The Outdoor Industries Association (OIA) of the U.K. held a successful annual meeting and convention earlier this week in the middle of the Lake District. Helen Grant, the U.K. minister for sport and tourism, who was born in the region, agreed to attend the meeting but could not make any promises about future policies in favor of the outdoor sector pending a likely change of government after the general parliamentary elections of May 7.
Anyhow, the OIA is certain to have a voice in the future allocation of government funds for the promotion of sports participation. After one and half years of intense lobbying, the energetic chief executive of the OIA, Andrew Denton, has been appointed to co-chair a working group on outdoor recreation, representing about 15 different organizations, to advise Grant's successor on future policies intended to get more people active outdoor.
Denton plans to meet the new minister on June 9 to present a unique report on outdoor sports and recreation which indicates that consumer spending in the sector in the U.K., currently estimated at around £3.5 billion (€4.8bn-$5.2bn) a year, could increase 2.45 times and reach a level similar to that of Scandinavia on a per capita basis by implementing appropriate policies. The report is partly intended to help the outdoor industry to take the best possible decisions for their strategic development.
The OIA hopes that the report will also lead the sector to obtain a large chunk of the £600,000 (€827,369-$892,996) budget already set aside by the government for sports promotion over a four-year period through its specialized agency, Sport England. The agency has already conducted a successful campaign to encourage cycling and is now spending £10 million (€13.8m-$14.9m) to get more women to practice sports - a subject that we discussed at the OIA convention in presenting the key findings of our “Women & Sports” study.
Sport England has largely financed the OIA report, which will be published after the elections and discussed during the summer at ten regional three-hour seminars involving stakeholders all over the country. Like our study of the women's sports market, which has led us to define six different types of sports women, the OIA report will discuss eight types of outdoor enthusiasts, based on their motivations and other criteria. The biggest segment is the “Explorer,” representing one-third of the outdoor population.
The report has established a broad definition of outdoor recreation activities that includes sports fishing, snow sports and a variety of open-water sports in addition to hiking, climbing, camping, etc., but not golf. It has taken nine months to compile, involving half-hour interviews with more than 11,000 individuals. It features a list of 9,642 providers of outdoor-related services throughout the U.K., pointing to the areas that need improvement.
Under Denton, who has now been made full-time chief executive, the OIA has grown in the past four years from 11 members to 170, representing over 200 brands. The growing membership will enable it to become profitable this year, after improving from a loss of £122,000 (€168,221-$181,627) in 2011 to marginal losses in the past two years. Major synergies have been reached by working through a specialized events and public relations agency, Media Contact Services (MCS), which is also the organizer of the Outdoor Trade Show (OTS) in Stoneleigh Park, in Warwickshire.
MCS organized the OIA convention earlier this week and will also take charge of the European Outdoor Summit, which will be held in Sheffield, Yorkshire, on Oct. 14-15. Andy Rubin, chairman of Pentland Brands, will be among the speakers. Ispo, W.L. Gore and Berghaus will act as sponsors. By hosting the next EOS, the OIA is helping Sheffield to rebrand itself as an “outdoor city” because of local funding of many outdoor activities in the area.
Due to the growing resonance of the OIA's initiatives in the industry, a record of 260 delegates attended the national OIA convention this week. Some were only able to spend one day at the two-day conference. The organizers had to turn down many applications because of the limited capacity of the historical Low Wood Bay Hotel in Windermere, where the event was held again this year. They had to move chairs from one room to another for the break-out sessions.
The North Face and many other outdoor companies have their U.K. offices in the Engllish Lake District, partly because 50 specialty outdoor shops operate in the area including major names such as George Fisher in Keswick and Gaynor Sports in Ambleside. The region of Cumbria has applied to get the England Lake DistrictNational Park to be recognized next year by Unesco as a World Heritage Site, but it will not accommodate the OIA convention again next year because of the limited space available for the delegates.
In fact, the OIA convention will move next year to Harrogate, the town in Yorkshire that used to host the OTS fair. The OIA hopes to attract 300 delegates to the event.