What is the future role of technology in the Outdoor Adventure Sector?
Written by Eoghan McCarthy
2020 has been a challenging year for the outdoor adventure and tourism sector. A year of highs and lows just like many other industries. Luckily a portion of the sector benefited from incredible domestic demand in the summer that was quite overwhelming. Akin to 6 months of business being conducted in mere weeks… The Staycation Boom. Reviewing the season and speaking with our colleagues this has proven to be the case across the globe with the UK, Europe and the US all reporting similar trends.
For Ballyhass we were stretched to our limit with demand. In a previous company statement, I was quoted saying “we now know the outdoors cannot be taken for granted” I think the incredible demand the industry had in the staycation rush of 2020 is testament to that. The future of work looks to be driving people outdoors, driving people to appreciate being outside and the simple benefits of spending time outdoors are becoming evident.
So how did our sector embrace technology in 2020? Bear in mind our industry tends to be technology adverse at the best of times. Throughout our marketing, you will often hear us say reduce your screen time, spend more time outdoors, help your digital fatigue. We have even run entire campaigns based on reduced screen time.
Like all industries in 2020, we adopted technology and came together at the height of the pandemic to discuss, share ideas, strategies, and comforting words to help us come out the other side stronger than ever.
Some around the world innovated, and true to our industries resilient and flexible nature online adventure tour solutions presented themselves. Seminars were being held on how best to run a virtual tour, how to market them and how to profit from them. Others looked at the team building sector and started offering zoom team building parties for companies
We at Ballyhass for the first time ever were able to run our staff training online and hold weekly town hall meetings which our entire staffing body across two sites attended regularly. We broke up into smaller brainstorming groups to come up with better ways of running our operations and designing our products. I will be forever grateful to our staff for coming on and giving their time and enthusiasm on those projects and hope this digital way of work will continue well into the future.
So after taking the first step into a more digital work arena, how can we now expand these technology solutions out further to benefit the whole industry.
We have seen the need to increase our digital footprint and review, update and in some cases completely redesign our digital processes. I think SaaS ‘Software as a Service’ will be a huge benefit to the industry to give small providers a stepping stone onto the digital ladder with services like, booking engines, health and safety, email marketing, Payroll, Rostering, waivers are all using subscription models to give everyone an entry point to software capability that would have been beyond their budget or technical expertise to develop and administer. While many of the common services are pretty much dialled, processes like activity bookings still have a long way to go to deal with the complexities of group sizes, demands, weather conditions, timings and mixed abilities that our industry deals with on a daily basis.
The larger players in the industry are taking cues and following the latest trends from amusement parks when adopting technology. On a trip to Bear Grylls Adventure in Birmingham I was amazed to see the centre spend £250,000 on digital wrist bands. Customers received these on check-in and were buzzed when their activity was to start. They opened an individual locker, checked them in with their instructors and even allowed them to assign a credit card so they could pay for food and beers throughout their day. (no beers if they still had activities yet to take part in… of course!)
According to the developers CTI Digital “A wallet-free payment solution for use at the park that blurred the lines between online and offline technology.”
Blurring the lines between online and offline technology I think will be the key to the future of technology in the outdoors. Look at apps like Spyglass that are using Augmented reality to bring technology into outdoor learning. Participants can use their devices to project digital compasses and waypoints onto the natural environment around them. Other apps like Star Chart allows you to look through your device and see the position and names of the stars above you no matter where you are in the world.
Technology is ingrained into our very lives. We are seeing the first digitally native generation come through our centres and I think trying to completely eliminate devices from those young people is not only futile but maybe foolish also. We are on the frontlines of outdoor education. We are on a mission to get our communities more active outdoors. We want to introduce as many people to the outdoors as we can. We want to do this through offering rewarding introductory outdoor experiences that are accessible, affordable and educational. We want to be the first step that our customers take towards their new outdoor lifestyles. We must look at ways of embracing technology to support our goals and not create a world where it is technology vs outdoor experiences.
I see a world where people can truly conquer their fears, first by donning a virtual reality helmet to get a sense of what the height activities are like and then by coming on site to conquer it for real. I see a world where augmented reality is showing you your speed as you travel across a zipline while pointing out the names of the wildlife and fauna that is around you. What about seeing the calculations of the height and angle of the rock climbing wall that you are about to conquer?
This may seem far-fetched but the technology is there. It’s time for our industry to be brave and start to utilize solutions in the delivery of our experiences and not just in our operations.
We predict that shared experiences can be enhanced through technology. That the trends that theme parks are seeing will drift down to outdoor education; Augmented reality, Virtual reality, Personalised shared experiences, AI, and quite possibly the gamification of our experiences will be inevitable in our industry in the very near future.
Watch out for Ballyhass 2.0…