Trends in the Outdoors

The world of outdoor experiences and activities has evolved significantly over the last number of years globally and in Northern Ireland. We have compiled a list of the top 8 trends for the outdoors as well as some macro trends that could affect the outdoors and activity sector. This can help inform your thinking when developing future plans for ‘Giant Spirit’ outdoor experiences, spaces and activities.

1. More people

More people than ever before are visiting the outdoors. Statistics collected by Natural England show this has been a slow and steady increase since 2010. Furthermore, the COVID pandemic has given rise to an accelerated demand to visit the outdoors. An independent study commissioned by Tourism Northern Ireland in July 2021 revealed 34% of adults in Northern Ireland are more adventurous compared to pre-pandemic. The pandemic also saw a greater number of the less traditional visitor profile (such as families and young people) visiting ‘elemental’ outdoor areas such as the Mourne Mountains and coastal paths.

2. An older profile

The population is aging, and this trend is reflected in the official Northern Ireland population estimates. However, boundaries of age are shifting. Older people now benefit from better health, enjoy taking care of their appearance and wellbeing, have greater spending power and appreciate many of the same activities as their younger counterparts. This presents a key opportunity for the outdoors’ sector to engage with Tourism NI’s ‘natural quality seeker’ visitor segment who are of an older demographic (average age is 55 years old) through softer adventure activities.

3. Wellbeing is a key driver

The global trend to improve our mental and physical wellbeing has driven a desire to integrate health and wellbeing into short breaks and holidays as explained in Tourism Northern Ireland’s Health & Wellness report. This not only presents an opportunity for the outdoor sector as people increasingly choose to take part in outdoor activities as part of their visit, but for other experiences such as forest bathing and outdoor meditation or accommodation located within an outdoor setting such as Burrenmore Nest.

4. Sustainability

Consumers are behaving more sustainably as outlined in the latest Deloitte report and this is being reflected in our travel and tourism choices. Tourism NI have developed a toolkit which outlines a set of key steps to follow to help develop a sustainable tourism product.

5. Soft activities dominate

Whilst outdoor experiences include adventurous pursuits such as caving and surfing, the biggest segment is soft adventure which includes activities with less associated risk such as walking and cycling. This global trend is set to continue. The figures in Northern Ireland also support this trend where walking is the dominant activity.

6. Activities on the up

Sea and wild swimming have seen a marked increase in people taking part as well as a perceived strong demand for Stand Up Paddleboarding (SUP). The sale of E-bikes grew by 53% from 2019 to 2020 in Europe and demand for hire e-bike hire in the Republic of Ireland has grown significantly. This demand is set to continue as the traditionally ‘less active’ visitors want to increasingly enjoy cycling and other activities as a way to be immersed in the environment and landscape as part of their visit.

7. Technology

The role of technology in all aspects of our lives is increasing, including the rise of smart phone usage. Whilst experiential technology such as the emergence of augmented reality is increasing, these are not set to play a key role in outdoor experiences in the short to medium term. GPS apps will play a more important role in the outdoors sector moving forward but will remain niche and targeted at the outdoor enthusiast.

8. Share, share, share

The continuing rise of the number of social media users represents the greatest opportunity for outdoor experiences, especially as these are often highly visual. Cuilcagh in Co Fermanagh experienced a 2,000% increase in visitors from 2015 to 2017 primarily due to interest driven by compelling images shared on social media terming it ‘The Stairway to Heaven’. Whilst this rise created significant issues for the area, it also demonstrates the power of imagery and social media.

The growth of outdoor tourism is set to increase. Equipped with these trends and the Tourism NI Embrace a Giant Spirit Toolkit , you have the key information to help you embrace this growth and successfully encourage a spirit of adventure for visitors to Northern Ireland