use one word it would be “Creativity”. The traveler’s imagination is their only barrier. If you can imagine your dream adventure, you can probably find someone who already offers it or could. I also think that the quality will continue to improve, the variety of options will expand and on the down side, some wonderful places will be over-run and possibly damaged…. permanently. This highlights the need for destinations to seriously manage their natural and cultural gems. I think another trend will be more people who use travel professionals as guides but do parts or all of the trip ‘on their own’. There are still many transformational experiences awaiting anyone.