The areas of outdoor equipment, outdoor retail and outdoor travel are moving closer together. Several premium outdoor brands have already acquired or partnered with outdoor guides and tour operators, the most recent examples are Norrøna Hvitserk Adventures and Arc’Teryx Trips or Jack Wolfskin’s Wolftrail, but let’s not forget the Mammut Alpine School that was founded as early as 1981. Established events such as the Fjällräven Classic or Polar series, the Cotopaxi Questival or the Arc’teryx Alpine Academies should also be mentioned here.
The idea of taking consumers outdoors is certainly not new the outdoor industry: REI, Barabbes and San Fo are examples of market-leading outdoor retailers who early on integrated outdoor experiences in their business model to engage and educate their customers. Taking them outdoors, letting them try out gear and be trained by guides was the non- virtual way to convert inspiration into sales, long before YouTube was born. And of course, since the very beginnings of the outdoor industry, brands have always worked with guides and tour operators, even on the smallest scale, to provide them with the right equipment, for equipment rentals or to achieve brand visibility in the best possible endemic environment.
The Outdoor Academy of Scandinavia (OAS), launched in 2002 by the Scandinavian Outdoor Group (SOG), the airline SAS and the national tourist boards of Sweden and Norway, is probably the most ambitious B2B gear and travel industry bridging initiative in Europe, each year welcoming 100 to 200 outdoor retailers, tour operators and journalists, and by now totaling up to more than 1,500 “outdoor ambassadors of Scandinavia graduates.” The objective of the program – explained by the initiators, Martin Kössler and Bo Hilleberg, who ran the SOG at the time – is “to unite all outdoor industry stakeholders to work together to make the cake bigger rather than fighting over market shares.” Bringing together competing brands such as Devold, Dale or Bergans of Norway, Fjällräven, Haglöfs, Primus, Optimus, Hilleberg, Helsport and many more, getting them to stand side by side, inviting customers together, sharing costs and acting together caused quite a stir and earned the SOG great respect for its efforts to invest jointly to grow all sides of the outdoor industry.
As early as in 1990, the Adventure Travel Trade Association (ATTA) was established in the U.S. to serve, network, educate, professionalize and promote the adventure travel industry with a long track record of cooperating with the U.S. Outdoor Industry Association. ATTA today has expanded to over 100 countries and brings together guide companies, tour operators and tourism boards as well as a growing number of outdoor gear companies, reaching some 1,300 members. Worth more than $700 billion (excluding Asia), the adventure travel market is likely to be the single biggest driver of outdoor gear purchases. As many outdoor retailers are struggling and SEM and SEO costs are increasing, finding new ways to inspire and distribute are becoming increasingly attractive.
Last summer, the ATTA membership gear category was introduced in Europe (at an annual fee of $700) and the first Adventure, Tourism & Travel Hub was held by the association at OutDoor by ISPO (supported by Visit Norway). A first so-called Gear Trail at the fall 2019 Adventure Travel World Summit (ATWS) in Gothenburg was also quite well received. The ATWS is the biggest event on a long list of ATTA meetings and activities organized around the world every year and was hosted by Visit Sweden in 2019. The gear supplier membership has since attracted a good number of new members and grown to 22, including Alfa Footwear, Cascade Designs, Craghoppers, Devold of Norway, Dometic, Eagle Creek, Icebreaker, Icebug, LifeStraw, Light My Fire, Osprey Packs, Royal Robbins and Thule.
According to Chris Doyle, the ATTA special advisor for global development, the members of ATTA annually reach over 50 million adventure travel tourists, but he also points out that they do not only help drive outdoor gear sales to consumers by educating their customers with gear and packing recommendations, they are also a great potential distribution channel. A member survey, conducted last year by ATTA (the ATTA “Gear Study” - download a short version for free here), concludes that more than 40 percent of ATTA’s tour operator members buy large volumes of equipment every third year to lend or for renting (including kayaks, tents, bikes, backpacks, drybags, stoves etc.) and more than 20 percent sell that gear directly or as part of their packages to their customers. Most of them also need gear to equip their staff and guides, and several tour operators are also used as testing and product development partners.
Currently, in times of the coronavirus pandemic, during which both the outdoor gear industry and the adventure travel industry are facing major setbacks, positive signals must be sent out to mitigate the long-term effects of this crisis. The time to exchange ideas and work together on new solutions and possibilities has perhaps never been better.
There are many ways to reach out to each other or strengthen and expand already existing relationships. ATTA’s Adventure, Tourism & Travel Hub was meant to return to this year’s OutDoor by ISPO in Munich. Because the show was canceled, the next hub will not happen until Ispo Munich 2021. European members of ATTA will then be invited to join workshops about pre-ordering procedures; gear suppliers and retailers will be welcome to attend workshops that explain the needs of guides, outdoor outfitters and tour operators to help bridging these two parallel worlds within the outdoor industry. As long as face-to-face meetings are not possible, there are also digital possibilities to meet up or get more information on the topic, such as ATTA’s educational webinar series entitled ”Meet the Experts”.