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Outdoor Economy

Growing Opportunity in Outdoor Recreation: 6 Key Strategies for Outdoor Entrepreneurs

6 critical strategies for outdoor entrepreneurs to benefit in the growing outdoor economy

When I started kayaking and leading nature tours in South Carolina, I worked for the only outfitter on Shem Creek. We led occasional tours out to the harbor and back without seeing another kayak. Over the first several years, there were a couple new kayak operations that came and went out of business like the tides. In the last 6 years, there has been an explosion of new outdoor businesses on the waterways. Today, that same creek is filled with kayakers and stand-up paddleboards with multiple tours daily. Paddling outfitters have sprung up all around the outlying areas as well. Now, an increasing number of motorboats are offering eco-tours and bird watching adventures.

Whitewater Kayaker sideways

You would think this increased competition would have hurt the outfitters that once ruled the waterways? Think again! Every kayak outfitter that I have spoken to (about 8) has experienced an increase of 15-30% in business in 2013. The business has been able to thrive even through the worst of the recession.

This increase is not untypical. Outdoor recreation often does well when times are tough. Most outdoor businesses have experienced an increase in trips, travel and retail through 2008-2013.

Not every business makes it despite the surge in demand. The margins of the business can be pretty tight when you factor in equipment, guides, insurance, maintenance, rent, and other expenses. In a competitive market, your customer service better be stellar. It is easy to get overwhelmed and over promise. If your reservation system is not organized, you may have clients showing up unexpectedly and not have the time or resources to serve them. It is too easy for them to just go up the street to your competitors.

If you are in a market that is not as competitive, you will still need to forge ahead and set a precedent. Once you get established, competition is likely to follow. It requires excellent organizational skills as well as marketing skills to stay afloat. Your business can live or die by the people answering your phone as well as those leading the trips.

Qualified guides are also an issue. This is usually your main product. The right guide can make a dreary place come alive, while the wrong guide can make a spectacular place dull. This requires training and impeccable social skills.

The outdoor businesses that are able to develop systems that allow them to stay ahead of the game, maintain the morale of their employees, consistently provide a quality product, while maintaining control of their cashflow are the ones that survive. In a seasonal business, it is important to plan ahead.

Here are a few key things that help outfitters survive:

Have a clear idea of who you intend to serve

Knowing what type of client you attend to attract will make a difference in the product you deliver, the people you invest in, and your entire marketing strategy. The adrenalin junkie is very different than the serene wildlife watcher. Are you going to offer easy day-trips or longer multi-day adventures? Having a clear idea of your ideal customer is an important place to start. Ask yourself: Who am I meant to serve? Then spend some time finding out all you can about them and how to attract them.

Clearly define yourself

Why would anyone choose your business over everyone else? What is it that makes your business unique? This is something that most outdoor businesses fail to do. They look at their competitors and offer the same thing. Everyone thinks they have a superior product than their competitors, but very few can define it or prove it. No one wants to hear how great you think you are. Customers want to know how you are going to give them the best experience that meets their needs better than anyone else. It is important to be specialized and focused on what you do well. Too many businesses try to fight it out in copy-cat manner. There is plenty of business for everyone and together everyone achieves more.

Know what you expect from your employees

There was a time when I helped to interview potential new guides for a kayak company. We considered whether we should focus on those with the most kayak experience, naturalist skills, or personal skills. It turned out, the new hires with the best kayaking skills tended to be the most difficult to coach and were increasingly critical of the company constantly comparing it with others they had worked with. The ones with the best personable skills were open to learn and eventually became excellent kayakers and naturalists. Some did not work out either way for one reason or another. It has always been a philosophy of mine to allow someone to show themselves in the first 30-60 days. Some will show themselves right away. Some are slow beginners and eventually become superstars or grand failures. Some come to the table with everything and then break away. One important thing to do is to be upfront for what you expect. Have a written policy. This helps in times of trouble. The more prepared you are the better.

Create a fail safe reservation and scheduling system

The reservation system is the information hub in which the whole business revolves. That is the interface with the customers, the guides, and the marketing team. Everything flows in and flows out through the office. You must put systems in place to be sure you are prepared for who comes through your door and ready to deliver the best service possible to suit their needs. Put safeguards in place to catch errors and double check the schedules for guides and equipment. This is key for your success. The more diversified your business is the more important it is to keep accurate records.

Keep an eye on the cash-flow and plan for the future

In a seasonal business it is important to know how much you are taking in and how much you are paying out. People need to get paid on time if you want to keep up morale. You will need to have the right amount of inventory to provide for your clients A good credit account can help when things get tight, but you need to be careful that you don’t over use it. Cash flow will make or break you. It takes a long time to build a reputation, and an instant to wreck it.

Create a measurable marketing strategy

Where are your customers coming from? How are you reaching them? What is the strategy to get them to your door? What is their impression of your company? Most outdoor companies become advertising victims and base their marketing on what ever salesman calls to offer them the best story. This not a good strategy. A well thought out marketing strategy is one that is run with organized campaigns that can be measured. Often it is a good idea to run two simultaneous campaigns with slightly different strategies or wording to help measure what is working. A lot of time and money can be wasted on marketing that does not produce results.

Manage risk and prepare for the worst

Many a good outfitter has failed suddenly because of one mistake. It is critical to operate with the high regard for safety. Be ready with a clear action plan and a written policy to handle tragedy. In our line of work, there is a lot that can go wrong. Use the off season to conduct drills and training. Make sure you have adequate insurance.

These are just a few of the key strategies that make the difference if an outdoor business will be successful or not.

Massive Opportunity for Conservation and Business, Will They Miss it?

 

On top Rock Arms Open

There are major opportunities in the outdoor economy that have often been overlooked.

The disconnect between conservation and economic growth comes as a result of misunderstandings and misrepresentations of social and political groups that are either focused on protecting the environment or on building the economy. The truth of the matter is that
there is opportunity for both economic growth and conservation. This becomes clear when one does a proper analysis of the situation and removes all political biases. In fact, you cannot have one without the other. Ecological sustainability will never be achieved through a focus on environment and biodiversity alone.
Social and economic values and needs must become an integral concern of nature conservation management (TNSW p5).
Well managed natural resources have tremendous benefits to human health and quality of life as well as economic, education, and scientific advancement. This is a theme throughout this website and multiple reports.

The business sector does itself a disservice to try to demonize the conservation community as standing in the way of economic progress. Clean water, clean air, and attractive natural beauty are huge drivers of economic growth and social well-being. Denial that there is any need for conservation will only harm the economy in the future.
Entrepreneurs and conservationists who work together in a purposeful, ethical way using common sense can achieve great social and economic progress that is sustainable and beneficial to the people and the planet.

The Power of Outdoor Recreation and Tourism

Many conservation organizations see tourism as one of the sectors with the greatest potential for linking conservation to economic development. ( IUCN-Kouni Group) Tourism is the largest industry in the world and growing fast. “For wealthy westerners, travel is now an addiction” (The Economist).
Tourism generates over $2 trillion in spending, $730 billion in earnings and 6.5 million full-time jobs while growing 4-5% annually regardless of war, disease, or terrorism. ( Needham, RRMP at OSU).

Tourism can also be harmful. Mass Tourism can lead to overcrowding, congestion, and overuse causing pollution, waste and degradation of natural resources.

On the other hand,
carefully developed sustainable tourism and eco-tourism can empower local people while providing financial and conservation benefits. In fact, the outdoor recreation industry can provide much greater employment and economic opportunities to a community and have a much lighter impact on local environments than industries that focus on extraction of natural resources. Employment related to recreational activities can exceed employment related to resource exploitation by more than 5 times (Kuenzi and McNeely) . Wildlife related recreation (fishing, hunting, and wildlife viewing) on National Forest lands provide a significant benefit to state and regional economies throughout the nation. In 1996, wildlife related recreation created 238,800 full time jobs and generated $21million in state sales and income taxes (USFW).
In 2012, outdoor recreation contributed $646 billion in consumer spending to the US economy and more than $39.7 billion in tax revenue while creating 6.1 million American jobs(OIA 2012). Outdoor recreation contributes nearly twice the positive economic impact than the automotive, pharmaceutical and oil industries.

How to build a sustainable outdoor recreation industry

In order to build a successful outdoor industry there must be a focus on customer satisfaction as well as environmental conservation
. “Satisfied customers are believed to affect the long-term viability of the organization in the competitive business environment and also for enhancing experience of visitors with attraction.” (IJMMR, Vol. 4, No. 1) The integrity of the facilities and natural resources are crucial to customer satisfaction. The Association of British Travel Agents found that
one in three travelers now believe that vacation products should have an environmental rating. ABTA’s study also showed that 19% of these travelers were willing to pay more for it.
Nature-based businesses are dependent on clean water and untrammeled natural landscapes(CNBT-BC).

Customer service, empathy, and local knowledge are also extremely important
. Training is a key factor to the success of any organization and staff must be provided with proper training in terms of communicating with guests (IJMMR, Vol. 4, No. 1).
Enhancing quality of interpretation at visitor centers, attractions, and on tours is a major opportunity area for nature tourism. People learn better when they are using as many senses as appropriate. It is generally recognized that people retain 10% of what they hear, 30% of what they read, 50% of what they see, and 90% of what they do (TNSW p5).

Most of all, building a sustainable economy that will have long-term benefits for the people and the environment requires the cooperation and teamwork of the entire community. Every nature reserve needs a management plan and a dedicated community of volunteers to care for it.

People want to live healthy, vibrant lives in an area where they can enjoy themselves in the outdoors. This can be achieved through cooperation between both the business and conservation community.

Other Related Articles:

http://adventureblog.nationalgeographic.com/2013/05/29/guides-are-portals-to-the-outdoor-world-lets-give-them-the-support-they-need/#%21

http://adventureblog.nationalgeographic.com/author/averystonich/

http://www.wengerna.com/blog/outdoor-recreation-americas-overlooked-economic-giant/

What Industries thrive in a recession?

Fishing Sunset

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

WHAT INDUSTRIES THRIVE IN A RECESSION?

Many would think of industries like healthcare, education, business services, and debt settlement.

When the going gets tough, the tough go camping.

I can remember when the stock market crashed in 2008.  It was clear that this was going to be serious and not some easy thing. I went into a reading frenzy to learn all I could about what was going on and how to prepare.  The bookshelves were filled with doomsday predictions calling for another great depression, inflation, unemployment and so forth.  I gave particular attention to the information that was backed by research and followed patterns of earlier recessions.  It became more and more obvious, that the years ahead were going to be extremely tough.

I called my friends in the outdoor industry to warn them about the predictions.

“This is going to be serious” I said “You better be prepared to tighten up.  It is not going bounce back any time soon.”

I had a conversation with one of the senior guides who had been through a number of recessions and worked around the world for many different companies such as biking, hiking, climbing, kayaking, and outdoor gear companies.  He was calm, and said it was typical for the outdoor recreation industry to do well in hard times.

To my surprise, after a brief lull, business picked up and even began to break records of the numbers of visitors even though the news was full of doom and gloom about the economies around the world.

He was right!

People are not willing to give up their vacations.  Travel and tourism continued to thrive.  We saw an increase in domestic travel rather than longer exotic trips. Studies showed that 72 percent of Americans preferred shorter trips

People seemed to look to the outdoors to sooth their souls.

More than 140 million Americans continued to make outdoor recreation a priority despite all the uncertainty according to the 2012 OIA economic report.

Outdoor industry gear sales came back strong and were up over 8 percent and product sales were over $120 billion in 2012.

A record number of travelers visited the US national parks even with the threats of budget cuts and layoffs looming ever closer.

Adventure travel boomed globally growing over 17% in 2009 and 2010. Adventure Travel accounted for about $89 billion in global spending making up about 16% of all departures from North America, South America and Europe.

There is a lot more to this industry.  Even with Europe facing increasing challenges in 2013 and the fiscal challenges in the US, people’s thirst for adventure in the great outdoors shows no signs of slowing down.

What was your experience with the economy since2008?  What challenges are you facing now?

 

Resources for Outdoor Entrepreneurs

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Gorkaazk

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When an outdoor entrepreneur sets out to build an outdoor recreation venture, they find that there are a number of resources to learn from.  A number of organizations through out the United States and beyond have been formed in order to help the outdoor recreation industry grow and to set standards for risk management and best practices.  One such group is The Society of Outdoor Recreation Professionals (SORP).

SORP is a membership organization with a mission to promote, advance, and serve outdoor recreation professionals in research, planning, management, and policy development.

SORP offers members a variety of benefits such as professional development, networking, recognition, scholarships, news, technical resources,  and an annual conference.

 

According to the 5 year Strategic plan, the SORP has identified a number of ambitious goals for:

  • Communications and Marketing
  • Professional Development and Education
  • Financial Strategy
  • Strategic Partnerships
  • Operationslearn more about SORP on their webpage at http://www.recpro.org/

 

 

 

 

The Ecotourism and Sustainable Tourism (ESTC) Conference 2013 in Nairobi Kenya

 

The International Ecotourism Society (TIES) is the most well known and respected organization in the ecotourism industry.
TIES describes itself as “a non-profit association committed to promoting responsible tourism practices that benefit conservation and communities.”
There are over 500 organizations that are members of TIES in this global network that reach over 120 countries.
TIES is a global community  with over 1,200 members from professionals  and organizations spanning over 120 countries.
TIES and its members are dedicated to  promoting the principles of ecotourism   defined as “responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment and improves the well-being of local people.” (TIES, 1990)
Every year TIES organizes the Ecotourism and Sustainable Tourism Conference (ESTC) as a networking and educational event to help stake holders share ideas and form collaborations in order to advance the sustainability goals for the tourism industry.
I was delighted to attend the 2011 ESTC conference in Hilton Head South Carolina near where I live. The number of contacts and educational presentations were well worth the visit.
The local “Gullah” people of Hilton Head island are still talking about how great it was to have the ESTC conference in their home town.  One Gullah woman recently told me “It was one of the first times they met people who understood them.”
The 2013 ESTC conference is being held in Nairobi, Kenya September 24-27.  This is an excellent event for all tourism professionals and ecotourism stakeholders.  Go to http://www.ecotourismconference.org/

 

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