Written June/July 2020
2020 has been one of the most difficult times for many of us in living memory, with it being mandatory to stay at home, social distance, losing jobs or being placed on furlough. With different governments tackling the global Covid-19 Pandemic with different approaches, all with different outcomes.
So where does that leave the adventure and travel industries?
The answer - in tatters.
Travel, whilst in some areas of the world are starting to open up, who knows what could happen, borders could close at any given moment. As demonstrated recently in Spain, leaving people stranded and/or with compulsory quarantine on return, travel companies are already on their knees unable to pay out, for yet another run of refunds.
Back in March, (which, seems like years ago now and in a different time period) all the outdoor activity providers, climbing centres, school expeditions and everything else in between were either cancelled or closed. Outdoor professionals, many of whom are freelancers, had no guarantee of being paid, as it happens, many of whom weren’t and of course many other industries were affected similarly, but let’s focus on the outdoor industry.
For myself, this included two international expeditions, several talks and freelance work with a variety of different centres up to the end of September 2020, all being cancelled. It also delayed the launching of, 'RM Adventures', the courses and adventures that we had been planning.
I’ve been incredibly lucky and at a huge advantage, almost privileged, to have found other work. Throughout the majority of lockdown and coming out of lockdown, I’ve been working as a delivery driver. Of course, many people have been incredibly unlucky losing their jobs, entire companies shutting down to never open their doors again. We all know of a business or several that have fallen this way. Everyone has been affected in some way and much of it negative.
To add to this outdoor instructors, generally speaking, are not good at being stuck inside, I think it comes with the nature of the job. While yes, getting out for a local walk, cycle and run was great it’s not the same as climbing a summit on a remote mountain top, overlanding overseas or ' insert any extreme sport' here. The general conclusion has been to keep safe, it was necessary and still will be with the coming of winter.
Where does this leave us with lockdown restrictions being lifted here in England?
More people than ever seem to be heading to hills, last weekend I headed out with Lisa to wild camp in the Okement Valley, on the North Moor of Dartmoor, our first outing. We counted 11 groups wild camping across the entire valley. I’ve never seen this many people out wild camping, even in Ten Tors season, while yes, the groups would be much bigger, there would only be maybe 2 or 3 groups in the valley at the same time.
The following morning, there was a different behaviour in the animals. As we were packing down and gearing up for a small walk, a herd of cows approached us, coming up to our tent. They all then gathered around the tent 'sticking to strict social distance guidelines of 2 metres', for a while, before gaining confidence - coming closer to around a metre away. Now cows are curious creatures, but it took a lot of effort to get them to move on, something that I’ve never encountered before. Usually a walk towards them and they move off, not this time 10 minutes of arm waving and shouting before they ran, luckily for us in the opposite direction. (The weekend before, a lady had been trampled and ended up in Plymouth hospital, many others have reported similar encounters). My theory;- due to a lack of interaction with humans, cows and other animals have become less accustom to seeing people and now have a sense of being encroached on again. That’s just my theory and I am by no means and animal behaviourist.
What do you think and have you experienced this?
What does all of this mean?
It seems pretty much all doom and gloom, right? Nobody can predict what is going to happen from one day to the next. Companies are going under across the board, I’ve even heard of some freelancers, leaving the profession for more stability, which is completely understandable.
The outdoor industry is beginning to start back up, with some climbing centres now opening, while many bigger centres especially those with accommodation remaining closed for the rest of the year. While it’s been terrible for the outdoor industry, from my understanding and with exploring outdoors more, myself, there has been a new found love and rekindled fire, for the outdoors. Like the cows, our behaviours have changed, we’ve been yearning to be outdoors and explore our own country, not wanting to risk flying overseas. And it’s not just the outdoor professionals, hobbyists and amateurs that have been wanting to be outside in these unprecedented times.
It seems that everyone has a new found love for the outdoors. This comes with a huge implications - some good and some not so good. While this year is looking to be nowhere near as busy for most outdoor professionals. There is possibility that more people are going to be looking for outdoor professionals, to take them in to the hills, introduce them to climbing and other sport. This could be a major boost for the outdoor industry. But when could this come to fruition? Again who knows, a month down the line or are we looking at next year for a huge surge in people? Or nothing at all? This right here is the problem that many companies are facing, they just don’t know when there could be a local lockdown, plus additional risk assessments and new laws which change regularly.
There is another option here, Covid-19 has not gone away, so could we see a wave of spikes. A national lockdown followed by local lockdowns with a steady increase of cases to a point that another national lockdown is inevitable. With the process repeating for not months but maybe a couple of years.
For some small outdoor companies, sole traders and freelancers they have been able to use this time, to upgrade websites, update content and come up with new ideas for course and how they can engage their clients. Many have used the lockdown to become creative using online courses.
Over the last few years there has been more research about the benefits of being outdoors, for our mental and physical health. We’ve all just experienced what it’s like to not have access to outdoors spaces, has this given us a mind check of sorts, on how we appreciate the outdoors and have taken it for granted? This is where geography comes in to play, where we live in the UK matters. If you are out in the countryside miles away from anyone then it makes sense that you would naturally be outside quite a bit more, than say someone else living in inner city London were it's more difficult to get to natural green space.
How we strive to be in nature?
This is a thought, I’ve seen a huge change in my myself. Having not suffered with hay fever for 15 years. I suddenly started having signs of it again some days quite severally.
With all this there are some other side effects, increased footfall on the mountains like we’ve seen in Snowdonia. The environmental impact of this could be severe and similar increase in footfall across all the national parks, along with more people driving long distances to reach these and other beauty spots. With this, however, more people seem to not be aware of 'Leave no Trace' ethics, leading to an increase amount of rubbish across all area. It is simply, if you take food/drink with you, take the rubbish home. but this message is something that is uncommon to many people. Especially if you've lived in a city your whole life and never really ventured outside of the urban area this concept might be unknown. Not to say that it's just people who live cities that are causing this increase in rubbish. There could a general lack of understanding and education of it's impact across the board that we are as outdoor professionals are completely unaware.
My final thoughts
I personally think that the outdoor industry is going to be in difficult and turbulent waters for the immediate future. Personally, I am looking to the season of 2021 and beyond, where I am positive we shall see a resurgence of the outdoor industry. A safe vaccine will certainly help with this improvement and without one or herd immunity, if it’s effective, this will stifle a huge resurgence with a constant risk over all our heads. But and this is a big but. I also believe with a change of mindset, increased awareness of how the outdoors impact on our lives, the outdoor industry is going increase massively.
This is only my thoughts, hence the name, on how the situation might pan out. I don’t have any of the answers, this is what, I’ve observed over the pandemic, as someone who was about to enter the outdoor industry as a full time freelancer.
How do you think it will pan out? I am interested to hear your opinions on this, leave your comments below.
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