ACCT Conference Highlights Trends, ASTM Standards

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SAM Magazine—Las Vegas, Nev., Feb. 14, 2013—The Association for Challenge Course Technology (ACCT) held its 20th annual conference at the Red Rock Resort Casino and Spa outside Las Vegas, Nev., Feb. 7-10. In addition to showcasing new products and innovations, the conference hosted its first-ever certification test for individual inspectors, and spent a good deal of time reviewing the new ASTM standards that will govern the industry going forward.

ACCT has been on fire lately. It’s no longer just about challenge courses, of course; it now involves all manner of ropes courses, canopy tours, and ziplines. As these have grown in popularity with the public, so has attendance at the ACCT shows: from 600 attendees three years ago to 1,020 this year. There are now 6,000 ropes courses of various types, and 300 zipline sites in the U.S.

The Inspector Certification Exam (ICE) marks the first time ACCT has certified individuals, as opposed to companies. With the impending need for more inspectors, the two-hour exam drew 160 candidates, most of whom attended pre-test discussions and workshops regarding the ASTM standards. The implementation of the standard is a big and important change.

The show itself was a display of energy and vitality. The many workshops were well attended, and discussion was lively. There’s a widespread willingness to share information and lessons among the attendees, in part because the industry is evolving and growing, and there’s a lot to share. Trade show attendance was strong, too, with lots of activity in the evenings, after the workshops ended.

From a business standpoint, there’s a lot to learn, and learn fast. Disney and other amusement and attractions operators will get into the zipline game soon; that’s part of the reason for adopting ASTM standards—the amusement and attractions’ industries regulators are demanding it. And these operators, while offering a different product (a more “manufactured” experience, typically), are all about business.

One potential issue: there’s a sort of rider-vs.-skier mentality between the "challenge course" operators and the canopy tour and zipliners. The split has to do with the difference between team-building and personal growth (as most challenge courses are intended) and promoting individual thrills.

One encouraging sign: industry members are figuring out the entertainment business quickly. Operators in one workshop were nearly unanimous in saying that they developed their ziplines or zip canopy tours with young males ages 25 to 35 in mind. Turns out that women 35 to 55 are the core market. That audience takes to zipping more readily than the guys, who often get uptight about dangling from a wire where they have little control over the ride. In addition, women 35 to 55 set the agenda for their families and friends. They make the family activity decisions and do all the planning. Sound familiar?