As the weather warms, there are plenty of opportunities to encourage the public to be active outdoors, says Andrew Denton, CEO of the Outdoor Industries Association (OIA)…
We now appear to be in limbo – no Brexit, no deal, no real authority in a minority government, no opportunity for a 1922 no confidence vote this year – interesting times. I gave a short summary of the Brexit position at the recent OIA Conference, I think we are no clearer now than then, and whilst the breathing space is welcomed by many as an alternative to a hard ‘crash out’, for many business and individuals alike the need for an end to uncertainty is outweighing the need for a strong deal exit. I suspect this will stretch long into the summer recess now, with less of a cliff edge, and I will be surprised if anything gets agreed for some time. The future is more uncertain than ever politically – let’s hope it encourages lots of people to holiday in the UK and buy a lot of outdoor gear!
Certainly, this Easter showed what a stunning country we have when the weather plays its part. I was over in North Wales with the family, having landed the day before from a ski tour in Arctic Norway – what a contrast to the sunshine bathing the UK! We had an amazing weekend of walking, biking and sea sports, with great local food and a very warm welcome – no wonder we love the outdoors in the UK.
There is still plenty to go at for us here though – in Scandinavia, where I had just arrived from, the spend per head of population on outdoor gear is over three times that of the UK. Despite it being dark half the year, there is a deep long-held culture of being active outdoors as a family. I skied into one hut to sit at the dinner table with an eight-year-old lad, he had climbed the second highest mountain in Norway on light cross-country skis, taking nearly six hours, and his family had carried up his downhill slalom skis which he then descended with at high speed – what an achievement for someone so young!
Our mission at the OIA is to increase the awareness and engagement for the outdoor recreation industries to try and foster that love of the outdoors across the whole of the UK, facilitating more and more people to holiday here, to make the most of the amazing resources we have. If we can even start to approach those Scandinavian participation numbers, the trade will benefit enormously.
I mentioned in the last issue that one of our projects to help increase awareness is to work with Tom Watson MP, the Deputy Leader of the Labour Party. Tom turned 50 and weighed 22 stone, he was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes and was in one of the most stressful jobs in the world. After a year of healthy eating and exercise he has turned that around and in 2019 we have inspired him to participate in ‘Toms Adventures 4 health’ – a series of four outdoor challenges that anyone with a bit of preparation could do – to promote how much happier a life outdoors can be.
We are hoping to promote the project with the Daily Mail and on BBC Breakfast Time over the year as Tom walks, rides, swims and paddles his way across the UK promoting an outdoor life for everyone. Keep your eyes peeled and pass on any social media you see – it is grassroots events like this that will help promote the concept of getting active outdoors for everyone and is another tiny step forward in our mission.
At the other end of the mission for the OIA this spring was our annual Conference. Up to 200 delegates from the most senior retailers, brands and industry leaders meeting to talk, listen and enjoy 24 hours of keynotes, workshops and networking. If you’ve not attended before, please do consider it. Once again, this year we ran free places for independent retailers with low take up – it’s really worthwhile reaching outside the box and trying a new approach sometimes, and the OIA Conference can really help there. Join us at the next Conference, at the Outdoor Trade Show (OTS) this summer in Manchester or at one of our other forums and events – we are here for you so join us and tell us how we can help.