The future of the outdoor economy is going to be largely determined by the “Millennial Generation” and their interest in the outdoors. It will be critical for outdoor entrepreneurs to take time to learn how the next generation views outdoor education, trips and travel in order to prepare for the trends.
Who are the Millennials?
Definitions and names for the Millennial Generation vary. The name “Millennial Generation” usually refers to people born between the 1980s and early 2000s (also called Generation Y). Millennials are often discussed in general as individuals in developed countries that have grown up immersed in technology and have experienced dramatic changes in the economy. Some studies have shown that the rising cost of education and living expenses may have caused many to return home to their parents for a period of time which has led some media to refer to them as the Boomerang or Peter Pan Generation. Studies have also shown that a large number of Millennials often look for flexibility in work and social responsibilities. Millennials are also characterized as confident, self expressive and open to new ideas.
Although these sweeping generalizations may be true for a large segment of the Millennial Generation, studies have shown that they are far from a homogeneous monolith. There are wide variations in individuals of the same generation within immigrants, minorities, geography, gender, economic status and those with and without children. One thing is certain, this generation is a powerful force to be reckoned with.
Millennials and the Outdoors?
For most Millennials in developed countries, computers, smartphones, and social media have become part of their daily lives and has shaped their view of the world. Many youth that have grown up with an indoor, plugged in lifestyle tend to be hyperconnected to social networks and often feel disconnected from the natural world. A study by the Nature Conservancy shows that 88% of American youth say they spend time on-line every day while less than 40% participate in hiking, fishing, or natural areas on a weekly basis. Research by IDEO for the “Retail of the Future Project” has shown that many Millennials refer to the “outdoors” as places near their home where they can interact socially. Still, there are numbers of Millennials that have enthusiastically taken to outdoor recreation. Numerous reports show that Millennials are more interested in experiences rather than collecting things. Out of the millions of people who participate in outdoor activities, the largest groups were Baby Boomers and Millennials. Studies show that a large number of Millennials are interested in adventure travel, especially with friends. There are strong groups of young outdoor enthusiasts such as Outdoor Nation (ON), a non-profit founded by a community of Millennials who are dedicated to reconnecting members of their generation to the outdoors by hosting summits, awarding grants, leading outdoor outings, and working with youth.
Why should outdoor entrepreneurs be interested in Millennials?
Millennials are currently the largest generation of consumers with more than 80 million in their ranks. There is a tremendous opportunity for outdoor entrepreneurs to grow the outdoor economy instead of competing for market share.. They are larger than the Baby Boomers and 20% larger than Generation X. According to a recent report by Barkleys, Millennials currently make up 21% of consumer discretionary purchases and have a combined purchasing power of over a trillion dollars. Their influence on the outdoor economy will be larger than anyone else in the next century and cannot be ignored. They can easily get hooked on adventure and exploration once they have been exposed to it. There is huge, untapped potential to reconnect this generation to the world that they have inherited. Outdoor entrepreneurs that address the needs and motivations of Millennials will be in the best position to succeed.
Why should Millennials be interested in the outdoors?
Outdoor education can help develop skills that are highly sought after in the job market. According to a 2011 study, companies are spending hundreds of millions of dollars on outdoor experiential education designed to develop leadership skills, teamwork skills, communication skills, problem-solving skills and trust (Brymer, Gray, & Cotton 2011). Many companies are seeking individuals who are environmentally literate to develop new innovations in science, engineering, and technology. The field of “Biomimicry” has also been gaining considerable momentum over the last century. Outdoor recreation itself is a multi-billion dollar industry that continues to grow rapidly as one of the largest industries in the world. Also, numerous studies have shown that physical activity in outdoor settings can greatly improve one’s mental and physical well being. There are opportunities to connect with the outdoor community of vibrant individuals who tend to live healthy lifestyles and have a well-developed awareness of the world. Outdoor recreation is also a whole lot of fun where one can build lasting memories with people they care about!
How to reach Millennials?
Although there are large variations in the Millennial Generation, there are some things that are fairly consistent. Getting online and social media savvy is a must. Studies show that Millennials often plan ahead for travel and look to their friends and social networks before purchasing. Price and convenience tend to play the largest role in their buying decisions according to some studies, although quality and service remain high priorities. Opportunities to connect with friends and family in a meaningful way are important to most Millennials. Unique experiences that are fun and enjoyable are appealing to them. Millennials are more likely to align themselves with companies that support a cause they believe in than any other generation before them. They are well informed and able to conduct research at the touch of their fingertips. Also, educating parents on the benefits of outdoor recreation remains important not just for the Millennials who have moved back home under the influence of their parents, but also because many Millennials have become parents themselves. A 2012 study showed that the 31 million Millennial parents tend to be conscious of health, the environment, social causes, saving money, and raising kids with strong family values.
The main thing to remember when reaching out to this generation is to speak honestly and conversationally do not insult their intelligence. It will be important to communicate the mutual benefits for the outdoor economy and for the Millennial Generation and the generations that they will influence.