It’s July of 2022, and the busy season is well underway. Outfitters have completed their busiest weekend of the summer- 4th of July. Despite high anticipation for the 2022 season after record-breaking years in 2021, many members are reporting lower numbers than 2021. To give you a glimpse of the industry, we asked a handful of outfitters how their season is going. We won’t have a full picture of the 2021-2022 comparison until we gather results for our annual trends survey in the fall, but we hope this will allow outfitters to get a quick view of what we’re seeing so far for 2022.
Travel Industry Trends
It can be helpful to put outfitter results in context within the wider travel industry, so we have been analyzing some consumer sentiment reports. The Deloitte Insights 2022 Summer Travel Survey, released at the end of May, shows travelers’ planned participation in outdoor adventure activities remains the same as 2021. However, there is an increased focus on price, and this has even surpassed COVID-19 concerns.
Key takeaways from Deloitte Report:
- Lodging bookings are up.
- Comfort with flying is up; there are still more travelers driving than flying but the gap is smaller than 2021.
- With costs rising due to inflation, prices are a higher concern than COVID-19 this year.
It’s important to remember that consumer intentions do not always align with outcomes. Between the publishing of this report and mid-July, the average gas prices have risen 15 cents per gallon, to $4.64. We’ve also seen a rise in flight delays and cancellations due to staff shortages.
Consistent with these concerns, in their June traveler sentiment survey, Destination Analysts found that 49.5% of American travelers reported high travel prices have kept them from traveling in the past month, jumping nearly 8-points compared to May.
Outfitter Industry Trends
Klint Rudolph of The Xcite Group weighed in to share the trends they are seeing from a marketing perspective:
"Airline travel is up, and therefore, out-of-town visitors seem to be holding ok, but what has happened is that local traffic (closer visitors) has dried up. Overall searches for a company's brand name are down significantly YoY, most folks being around a 50% decrease. Even searches for rafting-specific rivers have taken a hit from people not searching near as often as they did last year. For example, rafting New River hit its peak of 100 [in search volume] last July 4th weekend and this year, it was down to 62. The same trend is holding for broad searches like "white water rafting," [which is down 14 points from 2021]."
Zeb Smith, who works with outfitter clients on financial consultation, shared this data with us:
"Generally speaking, year-to-date activity volume through mid-July dropped ~15% to 24% compared to last year. It is believed kids returning to in-person classes, schools staying in session into May, and tourism returning to metro areas led to early-season drops. Volume is now stabilizing as summer vacation kicks into gear. Single-day operator customers’ purchasing behaviors closely resemble 2018 and 2019 seasons. Campgrounds and lodge reservations are still booking well in advance and even creeping further into the future. Overall revenues are going to be strong for a non-pandemic year; likely falling somewhere between 2020 and 2021 total revenues. Direct wages are down ~9% and overhead wages are up ~33%. Non-payroll trip costs and overhead expenses aren’t increasing as much as originally expected and will likely fall right in budget. Net income is planned to be strong – Some higher and some lower than expected based on location. Bellies will be filled, and everyone is going to take home some extra dough."
Hear from Outfitters
To get a picture of how the outfitter industry is doing, we asked a handful of America Outdoors members how their 2022 bookings are, and how they have adapted to the shifting consumer behavior.
Wildwater, Ltd. Single-day adventures and lodging across the southeast U.S.
"2022 saw the return of groups: camps, business, scouts, etc. They booked early and, in the spring, and overall bookings were looking very good. As we approached the summer and gas prices rose (along with everything else) bookings slowed. The jury is still out on the crucial July weeks, but it looks like markets near large metropolitan areas are going to do OK but destinations a further drive are going to suffer.
Rafting and Lodging for Wildwater are about even with 2021 (which was a record year) and Aerial (zipline) is down 20% from 2021 (also a record year). We did raise prices on Rafting 5% to 10% for 2022. We did not raise Zipline prices.
Last year’s staffing crunch seems to be mostly over but not without a lot of effort in recruiting and training."
Far Flung Outdoor Center Single and multi-day adventures and lodging in Big Bend NP, Texas
"The Spring season of 2022 was flat compared to the 2021 spring but 2021 was a big “COVID” recovery year when everyone wanted to be in a remote location. Summer 2022 is slower than normal for us due to low water levels, gas prices, inflation, and a general concerned mood by the public. We are very much a destination location, so folks seem to be sticking closer to home. We anticipate a good Fall and Winter season based on early bookings, but we do not expect it to be a huge uptick from last year. In fact, we’ll say revenues will be flat for the rest of the year.
[To adapt], we are doing some additional promotion via light discounting and are re-tooling our river operations to reduce overhead, size of trips, increasing rentals, etc."
Northwest Rafting Company Multi-day river trips in the Pacific Northwest
"We’re not as busy as last summer which was by far our best year ever but we’re still doing well better than a normal year. We raised prices quite a bit in order to pay guides which hasn’t seemed to affect bookings as much as I would have expected. It seems like we have more cancellations than normal, but we’ve done a decent job of filling those cancellations.
We’ve done almost no marketing this year which has been nice. Our operations are pretty much the same but we’ve put a huge focus on training since we’ve had to bring on more new people than normal."
OARS Single and multi-day river trips across the western U.S.
"For OARS, reservations for our 2022 season were well ahead of our strong 2021 numbers until late April/early May, at which time the pace of bookings slowed considerably (down 20%) over the prior year, and it has remained slower since then. While solid advance reservations for our domestic trips, price increases, and returning interest in our international itineraries keep our outlook positive for this year, we’re seeing lots of last-minute cancellations, and far more due to COVID-19 this year than ever before. Additionally, we have some traveler survey data to suggest our target markets are taking fewer trips, shorter trips, and staying closer to home this year this year, due mainly to high gas prices, flight costs, and concerns about flight delays/cancellations. Short of any major disruptions on account of COVID-19 outbreaks or wildfires, we expect overall sales this year to still be up slightly over 2021. But based on bookings to date and the current economic climate, we perceive risk for a significant contraction in 2023."
River & Trail Outfitters Single-day adventures and lodging in Harpers Ferry, WV
For River & Trail Outfitters, revenues are down about 2.5%, with our higher-priced trips like rafting being affected considerably. However, group business is up as strong or stronger than 2019. Camping has been steady, but all have been affected by weather in addition to inflation.
"We have not changed much in our approach to marketing, but we are paying more attention to hourly work and trying to be more efficient there."
Klint Rudolph, The Xcite Group:
"A couple of things that we would suggest are for outfitters to go to https://trends.google.com/ and look up their own particular brands and high priority search terms to see what the trends are saying for their particular businesses. One thing we have seen is that June was down for almost everyone, however we are seeing a nice bounceback from the end of June through July thus far. The next thing you should do is look at your Google Analytics account and compare year-over-year numbers for Direct and Organic traffic to see if the Google Trends matches up with your site's traffic.
The big action item that we would recommend coming out of all of this data, is that you should be digging into your first-party data, looking in your databases for past customers that are more localized that have visited your location over the last couple of years and find a strategic way to disrupt them and invite them back. The data shows they aren't looking for us right now, so we need to find another way to get back in front of them. As always, Xcite is here for anyone that has questions or would like another set of eyes on their situation."
Zeb Smith, Zebulon LLC:
"What I’m telling outfitters and my clients: have fun this year! This year is a nice reprieve from the last two years’ craziness. I know things feel slow compared to recent seasons; trust in the disruption-proof systems we designed in the off-season, listen to what the numbers are telling you, and know everything is going to work out. If you need to actively do something, then lean heavier into your core values, set end-of-season cash tolerance levels knowing you already have high balances in the bank, adjust projections based on year-to-date observations, and monitor to updated expectations. Keep your team motivated and prepare for a late wave. Get outside, support your team, and enjoy yourself!"