More than 1,100 members of the challenge course and adventure park industry gathered in Raleigh, N.C., for the 30th Annual Association for Challenge Course Technology (ACCT) Conference, Feb. 5-9. The conversations on the show floor and in the halls, while positive and largely upbeat, revealed rising concerns over the state of insurance rates and the slowing growth in attendance at both traditional and recreational operations. Yet expansions and the rise of new parks and courses continue, with builders touting plenty of new projects.
Pre-conference sessions highlighted the industry’s increasing maturity. Two focused on changes to the major standards that most jurisdictions have adopted, in whole or part: ANSI/ACCT 03-2019 and ASTM F2959-19. These all-day sessions drew moderate attendance, given the significance of the standards, perhaps because they have already been discussed for months if not years.
The opening Tech Talks on Thursday looked toward the future. The takeaways: interest in aerial adventure remains strong; experiential learning continues to have great value and relevance; expanding participation in ethnic communities has the potential to broaden the industry and personal horizons; and mixed-reality technology will enhance the aerial experience—sooner than one might imagine—in ways that are still being explored.
The 120-plus workshops and seminars spanned the usual range for the conference, from facilitation concepts and techniques to tree health and best tips for operating recreational adventure parks. The two insurance-related sessions were well attended, though they did not directly address the rising insurance rates that have rattled some builders and operators.
The trade show sprawled across the hall and presented several new products, as well as the evolution of many others. Most dramatic new product was the Swincar e-Spider Cross-Country E-Vehicle, an unusual all-terrain crawler with a variety of potential uses, from staff transport to adaptive sporting vehicle. The DYNO Auto Belay for adventure parks and aerial adventure courses, ropes courses, and climbing walls also drew a lot of attention. Extreem Ziplines showed the latest iteration of its X2 trolley, with onboard adjustable trim-brakes, and discussed further evolutionary possibilities. These and other innovations unveiled at the show highlight the fast-changing nature of adventure parks.
The buzz in the hall focused on the rapidly changing insurance landscape and, at least among PVMs, on the new Alliance Collaborative, which sprang into existence just a few days before the ACCT Conference opened.
The insurance market is being impacted by a growing number of lawsuits (and settlements) as plaintiffs’ attorneys discover the aerial adventure world. That has led some carriers to raise rates or leave the aerial adventure market entirely. Both operators and builders have seen hefty rate hikes as a result.
The Alliance, a non-profit collaborative for “users, manufacturers, distributors, and vendors,” aims to develop a buying group that will lower prices for many commodities used by its members, and will also offer educational opportunities. That latter notion suggested, at least to some observers, that the Alliance could compete on some level with ACCT itself. Alliance GM Bill Weaver, a longtime ACCT executive, assured all he spoke with that the Alliance fully supports ACCT and will complement it. (For more on the Alliance, see here.)
For all that, many attendees appeared sunnily optimistic, and refused to let the clouds get them down.
At the ACCT annual meeting, the association’s Professional Vendor Members chose three persons for the board of directors. Carson Rivers of Challenge Towers was voted back onto the board for a three-year term, and was subsequently elected chair of the board. Keith Jacobs of Experiential Systems was also elected for a three-year term and was voted vice-chair. Billy Simpson was elected to fill a one-year term for the seat previously held by current ACCT policy director Scott Andrews.
As always, the ACCT Olympics closed the conference on a lighter note. The games challenged teams to perform a variety of feats, from cutting a piece of rope with another rope to building a sled from cardboard and duct tape and then towing a teammate through a twisting course (penalties assessed for hitting any of the course markers). The ACCT Olympics reminds everyone to keep their priorities straight. Teamwork and fun can overcome just about any obstacle.
The 2021 ACCT Conference and Expo will be held in Spokane, Wash., Jan. 26-31.