Adventures and Reflections from Cathy O'Dowd

Adventures & Reflections
from Cathy O'Dowd

Re-invention of Hiking panel at the 9th World Congress Snow & Mountain Tourism.

Recently, I gave the opening speech and then chaired the Re-invention of Hiking panel at the 9th World Congress Snow & Mountain Tourism, held in my home country of Andorra. Below you will find the video of my speech and the full slide-deck of the presentation.

In summary, I concluded that short-term trends are favouring the hiking industry, but long-terms trends are not.

The outdoor market is growing rapidly and hiking is both a gateway to more extreme sports, and the activity people return to with age. Research tells us hiking is good for physical and mental health. The core of the market is white, wealthy and older, and that demographic is growing.

However, the outdoor market is changing and the ways the industry markets itself needs to change as well. Traditional websites and outdoor media have less impact than before. Social media is on the rise, particularly outdoors stars on Instagram. Hiking clients want connectivity to share their experiences and they want enhances products, customised to niche interests.

Long-term trends are troubling. Urban living is relentlessly on the rise. Most outdoor lovers take to the activity when young and children now spend less and less time outdoors. Dogs get walked in the park more often than children do. Virtual reality has just begun to recreate the outdoors, providing the drama without the effort. Media portrays popular tourist areas as badly overcrowded – from Everest to Machu Picchu, and the real growth in numbers is doing environmental damage.

So how can the market effectively be expanded? At its heart the commericial hiking clientele are white and middle class. Language and cultural barriers lead to providers concentrating on the core market. Innovative initiatives are needed to break through those barriers. Demographics that are traditionally dismissed as ‘uninterested’ in hiking need to be included, primarily by finding ambassadors within those groups.

The hiking industry has huge potential for growth but it lacks a united vision and a customer focus. The industry needs to do more to promote their cause with a unified voice and to reach out to new demographics.

Much of the key research referenced in the speech came from a fascinating report produced by Sport England and the Outdoor Industries Association, exploring the outdoors sport, activity and recreation market in England.

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