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Bending Branches

Outdoor Recreation in a Recession

By Kevin Callan

Outdoor recreation and an economic recession go together like Baileys Irish Cream and your morning camp coffee. It's a historic fact, when a recession hits, outdoor pursuits increase dramatically. And lately I've seen a lot in the media proving that, in a time of economic crisis and financial uncertainty, the camping industry stands poised for growth. In Ontario alone, yurts in provincial parks are booked solid; some parks have now opened up Winter RV campsites, and the number one outdoor sports on the rise right now is snowshoe jogging.

"When times are tough, we get busy." says Jeremy Dickson owner of Canoe Canada Outfitters in Atikokan, Ontario. "The wilderness experiences we provide our customers are the perfect reprieve to a slumping economy." And Jeremy is not alone, according to a report prepared by the Outdoor Industry Association, the relatively inexpensive and convenient outdoor vacation has remained appealing to outdoor shoppers throughout the year. The trend points to outdoor vacations being the industry's bright spot as consumers look to the outdoors as an escape from the pressures of daily life.

For more proof, here's a report I was sent by Gord Baker of Algonquin Outfitters in Ontario, Canada:

"While early predictors show evidence of a decline in specific outdoor channels starting in November 2008, outdoor industry sales have remained fairly robust since the nation officially entered a recession in December 2007; posting a healthy 9.6% increase overall and outpacing traditional retail markets."
According to the report, the relatively inexpensive and convenient outdoor vacation has remained appealing to core outdoor shoppers throughout the year. Internet sales showed a robust 21.6% growth since December 2007 and core chain and specialty stores remained healthy, growing at 10.0% and 4.7% respectively. All core outdoor stores were up 6% in total unit sales and 9% in dollar sales year to date. In YTD dollars, all equipment increased 10%, equipment accessories 11%, apparel 9% and footwear 4%.

According to trendspotter and OIA Rendezvous keynote speaker Marian Salzman, the only businesses in which she would consider investing right now are soup and camping. Her reasoning is that Americans will be looking to escape the long-term economic turmoil and constant barrage of the media by returning to low-cost, simple activities that involve the entire family. If this prediction holds true, as it has in the past, businesses that support cycling, camping, hiking, fishing and paddling activities may be very well positioned for several years.

Ontario Tourism has recognized this trend and responded with a campaign showcasing the diversity of the province's four season outdoor experiences. At the center of the campaign is their complimentary Great Ontario Outdoor Adventure Calendar. The calendar provides a daily dose of visual stimulation and motivation to get outdoors. It contains a vibrant mix of action and landscape photography, inspirational artwork by the Group of Seven and dozens of outdoor event listings. Used in combination with the Great Ontario Outdoor Adventure website (www.ontariotravel.net/outdoor), no weekend will be wasted indoors again.

The free calendar can be ordered on the Ontario Tourism website, which also contains the details on the Great Ontario Outdoor Adventure of a Lifetime contest. Running until May 17, 2009, the contest will give one lucky adventurer and three guests a chance to Win Seven Days on Superior's North Shore. The seemingly endless prize package contains round trip airfare to Sault Ste Marie, six nights accommodation, a float plane tour to a wilderness lodge, wildlife viewing in Canada's largest game preserve, a paddling adventure on Lake Superior as well as both a Nikon and Mountain Equipment Co-op prize pack. With an approximate value of $20,000, this contest will truly provide a trip of a lifetime in the face of our economic turmoil.

To enter and for full contest details visit: www.ontariotravel.net/outdoor

Check out Kevin Callan's web site: kevincallan.com


Kevin Callan is the author of 11 books including his latest "Wilderness Pleasures" and "The Happy Camper." A regular keynote speaker at major North American canoeing and camping expos for over 20 years, he has received three National Magazine Awards and four film awards, including top award at the prestigious Waterwalker Film Festival. Callan lives in Peterborough, Ontario, birthplace of the modern-day canoe.


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