With thousands of businesses under our belt in the tour and activity industry, this was our first year exhibiting at the Association for Challenge Course Technology's Annual International Conference & Expo. It was great to have face-to-face time with professionals in the world of zip-lining, aerial adventure parks, canopy tours and challenge courses.
One big takeaway: What began as a grassroots niche operating in “relative obscurity,” as presenter Don Stock put it, is now seeing a proliferation of pay-to-play adventure-based experiences: 38% of survey respondents got their start in the last four years alone, according to Adventure Park Insider's State of the Industry Report. With that comes a growing pool of resources, innovation and regulations specific to this specialized industry.
Without further belay, here’s a roundup of some interesting things we learned and saw at ACCT 2017:
1. Equipment is Evolving
Gear is getting more sophisticated, high-tech and "cool" as the market expands, according Randy Smith, the organization’s first president and committee member. From zip-coasters, to cutting-edge continuous belay systems, to free-fall jump devices, to the latest in zip trolley breaking technology, innovation is focused on safety, efficiency, compactness, and ease of use for guests.
Making smart tweaks and design improvements is another trend Rich Hattier of International Safety Components has noticed. Companies are continuously modifying equipment and creating “custom fixes for very specific problems," he says, and having “adaptable systems" is really important. Mechanical Advantage in climbing and rescue systems is also improving, making it easier to raise a heavy load with less effort.
Gear has come a long way in terms of comfort and ergonomics, too. Dick Powell, Leadership Wrangler for Earth, Wind, Fire, Water Training & Development, says the harnesses of today are taking body mechanics, lumbar support and shoulder support into account, more so than earlier years.
2. Turnkey Photo Solutions are the Cool Kids on the Block
In an age where one-third of the world uses social networks regularly, turnkey digital photo services catering to zip line, ropes & canopy courses are coming in hot: Photo services account for more than 20% of planned capital expenditures in 2017 for pay-to-play adventure parks, according to Adventure Park Insider's State of the Industry Report.
Aside from delighting customers with epic vantage point shots, a photo system that makes it easy for guests to quickly access, purchase and share images can be a powerful tool that more than pays for itself through increased revenue and word-of-mouth marketing on social media. Research some of the neat options out there and see what fits your budget, operation type, and feature/service preferences. Here are some of the folks we chatted with:
3. Park Design: More Focus on Creativity & Accessibility
With new players joining the industry, parks are looking for additional ways to differentiate themselves and stand out, according to ACCT Committee Member Alexis Webb Bechtold. She says the design factor is getting more creative—both in terms of aesthetics, and finding new ways to deliver thrills. The team at Tree-Mendous Adventure Parks, for example, dreamt up out-of-the-box features for Ramblewild Park that include a suspended saddle and a “sky kayak.”
Parks are "taking it to the next level on the design side," and putting more work into making it a destination, Bechtold notes. This includes diversifying attractions and prices in order to appeal to a wider audience, with a range of experiences like roped-in courses and kid-friendly courses.
Bechtold says operators are also making courses more accessible and inclusive, accommodating guests with entry-friendly features like spiral staircases (Salter Spiral Stair was an exhibitor at ACCT 2017). Additionally, the industry is paying more attention to people who have physical challenges, said President Goose Kearse of Misty Mountain, which sells an adaptive ropes course harness that allows all participants to experience the thrills of aerial courses.
4. Regulations: Not Exactly a Walk in the (Aerial) Park
One thing we heard across the board: As the industry grows, so do the regulations. ACCT founding board member Dan Perverse says the market has "exploded" from grassroots businesses that were primarily therapeutic and educational, to having a huge commercial component. With rules and standards becoming more tricky to navigate depending on location and jurisdiction, Perverse urges “lone rangers” to get connected and take advantage of the ACCT's vast knowledge and resources. Find more information on ACCT memberships here.
TIP: Speaking of resources, there's a new trade publication specifically for aerial park operators, experts, professionals and suppliers. Check out Adventure Park Insider for helpful industry resources, best practices, successful strategies, and management insights on all aspects of operations.
5. Business Solutions are Expanding with the Industry
If you like smart software that delivers data-based insight and helps your business run more efficiently (or you just really hate paperwork) take a look at Mobile Inspection, designed for businesses that require regular safety or quality checks. Aimed at “killing clipboards one checklist at a time,” this platform uses images from your smartphone and converts inspections into an “e-process” that replaces paper forms with an easy-to-use app.
We also chatted with exhibitors specializing in business consulting, insurance, team building curriculums and a whole lot more—visit the ACCT's list of professional vendor members next time you're vetting services.
6. Online Booking Software: Key Features Park Operators Asked Us About
With 93% of businesses ranking mobile phones as their No. 1 source of booking, according to Adventure Park Insider, partnering with the right online booking software will set your business up for success as it scales with the industry. Here are some key features our booth visitors frequently asked us about at ACCT 2017:
Multiple locations. Many zip-lining, aerial park and challenge course businesses have multiple locations and are still growing, or are planning to expand in the near future. ZOZI lets you easily manage all of your locations under one platform.
Lodging and rentals. Many of the businesses we spoke with are a multi-attraction, multi-season outfit. ZOZI lets you easily manage bookings for experiences, lodgings, and rentals all in the same system. This gives guests a more convenient online booking experience, and helps generate additional revenue with add-ons built directly into the checkout flow.
Managing business 24/7 from anywhere: Overseeing reservations, rentals, payments and employee/guest communication in real time is a major sticking point for busy outdoor recreational businesses—especially when multiple attractions and locations are involved. ZOZI has superior mobile technology, with intuitive and easy-to-use apps for both iOS and Android. ZOZI also has the industry's only EMV-compatible mobile chip card reader, allowing guides to easily accept walk-in payments on the spot via smartphone or iPad.
Exploring online booking solutions for your zip line, challenge course or aerial adventure park? Check out the customer success story from our friends at Treehouse Island Zip Line Adventures: