THE RISING IMPORTANCE OF OUTDOOR RECREATION
Outdoor recreation is but one of the many multiple uses we have for our lands, public and private. Yet, its importance in Americans’ lives and the benefits it provides seem to be increasing faster than many other uses of our precious land. The rise in importance of outdoor recreation in Americans’ lives is one of the dramatic changes, as well as challenges, now occurring in the United States.
Greater demand for outdoor recreation opportunities across an increasingly diverse spectrum of social groups and interests creates greater responsibility to consider carefully the way we as providers of those opportunities do business. As some of the methods and ideas that worked well in the past become less effective or practical, there will be a mandate to become more innovative and creative. Some of the issues associated with steadily rising demand will be difficult to address. For example, as people travel more seeking the beauty of our public lands and recreation areas, how can crowding at some of the better known locations be avoided and some of the impact of increased use be shifted to lesser known areas of equal or nearly equal quality? Will new forms of access be required as the number seeking recreational experiences increases to levels that recreation managers have never before experienced?
Realization of the rapid rise in the importance of outdoor recreation and of the challenges this increased importance brings is relatively recent among public land management interests. Growing importance and growing numbers of visitors will surely require greater investments in maintenance and improvements as wear and tear take their toll. But what will be the sources of the capital that will be needed to finance maintenance and improvements? Finding financing and other such issues, while extremely important today, are likely to become even more critical in the future as demand growth and other changes continue into the 21st century.
There are numerous important reasons for accelerating development and planning strategies to provide high quality outdoor recreation opportunities more effectively and responsively. Some of the more prominent of these reasons were highlighted in a recent national study conducted by Roper Starch Worldwide for The Recreation Roundtable. (The Recreation Roundtable represents many of the largest recreation-oriented companies in our country. Outdoor Recreation in America has been published annually since 1994 for the Recreation Roundtable by Roper Starch Worldwide).
While there is abundant information on what people do to recreate in America, there is usually much less research-based information describing why Americans do what they do, how satisfied they are with the opportunities available to them, what barriers restrain them from additional recreation participation, and how they learn about recreation choices. The Recreation Roundtable study helps address these questions.
Consistent with other outdoor recreation research, the Roundtable study points out that in this society marked by rapidly advancing technology, growing stress and time constraints, Americans clearly value having time away from it all. Americans are placing an increasing emphasis on the leisure portions of their lives and on outdoor recreation as an important leisure outlet. Whether or not they choose to participate frequently in outdoor recreation, the activities they chose lead to positive individual and social benefits. Valuing health, fun, family togetherness and environmental education benefits, people understand the importance of outdoor recreation for individuals, families, and society as a whole.
The Benefits of Outdoor Recreation
Outdoor recreation clearly has a positive image, and providing high quality opportunities contributes importantly to society’s goals. Among the key findings of the Roper Starch report is that outdoor recreationists are more satisfied with the quality of their lives than are others among the public at large who do not participate. The same is also true of people for whom outdoor recreation was important when they were growing up. The evidence strongly suggests that participation in outdoor recreation at any time of life, but particularly as a child, leads people to have more satisfying and fulfilling lives. This concept of “quality of life” was measured including such factors as satisfaction with friends, career, health, fitness, and leisure time. But while quality of life is an interesting concept, it usually is viewed as too intangible to be useful in guiding planning efforts.
It is also productive to look at the top motivations for outdoor recreation, shown below:
Why We Spend Our Leisure Time Outdoors
Finally, outdoor recreation can increase appreciation for and understanding of our environment and provide opportunities for children to learn.
MARKETING OUTDOOR RECREATION
Perpetual motion, unicorns, and marketing outdoor recreation all have one thing in common — many people believe them to be fiction. Yet, the strong trends driving the increases in demand for outdoor recreation and its growing importance and value to our nation offer us an opportunity to consider seldom-used techniques for better delivering recreational services. We have: (a) solid research documenting market needs, (b) outstanding product, and (c) growing consumer demand. These factors all but require that we move toward managing for strong outdoor recreation “products” or “brands” to provide to committed consumers. For example, a product or brand could be defined as “Hiking,” “Fishing,” “Camping,” “Skiing,” and other activities. Thinking of outdoor recreation activities as products or brands, of course, suggests applying the principles of sound, private-sector marketing as an approach for meeting recreation demands and providing satisfying outdoor recreation products and services.
Let us consider a number of quotes from a prominent organization to understand better how a change in the approach to outdoor recreation policy and management might be viewed:
These comments came from the 1996 annual report of the Procter & Gamble Company, provider of some of the most successful consumer products in the world. P&G’s leading brands include Tide, Ivory, Mr. Clean, Pampers, Charmin, Cover Girl, Crest, Scope, Duncan Hines, and Pringles. They offer enlightened ideas and guidance for examining new ways of looking at public sector outdoor recreation management.
Have we fully explored our gold mine of recreation opportunities in this country and managed it as if it were consumer product brands? How could it be done? As federal agencies and others transition from providing outdoor recreation at no cost to the consumer to charging for access and services, we can expect to see many changes in the way we operate. Selling a product, even to an eager customer, is very different from giving it away. In an increasing-demand environment, additional funding or investment will be required for both the public and private sectors if we are to improve the quality and amount of opportunities in the years ahead.
As the level to slow-paced growth of public funding for outdoor recreation continues from year to year, management may need to reorient to a product’s mind-set where opportunities are priced, as opposed to free, if supply is to keep pace with demand. To make this transition from free to priced recreational opportunities and services, a number of considerations will be increasingly important:
• Up-to-date, credible data for evaluating decisions, alternatives, and their potential consequences.
• A focus of energy and resources on investing in those options where the returns will be greatest. Which opportunities are most valued by our customers relative to their costs?
• A careful transition from a mostly extractive resource emphasis on much of our public lands to a more balanced emphasis between commodities, recreation, and ecosystem health.
• Adequate staffing by employees with appropriate skills and an improved organizational structure for effectively providing high-quality recreation opportunities. For example, moving toward pricing and products will require people with marketing skills, grown or acquired. Appropriately building the right mix of skills will be particularly important in government where marketing and customer service have not historically been widely practiced.
• Continue to conduct (and even accelerate) research to define clearly what people want in their outdoor recreation experience and how satisfied they are with what they experience. This practice is fundamental in the commercial world of building brand loyalty.
• Improve information and educational materials (printed literature, on-site signage, etc.) for delivering quality customer service and for improving product development as technology yields new recreation equipment.
• Most importantly, establish partnerships with others with knowledge and expertise in areas we in government do not have.
The public and private sectors and non-government organizations (NGOs) can be effective partners in meeting the nation’s recreation needs. Such partnerships, together with a branding/marketing approach and full sharing of knowledge, technology, and financing, can provide stronger underpinnings for successful market expansion. To the extent the public sector can improve the opportunities for recreation, private sector partners will benefit as well. And the members of NGOs, customers to us all, benefit as well with superior experiences.
Partners can include a number of different interests:
WHERE WE GO FROM HERE
To evaluate any new plan, we must be able to measure its results. Proper monitoring of opportunity accessibility and visitor satisfaction will be essential to managing our brands effectively and putting our investments in the most appropriate areas. As we near the 21st century and a new way of providing outdoor opportunities, there will be a need for awareness of a number of emerging concerns.
Federal funding of recreation opportunities will increasingly be supplemented by user fees and partnership dollars to maintain existing infrastructure and improve customer experiences. As additional sources are developed, however, appropriations will have to be maintained and not offset by the newly acquired financing.
There is an opportunity to build environmental education into outdoor recreation experiences. The growing market of users can be given the opportunity to learn more about our natural resources and the challenge of keeping them healthy. Research by Forest Service outdoor recreation scientists has continued to show that recreationists not only seek the fun and relaxation outdoor settings offer, they also want to learn. Based on the 1994-95 National Survey on Recreation and the Environment, it was found that viewing- and learning-oriented activities, such as visiting historic sites, viewing wildlife, and sightseeing, are among the most popular of recreational pursuits (see Chapter V of this book).
Volunteerism is increasingly an opportunity for improving outdoor recreation opportunities. Volunteerism directed toward maintaining and improving recreation areas can be viewed as an additional resource to accomplish the goals mentioned above, even though it is actually in-kind services.
Monitoring the level of visitation at the more popular locations will help by alerting managers of potential overloads that can lessen outdoor experiences.
Affordable and accessible opportunities for urban and underprivileged youth will be important in the future for improving the quality of their lives.
There is no single constituency for the outdoor recreation experience since activities vary so greatly and the agendas of the various user groups range across a broad spectrum of interests. But we do know that outdoor recreation provides unique social and economic benefits. If it is well marketed and managed for the benefit of current and future generations, it will create an annuity and legacy of great value to the American people for as far into the future as we can see.
Outdoor Recreation in American Life:
A National Assessment of Demand and Supply Trends
H. Ken Cordell, Principle Investigator
For Additional Information:
USFS Southern Research Station
Gary Green, Tele: (706) 559-4269 firstname.lastname@example.org