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Outdoor Economy

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.

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.

How does Outdoor Recreation Inspire Scientific Discovery and Innovation?

 

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Did Ben Franklin discover Kite-boarding?

“When Ben Franklin was 9, his eldest brother was lost at sea, still Ben never lost his love for the water.

On a pleasant day, while young Ben was flying a kite, he decided to go for a swim.  Still wanting to fly his kite but reluctant to leave the water, it occurred to him he need not forgo one diversion for the other.  While in the water he let the kite pull him across the pond without the least fatigue and the greatest pleasure imaginable!”

(“Last Child in the Woods” by Richard Louv)

Could this event have led Ben Franklin to discover electricity and kite boarding!?

Ben Franklin did spend a lot of time playing outside as a child and was insatiably curious about what he encountered. Franklin’s curiosity would later inspire him to write theories about electricity, weather, ocean currents, and other discoveries that influenced many of the innovators who would follow.

Many scientists and inventors that have led to the technology and inventions we take for granted today have been inspired by their time recreating outside and observing nature.  Nikola Tesla was known to take long walks and spend time at the park contemplating his many theories.  Much of the modern wireless technology was developed from his ideas. 

How does Outdoor Recreation in natural areas inspire innovation?

Outdoor recreation in natural areas has been shown to improve mental and physical well-being.  According to a number of studies conducted over the last 25 years, unstructured physical activity in the outdoors inspires natural curiosity, improves social and emotional development, enhances perception and motor skills, builds creativity, encourages self-expression, and develops appreciation for the environment.

In a Janaury 2005 Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine, Burdette and Whitaker show that free play outdoors promotes problem solving and decision making, which is one of the highest executive functions.  Several small studies along with surveys of parents and teachers have shown that free play also reduces attention deficit disorder and improves focus.

Our experiences shape the way we view the world.

Children that play outside see themselves as part of a larger ecosystem and are exposed to natural laws. Children that spend time in the natural world are less fearful of it.

Many people in the developed world spend most of their time disconnected from the outside world.  From their home, to the car, to school or the office and back, people do everything they can to keep a barrier between them and nature.  The average American child spends less than 30 minutes in outdoor unstructured play.  Studies have shown that the sedentary, plugged in lifestyle may be responsible for the 200% rise in obesity and trepidation in the outdoors. A 2009 study showed that 62% of children surveyed in developed countries had a fear of natural events such as snow, thunder, and rain.  Inventors like Franklin and Tesla embraced natural events as opportunities to gain a better understanding of the world.

Outdoor Recreation is exercise for your brain.

Physical activity in natural areas has also been shown to increase attentiveness and greatly improve the brains ability to learn and retain information. Physical activity causes the brain to function more efficiently through a process called neurogenesis, where new brain cells are produced stimulating BDNF (brain-derived neurotropic factor), which has been nicknamed “fertilizer for the brain”.

“Exercise is the single best thing you can do for your brain in terms of mood, memory, and learning” according to Harvard Medical School psychiatrist John Ratey, author of the book, Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain.  Some of the highest performing schools in math and science in the world are incorporating physical activity as part of the curriculum. “Exercise and the Brain” has been the focus of several courses led by Wendy Suzuki, associate professor of neuroscience at New York University.

Outdoor recreation is not just Childsplay.

Canadian researchers found that physical activity greatly improved the cognitive function and physical well-being of elderly adults analyzed over two to five years in a 2011 study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine.

An understanding of nature is being encouraged by many businesses.  Companies such as IBM, GE, Boeing, Airbus, Nike, Levi’s, Johnson & Johnson and others are now encouraging their engineers to spend time observing nature in order to design the products of the future. The study of natural systems has led to incredible nature inspired innovations on desalinating water, architectural design, powerful adhesives, medicines, aviation design, and extremely strong and lightweight materials.

 

766px-Kitesurfer_in_closeup_exmouth_devon_arpOutdoor recreation has also been shown to reduce employee stress and stress related absences causing an increase in productivity and morale in the work place.

“Let My People Go Surfing” was the attitude and book title of Yvon Choinand, CEO of Patagonia. He attributes Patagonia’s increase in sales from $20 million to $100 million from the mid 1980s to 1990 to the culture of happy, motivated people that worked for the company and often went recreating outdoors during lunch breaks and weekends.

Whether raising a child, improving grades, stimulating a business, or developing the next genius, breakthrough invention, it might be time to get out and enjoy the great outdoors!

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

 

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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/

Nature Inspired Inventions and Engineering for Aviation

Humans have long been inspired by observing nature. Leonardo Da Vinci sketched several designs of potential flying machines based on the observation of birds.
Aviation technology has made dramatic changes since the first flight of the Wright Brothers.  Engineers now look back to the masters of the natural world to find clues for amazing breakthroughs in aviation design.  The following are just a few of the nature inspired improvements in aviation engineering and technology:
Morphing Wings
Birds and insects are able to adjust their wing size and shape while they fly. They have skeletal and vascular structures that morph into different shapes in order to compensate for the ideal conditions needed to maneuver effectively in the air. Engineers are experimenting with several creative designs that mimic the birds to adjust the wings of  aircraft in order to fit every stage of the flight mission.
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Perching
When birds come in for a landing, they execute a series of maneuvers and adjustments that allow them to make extremely accurate stops on difficult perches.  Birds do not use the standard, linear landings made by most aircraft. Engineers are testing how to recreate bird-like adjustments in speed and direction to help aircraft land safely and accurately.  The aircraft of the future may not need runways or brakes!   Bird morphing wings and perching behaviors  that are influencing aviation design are discussed in the 2011 abstract by Elvin Pineda from the University of Massachusetts.
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Winglets from Outstretched Eagle Wings
The wing-tips of Eagles and other birds have also caught the attention of several aviation engineers.  Several airplanes have been designed with adjustable wingtip mechanisms. This allows the aircraft to make slight adjustments to their wing tips to reduce the drag of the aircraft and improve efficiency and handling characteristics as well as enhance safety for following aircraft without increasing the wingspan. This also provides an increase in lift generated at the wingtip by smoothing the airflow and reducing the lift induced drag . The increased efficiency and reduced drag also improves fuel efficiency.
Lightweight Superstructure
The skeletal structures of bees and butterfly are extremely strong and light weight and able to form different shapes to allow the creatures to flutter from one flower to the next with great maneuverability and ease.  Engineers are examining designed aircraft using similar patterns that mimic the shapes and curves of bees and insects.  Birds also have well designed beaks and facial features that are being studied by engineers in order to make more aerodynamic designs.  These designs have also proved to be incredibly durable.
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Shark Skin

Flying creatures are not the only natural teachers that are schooling modern aviation engineers.  Sharks have a groovy skin that allows them to glide through the water with the greatest of ease.  Engineers copy these grooves in the hull design of aircraft in order to reduce wind drag and increase speed and efficiency.
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Noise Reduction

Engineers are on a constant quest to reduce airplane noise.  A number of creatures are giving lessons on how to keep the flying machines from disturbing the peace.  The pistol shrimp emits a loud crack sound to stun prey and confuse predators while tuning the frequency out of his own brain.  Bees position their honeycombs in a certain way to dampen sound. Owls are experts of stealth and silent flight.  Engineers are also taking a close look at creatures such as cicadas, butterflies, and fish to provide some insight on how to develop potential noise reduction technology.  Some of the ideas include retractable brush fringe and serrated  engine casings.
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Aviceda                                                                             Pdx.rollingthunder
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These are just a few ways of how engineers are looking to the time-tested methods of the natural world to design the flying machines of the future. That is the reason why companies like Boeing and Airbus are sending their engineers off on outdoor adventures to examine the genius of the natural world.  It just makes sense to take flight lessons from those that have been doing it for thousands of years!
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