The New, the Innovative, the Timely at AO 2019

New Sessions from AO 2019

By: Amanda Fox, Adventure Treks, Hilary Wickes and Heidi Prior, America Outdoors

The 31st Annual America Outdoors Conference in Salt Lake City was a huge success, with a mix of trusted speakers like Klint Rudolph, Leah Corrigan, Pat Tabor and Peter Ross and brand-new concepts and content. At the largest America Outdoors conference to date, attendees were excited to see never-before-covered topics on the schedule. Let’s review the new sessions and get the key takeaways.


New Sessions




AO provided an incredible opportunity for attendees to connect with outdoor industry journalists from all over the U.S. and share their stories. Chez Chesak, Executive Director of the Outdoor Writers Association of America, spent 30 minutes guiding participants on how to effectively pitch stories to writers. After this introduction, participants each had 6 minutes to pitch their stories to outdoor writers. This session was a smash hit—every journalist’s table had a line of attendees patiently waiting their turn to pitch.

Tips from the writers:

  • Send your press release in the body of an email, not as an attachment.

  • If you are making special accommodations for your visiting media person, make sure to be explicit about what is standard so they can accurately represent your business for their readers/ your future customers .

  • If you can collaborate with other local businesses to provide a whole trip for the writer, you will have a better shot at landing media.

  • Follow writers you are interested in on social media and create Google alerts with their byline so you can be well-versed in their coverage and style.




In this informative panel, attendees heard from directors from five outdoor recreation offices (Colorado, Utah, Wyoming, Montana, and North Carolina). These folks are tasked not only with growing the outdoor recreation industry in their respective states; they’re also our industry’s champions and advocates within the government and federal agencies. They described themselves as the government department “where economic development and outdoor recreation collide,” and believe outdoor professionals’ goals should include teaching both residents and visitors how to recreate sustainably and responsibly. Their message was clear and unifying: Together, we can amplify our industry’s voice to be heard in Washington and work together for common goals within each state.  


Key takeaways:

  • The Wyoming office was granted about $250,000 to create an app that covers everything outdoor recreation, from where to fish to where to buy specific gear.

  • In Montana, outdoor recreation experiences have surpassed retail goods in sales and revenue.

  • Permitting systems are each state’s biggest challenge, and the directors spend a lot of time working with commercial outfitters and recreationalists through the permitting process. They’re pleased with how the Forest Service is communicating and working hard to find solutions to permitting issues.

  • Colorado would like to see more participation by those in our industry with statewide water and conservation plans; they hope to build a bridge between the two.

  • Utah is working on keeping insurance affordable for outdoor industry companies.

  • Colorado’s marketing plan has shifted from trying to draw more people to Colorado to maintaining the tourism numbers and trying to get visitors to stay for longer and teaching those visitors the “Colorado way of recreating sustainably.”


Emily Ambrose, a former raft guide and owner of Engage Coaching and Consulting, led a thoughtful discussion with AO members about sexism and sexual harassment in our industry. With the #metoo movement helping drive positive change, owners and managers shared their employees’ stories of discrimination and harassment—from both guests and coworkers. Attendees were extremely engaged, asking questions about best practices, and panel members gave honest, open feedback about what’s worked (and what hasn’t) in their own experiences.

Key takeaways:

  • Managers, owners, and supervisors must clearly communicate inclusion and respect as expectations of their employees and guides, through staff manuals, training and hiring processes.

  • Be willing to survey employees and guests about their experiences to show them that you care and want to prioritize this topic.

  • Provide regular training opportunities for employees to learn what respect actually means in the workplace, and how it contributes to an inclusive work environment.

  • Create a section on respect and inclusion in employee handbooks, orientation and training materials, and website to communicate the importance of this topic.



America Outdoors Business Development Coordinator, Heidi Prior, led a panel of owners and CEOs to talk about real-life case studies of outfitters who have navigated permitting and legislative policy issues. Case study examples included; How the removal of the Klamath River dam effects commercial outfitting, How to get a new National Park designation, How it took 7 years to get a permit on the Illinois River and How user fees can turn into law without the outfitting industry being involved or discussed.


Key Takeaways:

  • Have genuine relationships with your local/ state politicians and the federal agencies that you work close with BEFORE you ever have an issue.

  • Remember that AO can likely help connect you with an outfitter with a similar issue and / or unify the troops if need be.

  • Local and state organizations are crucial. AO focuses on the national stage; however, we are a great resource for local and state strategies too.

  • Outfitters impact rural politics and rural economic development of gateway communities. Use this authority when advocating. The outdoor industry makes up 2.2% of the US GDP.

  • Outfitters are training the next generation of outdoor lovers via client experiences but also remember your staff.  They often becomes a brand ambassadors for life and frequently live in these gateway communities as voters for years to come.

  • Advocacy can be very simple, and AO is ready to help provide resources and tools to do so. Remember, sometimes it’s as easy as reaching out to your elected officials and telling them your story.


NEW Pre-Conference Sessions

This year America Outdoors offered two pre-conference sessions for an additional charge to allow outfitters to dive deeper into google analytics or the women’s group.


Women’s Event: Igniting Innovation

The women of America Outdoors had a chance participate in a full day of learning and connecting before the conference. The theme of this mini retreat was Igniting Innovation, led by the accomplished explorer Laura Adams.  With 25 women owners and managers in the room, Laura led the group through a design thinking workshop to identify key areas to address in their businesses.

After an invigorating yoga session, led by former raft guide Elise Jones, and a networking lunch, the women split into groups to concentrate on each identified area of interest (staff retention, client experiences, and empowering women) to problem solve. The participants walked away with actionable items that they came up with to bring back to their businesses. Oh, and to top it off the day ended with some drinks and more connecting!


Google Analytics Workshop

With a full room of 30 participants, Klint Rudolph and the team at Xcite Media Group led the room in an intensive google analytics workshop. As the group worked through XCITE’s 13-step workbook, the participants learned and honed the following:

  • Google Analytics Relevancy

  • Integration with Google Ads

  • Google Analytics, Tag Manager, Search Console and Ads Setup


REVAMPED: Marketing & Operations Idea Exchanges

This year, the AO team and engaged members joined forces to enhance the Marketing and Operations Idea Exchanges. In the past these were called “roundtables,” and while that is still an apt name, we decided to rename them idea exchanges because that is the whole point behind these meetings. In these sessions, a series of facilitators led discussions so participants could learn from one another rather than just the speakers at the front of the room. Participants shared their ideas, strategies, stories and technology tips. In the Marketing Idea Exchange, the topics were content creation and sharing, social media, and measurable Google Analytics metrics. The Operations group focused on hiring and scheduling employees, transportation and gear maintenance.



Guide Olympics


The inaugural Guide Olympics Games were a hit by all those who participated and watched. America Outdoors’ attendees are the owners and managers of successful outdoor adventure companies, and while some are still in the weeds/river day-to-day many now run the show behind the scenes. But all remember what it was like to deflate a kayak or put up a tent in under a minute. This was the chance to dust off those guide skills and have some FUN! The games took place December 10th in the back of the exhibit hall. The winners were The Californians; will they keep their title in 2020? Next year the Olympic Games will be front and center, so come ready to compete!

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