Kick Off!
When I talk about nature tourism, the first reaction is normally a few smiles or should I say smirks, and my normal response is, “no, not the one where you take your clothes off”, in fact in the UK, the more clothes the better! This nature tourism is about getting outdoors, connecting with the natural environment, come rain or shine (main explain why it is so popular in the UK) and it is the tourism sector that is one of the fastest growing – both in the UK and globally! Nature tourism combines business growth with a passion for life, conservation and sustainability.

It’s always good to kick off such a positive introduction with some statistics, and they make impressive reading. An overview from MENE (1) reported that between 2012 and 2013 there was an estimated 2.85 million participatory visits by the English adult population to the natural environment and an annual spend of £21 billion; 41% of the English adult population regularly visit the natural environment and the average number of visits per adult per annum is 67. The destination of visits during the same period showed, 47% of visits to the countryside and 43% of visits to green spaces within urban environments.

Similarly, the RSPB (2) reported that management and visitor related spend in their reserves in 2011 was £66 million p.a., supporting 1900 full-time jobs, effecting economic impact by a massive 250% increase since 2002.

These are exciting statistics, and the good news is that they are not one-offs, such participation is growing year on year; there is also a similar picture on the global scene as well.

Sound Business Sense
Many UK tourism businesses have been targeting this sector for many years, but many are not, and certainly many urban areas don’t realise the potential of this market – to recap, 43% of visits are to green spaces within urban environments. This market is domestic and inbound. Nature tourism is simply, sound business sense, sell the outdoors and you are targeting a massive audience who want to invest in their growing passion for their natural environment.

There is some more good news, no, fantastic news, this sector is not weather dependent, if its raining, they get out there, if it’s snowing, they wrap up warmer, if its sunny, they slap on the sunscreen (they may need to account for all of these in one day in the UK) and the product is not time sensitive, it encompasses longer holidays, short breaks, day visits; Spring, Summer, Autumn and Winter.

Sustainable
This passion does come with a caveat. And, there is a great quote that sums it up, “Nature provides a free lunch, but only if we control our appetites” William Ruckelshaus; meaning that although nature is here for the benefit of all for today there has to be a tomorrow as well, we have to ensure we respect our natural world and care for and share it responsibly. We have to balance the ever demanding use versus conservation. But, this is also one of THE great benefits of nature tourism, how best to understand what it is that we need to conserve, than to experience it, to understand it, to connect to it, and this was the ethos of great conservationists like John Muir, “I only went out for a walk, and finally concluded to stay out till sundown, for going out, I found, was really going in”(3).
 I would also like to add a note here, for those who are concerned about this, do note I work internationally on environmental responsibility, conservation and balancing this with economic growth.

Connection
So, where should our passion for the outdoors or nature tourism be taking us, what should tourism businesses be addressing? This is about connecting to a life experience, being close to nature where the culture and heritage of the environment is progressed, addressing social and educational programmes, connecting with local communities, learning and self-improvement, learning about respect for our green areas, but above all, about learning how to once again discover and be free.

Walking is one of the main activities, but this isn’t just about, mountains, lakes or countryside. I am lucky to live in the South West of England and enjoy our fantastic coastal areas and national parks, and in Torquay, taking walking as an activity, we have a coast path where in just a 3 hour hike you can gain a total ascent of over 1000 metres; there are no mountains here, just a beautiful natural environment. This is mirrored in many other parts of the UK with many other activities and interests, and it is not just confined to the green areas, the brown belt area of London has some of the greatest biodiversity in the UK, some species that have habitats there were thought to be extinct in the UK.

Consign Last-Minute Bookings To History
The market demographics are varied, however, the highest growth is from the ABC1 groups, and comes from four sectors: young single professional adults (particularly females), affluent active families, youth and school groups and the over 50’s. These nature seekers are people who want or need a life experience, to discover, to be free, to get away from their everyday stress or out of the car and into the ‘active’ outdoors or to discover new horizons and adventures.

The type of accommodation to visitors is important, and encompasses both self-catering and the serviced sectors; providing comfortable lodges or caravans, good quality camping (both car and wild camping), hotels that have provision for the nature tourist and all must be environmentally aware and offer a passion for the nature experience.

Whatever the passion, whether visiting gardens, walking, wildlife watching, photography or the multitude of outdoor activities, tourism businesses should now be acting, encompassing nature tourism; if they do, then ‘off-peak’ will be a word (or two) that is resigned to the past, where weather dependent will be obsolete and where last-minute bookings will be consigned to history.

Time To Click!
If you want to know more about this market please do contact me on richard@richardstones.co.uk.

(1) The Monitor of Engagement with the Natural Environment, (MENE) produced by Natural England, Defra and The Forestry Commission provides statistical data on people and the environment (2) Sourced from Woodward, S. (2011) Leeds Metropolitan University The UK Nature Tourism Market, cited in Molloy et al (2011) RSPB Reserves and Local Economies). (3) Excerpt taken from: http://vault.sierraclub.org/john_muir_exhibit/writings/favorite_quotations.aspx in John of the Mountains: The Unpublished Journals of John Muir, (1938), edited by Linnie Marsh Wolfe, (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1938, republished 1979, page 439.

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