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The future of the Great British Outdoor industry

By 18/03/2015January 11th, 2023No Comments

“When people think about Britain they think about the great outdoors, they dream about the great outdoors.”

Rory Stewart MP

After an engaging, inspiring and enthralling two-day conference for Britain’s outdoor industry, hosted in the beautiful setting of the Lake District National Park, Vicky Stickland – Brandwave’s Commercial Director provides an overview on the key topics discussed and her thoughts on what we should be doing to ensure the continued success of the industry.

The future of the Great British Outdoor industry

A positive scene was set for the future of the UK Outdoor industry by the first key speaker – Helen Grant MP. Helen, the UK’s Minister for Sport and Tourism couldn’t commit to any solid strategy so near to election time, but presented herself well, with a level of authenticity and a passion for the great outdoors and a clear commitment to help grow the UK Outdoor industry.

Political alliances aside, Helen’s message was clear that the (current) UK Government recognises the importance of the Outdoor sector in terms of growing participation in outdoor recreation with the wider aim of improving the Nation’s health. These improvements to our health resulting from participation in outdoor recreation is the real crux of the government’s interest in the outdoors. With outdoor recreation considered an obvious answer to the question of how to improve the heath of our ageing and increasingly obese nation. Helen’s own agenda is supported by her wish to change her job role from that of ‘Sport and Tourism Minister’ to that of ‘Sport, Outdoor Recreation and Tourism Minister’. A clear nod to the industry and the importance the government are now placing on it.

Recognition was also given to the part that outdoor recreation plays in improving the rural economy and increasing tourism and that Helen clearly understood that there is a tremendous opportunity in the industry to do more to improve upon both aspects.

Although Helen wouldn’t commit to a formal outdoor recreation strategy at this stage, she did state that a £10m fund has been pledged to promote tourism in the North of England, with a further £5m pledged to benefit the South West of England. It goes without saying that the Outdoor industry would benefit hugely from this.

In terms of actually getting hold of this funding, it was made clear that any proposal from the outdoor industry for potential ways to spend this funding should be ambitious and innovative. Helen described how she wanted the outdoor industry to collaborate when pitching for these funds, working together to present a single, substantial idea that will really work for and benefit the industry as a whole. Given Helen’s conviction for the topic, if she remains in post and the idea presented is good enough, the money should be made available.

So millions of pounds are potentially up for grabs, but the brief has been set to the industry to be organised in an approach, come together and present a collective, collaborative idea. To quote Helen Grant “collaboration gives us infinitely more power.”

This discussion with Helen and her very willingness to attend the conference, proved the progress that the OIA has managed to make at government level and the current momentum for the outdoor as a topic of within Government. The key will be to continue this momentum through a (potential) change of government in May, ensuring that the Great British Outdoors remains top of everyone’s priority list and that the cross-departmental work which has already been done continues regardless of the election result.

A great venue in a stunning setting. Thanks to the Low Wood Bay Hotel for hosting a fantastic event.

Facts not feelings – researching the market

We heard at the conference about how Sport England commissioned the OIA to look in detail at the general landscape of outdoor recreation in the UK, the opportunities and challenges, with the aim of generating a report to inform the government of a clear set of asks. The government wants to know what they can do to help us grow our industry.

The resulting report was formed by conducting half-hour long interviews with 11,000 people from the target market, from all across the UK. It has highlighted the growing popularity of outdoor recreation, OIA members will soon have the opportunity to discuss the report in detail at dedicated localised workshops, with the full report being available to any members who attend.

Engaging with the youth

A focus by Helen Grant MP, the SRA and Sport England was placed on engaging the youth in the outdoors and several questions/comments raised by the audience proved this to be a key area of importance across the industry. We heard how the SRA have a strategy to increase outdoor recreation as a physical activity at school level, including importantly an emphasis being placed on primary schools. Engaging with the youth could also be a key focus for brands looking to reinvigorate their strategy, its important to look at the grassroots of outdoor recreation from a business, marketing, but also an industry perspective. Engaging your brand with the youth will gain you brand loyalists for years to come. Elongating your average customer retention cycle would also be a profitable move for the company.

It makes sense that with a focus on the youth market, clear consideration should also be placed on the family market. With the role that parents play in their children’s uptake of outdoor recreation proving absolutely pivotal. One insightful comment from the audience noted that it’s mums and dads that drive their children and their children’s friends to recreation clubs and they therefore need to play an important part of any future participation strategy.

Photo Credit: UK News The – Voice Online

Importance of the urban landscape to our Outdoor Recreation strategy

The SRA urged us all to consider the links between urban and rural spaces when thinking about outdoor recreation – because as beautiful as our Great British Countryside is; its not easily accessible to everyone, all of the time.

Current insight shows us that proximity and access to the Great British Outdoors will be a huge factor in localised participation levels. Therefore as an industry we should think about what is possible at a local, urban level to engage with urbanites and make the most of our green spaces and parks. The attendance of British Cycling to the event was much appreciated and their participation strategy was widely praised. The development of their ‘Sky Rides’ was also noted as a strategy, which has been able to bring cycling to a new, urban target market; one of many strategies which has contributed to the phenomenal growth of cycling participation across the UK.

This is also a huge business opportunity for industry focused brands, considering how to reach a potentially new market of active urban dwellers, through experiential events and activity focused sessions, to feed into this wider strategy whilst generating brand loyalists. A great example of such an event would be the ‘Salomon Switch’ running event. The aim of the event was to engage their target audience with finding new places to run in and around their urban landscape, uncovering the city for their customers and expanding their urban playground.

It was noted that the Lake District based Tree-Top Trek is the sort of activity that could be just as successful in an urban environment – building this sort of facility in an urban space would be cheaper than building a new sports centre and would encourage this currently un-tapped target audience to get into the great outdoors.

This leads me nicely onto the afternoon activity session; Tree Top Trekking.

Playing in the Great British Outdoors

Ol White from Blacks takes on the Tree-Top Trek

On your bike! – Ollie and Dan take part in the mountain biking session along with the guys from Total Adventure, Bridgedale, Outdoor Enthusiast Magazine and Buff Wear

Vicky walks the line

It would be hard to have a conference all about the Great British Outdoors, set in the adventure playground of the UK, without getting out and having a go. Which is exactly what we all did during the afternoon of the first day of the conference. My activity of choice was the Tree-Top Trek, which did not disappoint. Other activities included a guided walk and an advanced mountain bike the feedback from both was also very positive.

The entire conference is an excellent networking opportunity for any company in attendance, but as we all know most networking gets done at the bar. At the OIA conference this is slightly different, it would have to be 50/50 between our time spent in the outdoors and our time spent at the bar. The Tree-Top trek, although more of a personal challenge was a perfect ice-breaker for all participating. The company also let us loose on their new trampolines in the trees, I defy anyone not to come away smiling from ear to ear and sweating profusely after a good bounce on those. All in all; well worthwhile and very enjoyable afternoon!

 Getting to know your audience – with Rory Stewart MP:

 A lot was said about the level of keynote speakers that Andrew Denton had been able to pull in for this conference.

When Rory Stewart recounted stories of walking 6,000 miles across Asia the whole room was enthralled. Rory was genuinely one of the most inspirational speakers I have ever had the pleasure of listening to.

A key question that was raised by several of the key speakers during the event was ‘how well do we really know our customers?’ Sure, we think we know who they are, but in reality how much do we actually know about their challenges, what drives them, what we could do to make their lives better and easier? Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could all cross a few counties speaking honestly with our customers face to face to really find this out…

That’s exactly what Rory did. Walking 6,000 miles across Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, India and Nepal; meeting with the locals face to face, learning their language and getting himself into some rather precarious situations whilst doing so. He now walks throughout his North Lakeland constituency to meet face to face with as many of the locals as possible, discussing their challenges and what can be done to help.

I think that we can and all should learn a lot from Rory’s approach. We should all spend a little time speaking face to face with our customers, in as real life situation as is physically and realistically possible, to create genuine solutions to their problems and make their lives that little bit better.

Rory’s final point was particularly poignant; he said that “When people think about Britain they think about the great outdoors, they dream about the great outdoors.” It’s our duty as the Outdoor Industry to enhance those dreams, for those of you still pondering your ‘why’ (reference day 2 of conference) I think this would definitely be a good place to start!

Photo Credit: The Telegraph

Embodying the soul of the Outdoor Industry – Sir Chris Bonnington

Rory also affirmed that “the outdoor industry is the soul of Britain.” If the outdoor industry is the soul of Britain, then Sir Chris Bonnington personifies that soul.

After a wonderful dinner put on by the Low Wood, we were treated to the incredible adventure stories of Sir Chris Bonnington, told by the man himself. Chris fed us stories about when he first hitchhiked to Snowdon in 1951 with his school friend in his army surplus anorak and shoes, his first unsuccessful trip to Everest and how he started planning his second trip to Everset hiding away in his office in the Lakes without his wife, Wendy, knowing because he’d promised her he would never go back.

The key take-outs from Sir Chris – that sometimes it’s the expeditions that fail that are the very best of the lot and that we should all make the most of every single day we’ve got. Still going strong at 81, yes certainly leads by example on this topic. A perfect point for us all to retire to the bar and swap stories after what what had been a very successful day for all.

Photo Credit:

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Vicky Stickland