1. Environmental Sustainability | 2. Safety First | 3. Selling Online | 4. Standing Out
Travelers are on the hunt for experiences that let them connect with the great outdoors. Whether it’s going for a scenic hike, rafting whitewater rapids, ziplining through a lush jungle, paragliding over stunning vistas, or racing exotic cars on the blacktop, the outdoor activity category is on the rise. Outdoor experiences saw a 56% growth from 2017 to 2018. The category is poised to keep growing for the foreseeable future as consumers continue to be drawn to these unique outdoor adventures.
To understand how operators are handling the growth in this category, we set out to find the recipe for a successful outdoor activity business. We interviewed a number of operators who are flourishing. We talked about the ways they broke into the industry, their relationship with the environment, the benefits of selling their activities online, and how they get noticed in a crowded field.
As expected, these operators care deeply about their environments and about building a business that is sustainable in every sense of the word. They are all driven by a dedication to giving travelers a unique experience that imparts a lasting bond with the natural world, leaving customers with a memory they’ll never forget.
1. To be successful in the outdoor activity category, you must respect and care for your environment
Many travelers are thinking about the way their travel affects the environment and how they can plan their trips in an eco-conscious manner. One report found that 87% of respondents indicated they want to travel sustainably. Furthermore, 60% of those surveyed said “being impressed by natural sights during their own travels” was a factor that inspired their desire to travel sustainably.
Building an environmentally-friendly business not only ensures happy customers today, but sets a strong foundation for a business that will last, says Laura Cook, Sales Manager at Southern Discoveries—an outdoor activity company based in New Zealand. “We believe the most important practice of an outdoor activity tour is that they’re committed to sustainability in the area they operate within,” she said.
“We’re so in love with our backyard of Fiordland and Otago and therefore sustainability plays an integral role in all of the decisions we make. We need to ensure these beautiful areas are in the best condition they can be for generations to come.”
This sentiment was echoed by James Taylor, Director of Marketing and Sales at Central American Tours. “The best practice is sustainable tourism. As we enjoy the best of Costa Rica on any of our outdoor experiences, it is important that we learn, appreciate, and be conscious of the impact we have in every destination we visit. This includes the use of recycling initiatives but also the way we care about our environment,” he said.
Central American Tours is a perfect example of how sustainability can help a business last for decades. Taylor said that the company has been around long enough to see Costa Rica go from a relatively hidden gem to a burgeoning tourist destination thanks to the country’s natural beauty. “Our company started in 1972 when Costa was not even considered a destination for vacationers. As the years have passed, and infrastructure has grown, the best of our country is still our outdoor experiences.”
Even a company that offers travelers a different kind of outdoor experience, like the ability to drive high-end cars in beautiful locations, is laser-focused on sustainability. When asked what the number one best practice for outdoor activities is, Chris Vaughn of Scenic Rush Driving Experiences in Vancouver, said: “Leaving no ‘footprint’ behind. Enjoy the great outdoors but leave the natural surroundings as you found them.”
At the end of the day, travelers are increasingly seeking out companies that respect the environment—and are avoiding those that don’t. As an outdoor experience provider, you’re under even more scrutiny to conserve the natural surroundings in your area. Showcasing to travelers that this is important to you not only betters your chance of securing their booking (and positive reviews), but also sets your business up for prolonged success.
2. Highly trained guides and clear safety protocols will lead to more relaxed, at-ease guests that enjoy the experience more
Safety is key in nearly every travel business, but it’s especially so for outdoor activity operators—who need to account for Mother Nature and/or are putting customers in situations they aren’t used to. With more and more travelers heading outdoors for unique experiences, it’s crucial that your business follows proper safety protocols.
Jason Rush, Director of Operations at Liquid Alaska Tours, a glacier guiding company, said that they prioritize safety and it results in a better overall experience for their guests. “The safety of our guests and guides is paramount! We invest heavily into proprietary rescue training and require all our guides to complete a certified Wilderness First Responder course prior to starting employment,” he said. “Our approach to safety leads to confident guides who inspire security in our guests.”
Rush went on to detail the protocols they follow to create a safe environment. “We have found great success by directly involving guests in our safety briefings and skills review. By creating a two-way active environment between our guides and guests, we are able to create a trusting environment where rapport is quickly established,” he said. He went on to say that building a trusting setting simultaneously puts guests at ease and allows them to understand the safety risks.
The idea of building your guests’ confidence by highlighting your employees’ expertise and experience was something that Lisa Hutchins, Daily Manager at Airtime Paragliding also hit upon. “It’s important to guests to know that we value safety above all else. We make it clear from the start that our pilots are highly experienced, and that their decision (based on their experience) is always final.” Guests that can rest easy knowing they are in capable hands will be more relaxed and able to enjoy the beauty around them.
3. The hunt for outdoor adventures often begins on the internet—sell tours online to reach a wider audience