Following the success of the first ATWS in Asia, Shannon Stowell, CEO of Adventure Travel Trade Association speaks about the tourism potential of Sapporo and Hokkaido

This year’s summit theme was Chowa, meaning “harmony” in Japanese.
The Opening ceremony was held at Okurayama Ski Jump Stadium.

ATWS is the international summit for adventure travel organized annually by the Adventure Travel Trade Association. Adventure travel is a style of travel that consists at least two of the of following three types of experiences: nature, culture, and activities.

This year ATWS took place in Sapporo, Hokkaido on 11th– 14th September 2023, marking the first time for the internationally renowned conference to happen in Asia. This historic event was a great success in bringing together over 750 leaders in the adventure travel community from 64 different countries to create new business opportunities and discover the adventure potential of Japan’s northern island. The participants also had a chance to go on adventures around Hokkaido and immerse themselves in the expansive nature, varied culture and thrilling activities that are unique to the region. 

We caught up with Shannon Stowell, the CEO of Adventure Travel Trade Association after the summit, to hear his thoughts on the future of adventure travel tourism in Sapporo and Hokkaido.

First off, what was significance for the first summit in Asia being hosted in Hokkaido?

The tourism industry all around Asia perked up, and for the first time a lot of companies and destinations could see “This is relevant for me, for my destination”. In fact, the percentage of Asian participants attending the event was higher than we have ever had before. Of course, Japan being so organized and driven to do things really well made it a really perfect entry into Asia for Adventure Travel Trade Association.

What were your impressions of Sapporo and Hokkaido?

I didn’t know what to expect from Sapporo and Hokkaido, and I was surprised how much it felt like a Japanese version of Washington and Alaska. Before I had such an urban view of Japan, so to have such a plunge into gorgeous pristine nature of Hokkaido, I was just blown away by the beauty of it.

I felt like Sapporo is a city that really comes alive at night. The restaurant scene is just epic – it is really fantastic. It was very easy to get around by foot. People were very friendly. It feels very safe. It is a great jumping off and return spot for adventures because you can get on trains and buses and head all over Hokkaido whether you are going to go to Akan, Shikotsuko or Shiretoko. All of these places are relatively accessible via public transport. So, in one way, it feels a little like Switzerland, where you can pretty easily get to your jumping off point.

Also, I have to mention THE FOOD! We didn’t have one mediocre meal in Hokkaido – even from the convenience store. The attention to food in Japan is so extreme, and I mean that in a good way. Hokkaido is the one place where I end up with an extra piece of luggage of just Hokkaido snacks. I do not do that anywhere else on the planet, I don’t even have a sweet tooth – but I can’t help myself!

Canoeing in the beautiful Jozankei Valley, Sapporo
Soya Hills’ White Path
The buzzing nightlife center of Susukino

How has the response from participants of the Hokkaido summit?

Oh exuberant! Some trends I have observed from looking at photos’ participants are posting on WhatsApp groups and social media: We have firstly never had so many food photos at any event we have ever done! Another thing I have noticed is people are still posting today who haven’t left Japan yet*. I don’t remember so many people coming before the summit or staying on after like this after other summits, and I think that reflects how many first timers were in Japan. Personally, I love the fact that Hokkaido was the entry point for many professionals in travel coming to Japan because it is such a perfect mix of nature, culture and activity.

*Interview took place 26th September, about two weeks after the summit.

Participants enjoying food and drink
A photo of Sapporo ramen taken by a participant

What future do you see for Adventure Travel for Sapporo and Hokkaido as a whole?

I know people fell in love with Hokkaido, Sapporo and Japan who had never been before, and I am sure they are trying to figure out how they are going to work this into their regular business. This is a great ignition point where Sapporo and Hokkaido are literally in the spotlight of the worldwide adventure travel professional community. Although there were 750 people attending, there were thousands around the world watching. It is like the halo effect will continue to move outwards – a really good spark to get things moving!

For those interested in finding out more about adventure travel in Hokkaido, make sure to check out the links below.