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Outdoor Economy

The Millennial Generation Holds the Future of the Outdoor Economy

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.

Girl Contemplating

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.

Guy in Canoe

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.

 

Ref:

Live Science:  Millennials Generation

Barkley: American Millennials 

Nature.org:  Kids in Nature 

Outdoor Industry Research Files

Outdoor Recreation and Tourism

Biomimicry

Outdoor Nation

Outdoor Industry 

Benefits of Environmental Education

Experiential Training for Leadership Development

Adventure Travel News: Outdoor Retail

Entrepreneur Magazine: If You Want Millennials to Love You, Market to their Mothers

 

Outdoor Entrepreneurs on Public Land: Risk, Reward, and Government Shutdown

A look into the benefits and history of public lands and national parks and the risks of doing business with the government

Public lands are incredibly valuable to the economy and often bring a sense of national pride and enjoyment. 48% of entrepreneurs surveyed by Small Business Majority agreed that access to public lands and other outdoor opportunities was a large reason why they live and do business in their state and “90% believe public spaces that draw tourists could boost business for local restaurants, hotels, grocery stores and more for drawing visitors”. There are many outdoor entrepreneurs who have carved out a successful niche tied to public lands that provides them with a prosperous and enjoyable lifestyle. Yet, there are also risks and sacrifice when your business is tied to land controlled by the government.

According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature, there are over 6,555 national parks worldwide that are defined as: “conservation of wild nature for posterity and as a symbol of national pride”. The United States is a recognized leader in the history of preservation of public land starting with president Andrew Jackson signing legislation to protect the Arkansas Hot Springs in 1832, then President Abraham Lincoln signing the Yosemite Grant in 1864, and President Ulysses S. Grant signing legislation to establish Yellowstone National Park as the first internationally recognized National Park in the world in 1872. Later, Theodore Roosevelt greatly expanded land conservation by protecting more than 150 million acres of public land and establishing 5 national parks during his lifetime. The efforts of private citizens like Galen Clark and John Muir were instrumental in influencing government officials in order to make conservation legislation happen. Today, the United States has 401 sites and 84 million acres of land under the protection of the National Park Service. The majority of national parks provide outdoor recreation and environmental education opportunities for millions of visitors every year.

YosemiteOne of the most famous of these parks in the United States is Yosemite National Park. Yosemite was given it’s name in 1851 by Lafayette Bunnell, a doctor who spent time with indian hunters of the Mariposa Battalion and misunderstood “Yosemite” as the name of the Ahwahneechee tribe that the Battalion was searching for. “Yohhhe’meti” actually meant “they are killers” in the native language of the Ahwahneechee referring to the soldiers. In 1890, President Benjamin Harrison signed a law that protected 1500 acres in the Yosemite Valley. Thanks to an epic meeting between John Muir and Theodore Roosevelt in the Yosemite Valley in 1903, the protection was expanded to the surrounding mountains and eventually to the 761,268 acres protected in the park today.

 

Over 3.7 million people visit Yosemite each year to hike through the 800 miles of trails among the giant Seqouias, rock climb the granite boulders or 3300ft peak of El Capitan, ski through the majestic slopes in winter, or raft the Merced River. Many outdoor entrepreneurs, guides, and park rangers lead groups on various excursions through the park’s vast expanses of biodiversity.

On Yosemite’s 123rd birthday, all visitors are being sent home and businesses are being shut down. This is true for all the government run national parks and wildlife refuges across the United States. Over 21,379 National Park employees are being furloughed due to the government shutdown that happened October 1, 2013.

That is just one of the risks of doing business on public land.

It often takes a lot of work to wade through the bureaucracy in order to get a permit to provide a service in a national park or wildlife refuge. Permits can sometimes be granted through an application process. There are also opportunities to bid on government contracts in order to become a concessionaire. If one should become fortunate enough to win the bid, they must operate under the strict guidelines outlined in the contract. The benefits will sometimes result in the exclusive right to run certain trips and provide services on the land. This can be very rewarding and give access to places where others are forbidden. Some issues can arise from the strict scheduling, pricing, and numbers of clients that are allowed at one time. All of that needs to be taken into consideration before accepting the terms of the contract. I know many operators who have done very well providing ferry tours to national parks and wildlife refuges, although sometimes they are required to run regardless of the number of passengers.  They count on the times of plenty to make up for the slow times.  It can sometimes be a delicate balancing act.

There are many risks and rewards for doing business on public land. Any entrepreneur who is interested in going through the process must consider all the consequences before taking action. Try to go through every scenario and make a plan. Many things can affect your business that are beyond your control, even a government shutdown.

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