Special report on 'the new outdoor participant' shows more diverse demographics coming to camping

It’s pretty common knowledge by now that after a year of the COVID-19 pandemic, many people have changed their habits and turned to the outdoors in some way. Outdoor activities are seen as a safe haven for those looking to escape the daily grind and take a trip that involves quality time with their friends in line with the restrictions in their individual country. Camping has, of course, been at the forefront of that movement, particularly on the vacation and holiday side of things. Many, many people have either returned to the pastime or are trying it for the first time – but how much do we really know about these people? These new consumers who could potentially boost our industry for the long term – who are they? What makes them tick? What are their motivations? These questions have pressed hard on many companies in our industry, so much so that the USA’s Outdoor Industry Association decided to commission a survey with its long-time research partner NAXION to find out. They sought to answer four main questions:

1 Who are these new outdoor participants demographically, psychologically and behaviourally?

2 What were the barriers that kept them from engaging in the outdoors prior to the pandemic, and why are they choosing outdoor activities now?

3 As COVID-19 restrictions lift, how likely are these new participants to continue to engage in the outdoors?

4 What can the industry do to increase retention?

The report is fairly detailed, and we will dive deeper into it in our next issue of our online magazine, but here are some of the key findings. On the subject of demographic, the study found that these new entrants into the outdoors have a more diverse background that the norm. They are more likely to be female, they are younger, they are more ethnically diverse, live in more urban areas and are from a slightly lower income bracket than the average demographic in this market. The study also uncovered that people who participated in outdoor activities for the first time did so close to home and in activities with low barrier to entre (for example walking, hiking, running etc). What was encouraging to see was that camping accounted for about 10 per cent of the new activities people tried for the first time – the seventh highest behind walking, running, cycling, birdwatching, fishing and wildlife viewing. 

Another finding was that while increased screen time is normally detrimental to time spent outdoors, for these new participants a rise in screen time during the pandemic led them to also spend more time outdoors. The assumption is that this is to replace things that were not possible such as going to restaurants, bars, events etc.

One startling outcome from the study was that about one quarter of new participants questioned said they didn’t want to continue their outdoor activities. This brings the retention problem into focus. The OIA has some suggestions for how we can bring down this number:

1 Create more outdoor recreation opportunities close to people’s homes – parks and open areas.

2 Help new participants make their new activities more social when restrictions allow.

3 Develop programs and services with the specific goal of diversifying the participant base.

4 Develop strategies for encouraging people to start small (show them camping can be simple and easy and not stressful, for example).

5 Position outdoor recreation as an antidote to the mental health consequences caused by the pandemic, or a method to maintain focus on what is important in life.

Lastly, providing information also seems very important. Many of those surveyed said a lack of information on where to go, how to participate and whom to participate with could act as barriers to trying new outdoor activities. It’s clear that camping has some obvious barriers, such as cost (especially if a caravan, motorhome or other RV is involved) and also information being available. These are barriers that we can overcome by following some of the above steps and applying them to our specific industry. Camping is pretty simple at its heart and gives you the opportunity to tag on so many other activities – it ties into the point about creating outdoor recreation opportunities close to home really well – you’re making a home from home, often in a stunning outdoor location. 

To learn more about this report, subscribe to Camping Trade World – we’ll be taking an in-depth look at it and what it means for camping in the next issue of our free digital magazine.