More than 400 persons took part in the first-ever virtual ACCT Conference, Jan. 19-29, as adventure parks and traditional programs took stock of a Covid-rocked 2020 and set their sights on a happier 2021. The virtual format saw strong attendance for the educational sessions, and drew a large international contingent to the show. However, the trade show portion was lightly visited—hands-on time with products and the resulting conversations at a live event don’t translate well to the digital world.
Several of the virtual sessions stood out. Visual Tree Inspection, presented by Scott Baker and his Tree Solutions crew, was a thorough and well-illustrated forest tour. The examples showed that while some issues are easy to spot and identify, others are not, and some anomalies that look problematic may not be.
Standards focus. Standards, one of ACCT’s main reasons for being, were a frequent topic of discussion. “The Standard Doesn’t Say That” was a solid, informative session on what standards do, and don’t, say. It also examined several specific examples of installations that may or may not have met the standard, and how an inspector could interpret and apply a standard to various situations. A second session gave a regulators’ perspective on standards and encouraged operators to get involved in the regulation-development process.
Operation Accreditation. Two sessions addressed ACCT’s operation accreditation program, with a heavy emphasis on the development process as well as the experience of the first two operations to become accredited. The launch of this program has been several years in the making, so it was revealing to see how it turned out. Erik Marter of Synergo, one of 35 qualified “accreditation reviewers,” revealed the secret to successfully becoming accredited: Read chapter 2 of the current ANSI/ACCT standard, and go through it, step by step, and make sure you comply with each step.
The value of facilitation. One theme that ran throughout the conference was the value of facilitation. While that especially applies to traditional experiential programs, Covid distancing requirements highlighted the value of facilitating activities such as harnessing at recreational adventure parks, too.
Managing risk. Incidents and injuries drew appropriate attention. One session explained how insurance rates get set, and why rates are likely heading up (at current rates, insurers are losing money). Cameron Annas of Granite Insurance also explained how operators can keep workers’ comp rates as low as possible. A separate session on incidents and lawsuits showed that many claims stem from slip-and-fall accidents and zip line collisions, either on the line or with the landing platform. This session showed the need for special attention to these two incident modalities.
The Devil’s in the Data. Adventure Park Insider’s Sarah Borodaeff offered attendees a first look at data and analysis from the 5th annual State of the Industry Report. This year’s report includes a variety of important information, especially given the strange season most operators endured in 2020.
Attendance upside. While the conference’s online format kept overall attendance down, it also boosted attendance at some of the live sessions, to the delight of the organizers. The annual “Dialogue with ACCT Leadership” drew at least double the usual turnout, as did a session on universal design and the open discussion for owners and operators. Discussion in these sessions, fueled by the Chat function, was lively and robust. Watch for ACCT to find ways to incorporate interactivity and virtual attendance at future shows—there are clearly instances in which these can augment a live conference.
Inspection time crunch. Another recurring theme: With the large number of operations that remained closed during 2020, the backlog of inspections for 2021 is daunting. There are only so many inspectors, so everyone was urging operators to schedule inspections as soon as possible. At the same time, though, they pleaded for operators to make sure they are fully prepared—all gear available for inspection, and all major maintenance and repair matters, to the facilities and gear, resolved.
ACCT elections. ACCT also completed the election of three new board members: Korey Hampton, French Broad Adventures; Connor James, Aspen Skiing Co.; and Billy Simpson, ABEE. They join incumbent members Keith Jacobs, Experiential Systems; Cameron Annas, Granite Insurance; Bahman Azarm, Outdoor Venture Group; Victor Gallo, Adventure Playground; vice chair Rohan Shahani, Challenge Works; board chair Carson Rivers, Challenge Towers; and ACCT executive director Shawn Tierney.
Critical Link Award. Last but certainly not least, ACCT celebrated the winner of this year’s Critical Link Award, Brian Lisson of Adventureworks Associates, Ontario, Canada. Lisson’s career in designing, building, and operating adventure-based programs spans more than 35 years, and includes service on the ACCT board and numerous committees as well. Lisson also helped organize this year’s virtual conference.