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How COVID-19 Has Affected the Outdoor Tourism Industry

September 28, 2022
Marina with boats

According to data collected in the 2021 Outdoor Participation Trends report, as commissioned by the Outdoor Foundation, 53 percent of Americans over the age of 6 took part in an outdoor recreation activity at least once in 2020. This data marks the highest participation rate on record. Throughout 2020, the data revealed a dramatic increase of 7.1 million more participants in outdoor activities than in any previous year.

Participation in outdoor activities has most likely significantly increased in 2020 due to the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. Isolation, disruption to the typical 9-5 in-office schedule, the termination of employees’ positions, and the increased desire to go on adventures have all likely contributed to the increase in outdoor tourism. The challenge that currently faces the outdoor tourism industry is to retain these participation numbers and hopefully increase them in the future.

Demographics of New Participants in the Outdoor Tourism Industry

As participation has increased in outdoor activities during the COVID-19 pandemic, the demographic of new participants in the outdoor tourism industry has changed in surprising ways. We can learn from these new demographic changes going forward by making it easier for them to enjoy outdoor recreation and tourism, as well as directly targeting them in our visitor retention plans. Among the new demographics in outdoor tourism throughout 2020, we saw:

  • Younger females who live in urban areas and those who are more ethnically diverse than previous participants.
  • Newer participants seek outdoor adventures that offer opportunities for social distancing and encourage them to exercise, stay healthy, take work breaks, and spend more time with their family/friends in a safe environment.
  • Newer participants whose primary motivation was finding outdoor activities such as walking, running, bicycling, hiking, camping, and traveling, somewhere that is within 10 miles of their residence and is easily accessible.

Retention of Participants in Outdoor Tourism

Having a better understanding of why new participants choose to explore the outdoor tourism industry during the COVID-19 pandemic allows us a better chance at the retention of these guests moving forward, it may also better inform our decisions in catering to a new demographic when using advertising services. An important study for the Outdoor Industry Association discovered that around 25% of new participants states that they did not want to continue participating in outdoor activities and tourism once the pandemic restrictions were lifted and life “went back to normal.” This number may continue to grow as more customers return to their lives before the COVID-19 pandemic.

In order to effectively encourage participation to increase once people return to their pre-pandemic lives, more studies must be done to fully understand why they are planning on stopping. In the meantime, those who work in the outdoor tourism industry should focus on offering opportunities for social distancing, considering quotas for entering a site in order to discourage oversaturation in high-use areas, and consider the effect that future pandemics may have on the industry.

The Effect of Policy Makers in the Outdoor Tourism Industry

The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the way of life for many Americans and has created the importance of decisions made by policy makers when it comes to their day-to-day lives. More Americans are now aware of how much a policy maker can change their daily routine as these policy makers also have the power to significantly improve outdoor tourism and reach many more Americans in our campaign to encourage outdoor recreation. Some ways that we can persuade policy makers in hopes that they will help us sustain the outdoor recreation economy include:

  • Ensure that outdoor recreation areas remain open and accessible while also remaining safe according to current CDC guidelines.
  • Seek advice from local private partners in advance of closing outdoor recreation areas in order to solicit support.
  • Offer tariff relief for businesses in the outdoor tourism industry.
  • Offer economic relief, such as stimulus packages, to the outdoor tourism industry.
  • Offer support to non-profit partners that support the outdoor tourism industry that primarily relies on federal funding.

The Effect on Employees in the Outdoor Tourism Industry

A key element to consider when studying how the COVID-19 pandemic has affected the outdoor tourism industry is the effect it has had, and will continue to have, on employees. Without proper and efficient staffing, the industry will be unable to meet the demands of guests, which may further discourage new guests from visiting. The industry should focus on increasing diversity and equity during their hiring process in order to attract new hires. There should also be an improvement in educational and advancement opportunities for both existing and new employees.

Another critical element to consider is prioritizing a work-life balance which has increasingly become important to the workforce throughout the country during the COVID-19 pandemic. Implementing a combination of flexible work arrangements, robust employee benefits (including mental health care), and financial compensation can retain both existing employees as well as attract new employees to the industry. The biggest barriers that have been identified in searching for qualified applicants are compensation options, benefits, and affordable housing near the job location.

What We Can Expect Looking Forward

The outdoor tourism industry produced $689 billion in economic output in 2020 and supports 4.3 million jobs. Approximately 53% of the American population has reported enjoying outdoor recreation activities and tourism. The COVID-19 pandemic has increased participation in outdoor tourism throughout 2020 and has continually grown since. This increase has demonstrated the need to emphasize the safety of outdoor spaces for recreation, exercise, vacationing, and social interactions. Now that vaccines and boosters have become relatively widely available and participants are turning back to indoor activities as their source of recreation, the outdoor tourism industry should focus on accessible activities that are enjoyed such as hiking, running on trails, glamping, birdwatching, and RV camping.

Join Advanced Outdoor Solutions & Explore the Effects of the COVID-19 Pandemic on Outdoor Tourism

At Advanced Outdoor Solutions, we are committed to analyzing data and surveys to identify trends in the outdoor tourism industry and better understand how to effectively serve the public while there is an increase in demand for outdoor recreation services. We study statistics and data to find more effective ways to market key demographics in order to retain participation in outdoor recreation. If you are interested in staying up to date on the latest trends in the industry, visit our website or stay connected with us on social media.

We also offer strategic and comprehensive Management, Marketing, and Accounting services for the outdoor tourism industry. To learn more about these services, contact us today at 1-800-579-9796 or fill out our Online Contact Form. We also offer 3rd party Property Management Services, including Human Resources, Staffing, Compliance, and Quality Assurance Assessments.