Last week, I bid farewell to my routine and headed to the Mid-Atlantic Tourism PR Alliance (MATPRA) meeting in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware.
Traveling is a wonderful thing. Once I recovered from the flurry of undressing and unpacking at airport security, visiting ghastly public restrooms and pondering the questionable history of my hotel bed spread, it really was nice to take a detour from my pig trail.
My goal at this conference was to meet people, participate in a panel discussion and learn about the tourism industry. I’ve attended plenty of meetings in the last 20 plus years – outdoor writer conferences and trade shows, shooting sports summits, and wildlife and hunting conventions, symposiums and seminars. But never a tourism conference.
The two biggest and most obvious differences in the two types of get-togethers is wildlife meetings are mostly populated by men (though there are more women now than in the 1980s). The MATPRA meeting was overwhelmingly attended by women. That was nice. I had so many wonderful conversations while I was there, chats and revelations you can really only share with another female. One woman and I marveled at how when you’re young you get your thrills at rock concerts and parties, but when you’re older, there’s magic in gardening and bird watching.
In addition, based on this experience, tourism conference participants eat much better than the wildlife crowd. At a wildlife conservation meeting, you can expect to be served at least one entrée where the meat resembles a hockey puck in shape and taste. The MATPRA shindig was all about fine dining, and I ate like a beast.
Just as pleasing was the panel discussion I participated in which covered why and how to pitch outdoor travel to women, including hunting trips. The audience included convention and visitor’s bureau staff and travel writers, most of whom were not hunters. In fact, virtually all of the hunters in that room sat on the panel so I was curious to see how the message would be received. And based on feedback, audience reaction mirrored just about every survey I’ve ever seen on this topic – the majority of Americans approve of legal, ethical hunting.
The panel covered so much more than hunting, though. Cindy Ross, Mary Burnham, Karen Lee and our moderator Connie Yingling have hiked, paddled, birded, camped and hunted across this country. Most of our remarks centered on the fact that women are a viable outdoor travel market with tips on how to promote outdoor destinations to them.
Connie Yingling, public relations coordinator for the Maryland Office of Tourism, pointed out in her opening remarks that if you read a general travel magazine, you would think the only activities women are interested in while traveling are shopping and spa treatments. However, the Adventure Travel Trade Association reports 52 percent of adventure travelers (those who camp, bike, bird, paddle, etc.) are women. The National Sporting Goods Association keeps tabs on how many women (and men) participate in each of these sports. You can see the breakdown below.
Another eye opener is the 2006 National Survey of Fishing, Hunting and Wildlife-Associated Recreation (conducted every five years by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service), which reveals many women enjoy wildlife based recreation as well. Of the 87.5 million people who hunt, fish or watch wildlife, 45 million are women.
Women may approach outdoor adventure and wildlife associated recreation differently than men, though. In general, it seems to me that men are interested in the number of miles they’ve hiked, the category of rapids they’ve paddled or the number and size of fish they’ve caught. Certainly women also relish those types of accomplishments. But our enjoyment is also based in being connected to nature, mastering new skills, rest and relaxation, improving our health and rediscovering who we are.
Something men and women have in common when it comes to outdoor recreation is the importance of spending time with friends and family. In addition, women also spend money on outdoor adventure travel, a fact that hasn’t fallen on deaf ears in the travel industry.
Yes, shopping does rank number one on just about every travel survey seeking to learn what women most want to do on vacation. However, a growing number of women are searching for more excitement than what they can find at boutiques, gift shops and outlet malls. And I predict as the travel industry seeks new business in this tight economy, we’ll see even more opportunities for women to embark on outdoor adventures.
National Sporting Goods Association Study of Female Sports Participation (2007)
Camping (vacation/overnight) - 23.3 million
Bicycle Riding - 17.5 million
Hiking - 13.9 million
Boating, Motor/Power - 13.6 million
Fishing - 11.4 million
Backpack/Wilderness Camp - 5.4 million
Target Shooting - 4.7 million
Kayaking - 2.9 million
Hunting with Firearms - 2.5 million
Mountain Biking (off road) - 2.5 million
Skiing (alpine) - 2.2 million
Water Skiing - 2.2 million
Mountain/Rock Climbing - 1.9 million
Archery (Target) - 1.2 million
Scuba Diving (open water) - 1.0 million
Skiing (cross country) - 0.8 million
Hunting w/Bow & Arrow - 0.4 million
Muzzleloading - 0.3 million