2nd May 2019

How to Reverse Engineer the Building Blocks to a Resilient and Healthy Mountain Recreation Industry

This is a guest post by Rob Sayers: Editor – Active Outdoors

You want to get more people into the mountains?  Marketing alone won’t help you.  Somehow you need to drive the need where it is seen as desirable, accessible and a rewarding experience.  But how do you bridge the gap between those new customers and returning customers?  Getting them to the mountains is not the whole answer.

Bring the Mountains to the People and Make it the Easiest Choice

Modern society loves convenience and value for money.  People inherently take the path of least resistance.  Why work things out for yourself when you can ask someone or look it up online?  If the value of the end goal is not clear, why bother?  The effort people are willing to make depends on knowing what the reward is.  Better Technology and shopping habits have made it so easy to get things delivered to your doorstep.  Except for the great outdoors.  To experience the mountains you have to travel, pay, and have the knowledge, skills and inclination to go there.  All very well for existing outdoor enthusiasts, but it is a very daunting experience for newcomers.  Why spend your hard earned cash on the unknown?  What about reaching those who have never been before?  The travel industry currently preaches to the converted.  Websites give details of holidays for those who know what they want.  What is your business doing to reach those who know nothing about the things you ?

Lost Intentions

The travel and recreation industry has a long history of providing travellers and adventurers with experiences across the globe.  The early beginnings of Thomas Cook in 1841 have been forgotten by the industry.  His approach was to provide easy and convenient travel experiences that were value for money.  Today, many travel companies have become complacent by focussing on marketing at customers to get them to buy, with little regard for providing outstanding customer service at every turn and value for money.

As society slips ever more deeply into the consumer convenience state, how can travel providers maintain and develop their customer base?  The current approach of marketing to the masses about the appeal of the mountains has to reach across a huge divide and only getting results from those who are already interested in outdoor pursuits.  There are huge opportunities for those businesses who are willing to make the entire customer journey effortless for those doubters and novices by providing convenience at every step on their way to unique and memorable mountain experiences.

Outdoor Experiences on the Doorstep

With the rise of the out of town superstores, high streets across the country are no longer thriving.  However, there is a socio-economic model that Mary Portas would be pleased about that has the capacity to make the high street the centre of the community and boost health and wellbeing for the Nation.

The challenges facing the population of obesity, mental health and the threat of the Artificial Intelligence Revolution dramatically changing the job market are significant.  We are faced with an opportunity to rethink the purpose of the high street and local community in the big retail picture.

The corner shop and high street developed to support societal needs of convenience to be able to do the daily shop for fresh food and goods.  The introduction of the domestic fridge and freezer had a huge impact on shopping habits.  People didn’t need to shop daily for fresh food when it could last for days in the fridge or weeks when frozen.  When the supermarkets began selling milk in cartons, the daily doorstep delivery by the milkman was doomed.

The high street began to grow as a focal point to buy everything you needed.  Anything you wanted could be found on the high street.  As supermarkets grew and began selling more than just food, out of town retail superstores and shopping centres provided even more choice.  The purchasing power of these large stores meant lower prices, and people seemed to favour price over service.  This was the start of the fall of the high street.  The Internet and being able to buy online was the next big step and that marked the end for many companies who didn’t change their business model quickly enough and market themselves in the right way online.

So is this the end of the high street?  Some think so, but there is a vision of a societal change that can revitalise the high street as the core of the community, providing social, recreational and retail hubs.

Over the years some interesting habits have been observed that are associated with recreation and outdoor leisure.  People want:

to feel good about themselves

Health and wellbeing

Convenience

to be social

food and drink

Fun

personal accomplishment

To do or try something interesting

Bringing the Mountains to the People

Once the difficulty is overcome of getting the few away to visit the mountains to experience what the hills have to offer, there are so many stories coming out about how the mountain infrastructure cannot accommodate the masses yet.  Recently in the UK, an artist had to remove his sculpture from moorland because it was so popular that the masses of visitors caused severe land erosion, litter and vehicle congestion.  Films and TV series are another cause of tourists all congregating in small picturesque locations just to say they have been where A Game of Thrones was filmed.

Spreading the Resources to Spread the Load

A holistic systems approach is needed to build the outdoor recreation economy, but spread what is on offer geographically so that those that will not travel often can experience the benefits of the outdoors on their doorstep, whilst those who wish to travel further will Businesses commonly use the approach of find a need, build it, market it and the people will come.  Unfortunately the Internet is being so disruptive to traditional business that new ways of thinking are required to not only stay ahead of the game but to also build resilience into the industry.  If the mountains are too much of a distant concept for your potential customers, how can you bridge that divide to bring the appeal and experience closer to your customers?

The outdoor recreation industry prides itself on trying to get people out of the towns and cities and into the countryside to enjoy leisure activities.  However, the types of people they wish to target do not necessarily have the means or motivation to visit the lakes and mountains in the depths of the countryside.  Also, the pressure this exerts on the rural infrastructure and natural environment is not sustainable.  So why not bring outdoor recreation to where the people are?

If you have ever visited Go Ape or a Forestry Commission site, you will find trailhead shops that rent and sell outdoor gear for cyclists, hikers and casual weekenders.  In addition to the compulsory teas shop, cafe or restaurant, these shops provide visitors with a single choice of purchase for the right here and now.  I have seen people spend huge amounts of money on the latest gear just because they want to have it there and then and experience some outdoor fun.  Why didn’t they plan ahead?  The thing is that most people will buy due to convenience or as a spontaneous purchase.  Due to the Internet, society is expecting convenience to give them what they want right here and right now.  Ever seen a kid blackmail their parents for that toy or ice cream that they have seen and WANT IT NOW!

Why not exploit those societal behaviours further by providing that convenience in the locations where people are most in need of those healthy recreational options?  Develop green spaces and facilities in the centre of towns and cities and provide trail head shops and services to enable casual visitors to be more active outdoors.  The high street should provide places to have food and drink and be social.  At the same time give people the opportunities to spend more time socially being active recreationally.

I reckon that if a study is carried out to compare the high streets that are still thriving and those that are not, they will observe that the ones that thrive have the following:

1. Good quality places to eat and drink socially

2. Green spaces nearby such as parks, playgrounds, golf courses, tennis courts, sports pitches and multi-use games areas.

3. Leisure centres, gyms and other indoor recreational spaces

4. Easy access via cars and public transport

5. Shops providing recreational goods and gear

6.Wifi

7. Events

8. Good street lighting

9. A safe environment

10. Places to sit, spectate, relax and read.

If you compare this with what Center Parcs has to offer, you will find that it is very similar in how it has been set up.  The focal recreational hub also has places to socialise, eat and drink.  There are plenty of places for those of all ages who want to be a part of the social scene but don’t necessarily want to actively join in.  This is ideal for grandparents and those less able.  It allows people of all ages to feel a part of the activity.

Events are also a key part of the recreational hub.  Organised events and activities whether they are activities such as Parkrun, craft days or nature watches, all the way up to outdoor cinema screenings, concerts, theatre and fireworks.

So, through a bit of urban design, local councils can have a huge impact on the Nation’s health, wellbeing and prosperity.  This will impact the burden on the National Health Service, improve the mental health of the population, improve the economy, and bring the heart back to the community.  This will see a rise in people spending time together for real, and could help to reduce the screen time addiction society is succumbing to.

Once the population experiences the pleasure and benefits of being active outdoors in their local community, the outdoor leisure and travel industries will see an upturn in the number of people wanting to explore further afield and experience the adventures to be had around the world.

So What Can the Recreation, Travel and Tourist Industry do?

The key thing is to invest in recreation in the urban communities where your target customer base is.  Convert your customer base where they live and make sure your brand is associated with the resources and facilities you are providing.  One way is to sponsor local council recreation projects.  Running events, mountain biking trails, sports facilities, city parks and events are all ways to get your brand in front of your potential customers.  UK outdoor research has shown that word of mouth and personal recommendations are the best way to attract new customers.  Give them a taster of what you have to offer and move them in the right direction.  Play for the long game, provide unique outstanding experiences that are value for money, but be attentive to changing trends and a resilient business will be yours.