On March 31, 2021, the Outdoor Industry Association (OIA) released exclusive insights about Americans’ engagement in outdoor activities amid the COVID-19 pandemic. The special report examines demographics and psychographics of the new outdoor participant — defined as someone who participated in an outdoor activity for the first time during the pandemic or after a significant lapse.

In response to member requests, OIA commissioned the one-time special report from research partner NAXION. The report reveals that these new participants are more likely to be female, younger, living in an urban area and slightly more ethnically diverse than existing participants. These new participants primarily sought socially distanced outdoor activities in order to spend time with loved ones safely, to exercise, stay healthy or to reduce screen-time fatigue. The report also found that new participants are largely motivated by outdoor recreation opportunities with low barriers to entry that are available and accessible within 10 miles of their homes, including walking, running, biking and hiking.

“This one-of-a-kind report further shows the pandemic has brought in new participants as well as some new behaviors. Time outside is an antidote to the stress of the pandemic and can be a continued source of fun, joy, wonder, and a boost to our mental and physical health. The outdoor industry and its partners can serve a growing and changing need for outdoor recreation by championing funding and policies – such as 30×30 conservation initiatives, the ‘Parks, Jobs and Equity Act’ and the ‘Great American Outdoors Act’ – that provide more opportunities for all to experience close-to-home recreation and help everyone recreate responsibly,” said Lise Aangeenbrug, executive director of Outdoor Industry Association.

New participants found the outdoors to be a safe and accessible way to spend time with friends and family amid tight pandemic restrictions that limited indoor gatherings. Additionally, people cited that the pandemic’s impact has inspired them to re-evaluate priorities, seeking positive life changes and reducing screen time.

“Initial findings of the special new participant report show strong overall increases in outdoor recreation by a slightly more demographically and socioeconomically diverse participant base. This highlights the need to ensure equitable access to the outdoors for all. We can do this by helping to create programming, policy and content around close-to-home recreation and geared toward this broader, more diverse audience of new outdoor participants,” said Stephanie Maez, managing director at the Outdoor Foundation.

“Most new participants hold a strong intent to continue their outdoor pursuits while about 25 percent say that travel, resuming other activities and family demands will challenge their free time and ability to continue to recreate as they currently do. Now is the time to embrace new participants and develop programming for them to continue their outdoor pursuits.”

The special report highlights the following opportunities to increase retention of new outdoor participants:

  • Create more outdoor recreation opportunities close to home: Parks and open areas near where people live are a crucial part of growing participation. The pandemic has shown that there is a demand for close-to-home outdoor recreation opportunities.
  • Invest in programming that engages families in the outdoors.
  • Help new participants make their activities more social as restrictions lift.
  • Develop programs and services with the specific goal of diversifying the participant base.
  • Develop strategies for encouraging people to start with activities such as walking, running, hiking and birdwatching, which have relatively low barriers to entry.
  • Position outdoor recreation as:
    • an antidote to the mental health consequences of the pandemic.
    • a way to get out from behind the screens that have dominated pandemic life.
    • a method to maintain the focus on what is important in life.

Initial research from the Outdoor Foundation Annual Outdoor Participation report reflects data gathered during the 2020, identifying tremendous increases in outdoor participation across all activities including hiking, camping and fishing amid the pandemic. The full 2020 Outdoor Foundation Annual Participation Report will be released this Summer.

Main image: pexels.com/@aplinsky


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