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Tuesday, 12 April 2016 19:00

Bushwalking Booms as Participation Nearly Doubles

Interesting consumer research has found the number of Australians going bushwalking has risen significantly in the past five years.

Findings from Roy Morgan research shows that between October 2010 and September 2015, the proportion of the population over the age of 14 who reported going bushwalking at least occasionally has almost doubled from 15.6% to 27.3% – a total of 5.3 million Australians. That is a lot of people.

The information was gleaned by a survey conducted by the reputable consumer research organisation, which asked respondents about how often they go bushwalking, and what they did on their last holiday.

Self-reported regular or occasional bushwalkers were shown to be more likely to visit wilderness locations, as well as undertake other outdoor adventures. I got in touch with researchers at Roy Morgan and they kindly provided state specific information that shows South Australia saw the greatest increase in bushwalkers over the period, while Tasmania has the highest rates of participation overall.

Most importantly, it seems the trend towards an increasing interest in bushwalking holds true across the country.

From personal experience, I’ve seen walks near my home in NSW increase in popularity in recent years, with one route in particular jumping from up to 15 walkers on a good Saturday to now closer to 80. There have also been some incredible increases in the number of people on a few specific walks in Royal National Park, but these are big outliers and unsustainable increases rather than the slow and steady growth we might hope for.

This growth is also visible online and in community groups that are closely affiliated with bushwalking. I’ve seen a clear increase in participation in recent years on bushwalk.com and wildwalks.com.

But this seems to be leading to more people presenting as under-prepared for the adventures they’re undertaking. I’ve come across more walkers without an adequate map or relevant details for the route they’re on. This is a worrying trend and I hope that as more experienced members of the bushwalking community we can assist beginners whenever and wherever they need the help. Equipping people new to walking should be a priority, not only for the health and safety of new bushwalkers, but also to try and minimise their impacts on the parks, tracks, flora and fauna they interact with.

graph

What hikers/bushwalkers did on their last trip compared to the average Australian
(from Roy Morgan’s latest findings on the holiday habits of Australians)

Related Industries to Benefit

The overall result of this increase in bushwalking participation will have knock-on effects for the businesses that are closely related to the activity, especially for information services such as Wild.

Cafés and other businesses near walking tracks should also enjoy an increase in walkers, which would be a great win for the edge of suburbs. Hopefully the number of people enjoying a day walk will also graduate into multi-day hikes, and they’ll do so with the help of guides and tour operators. This is the good news Roy Morgan Research wants to communicate, with group account director, Angela Smith saying the apparent boom in bushwalking represents ‘a wonderful opportunity for savvy tourism operators and destination marketers’

‘Not surprisingly, destinations offering scenic wilderness hold greater appeal for hikers and bushwalkers than for the average Australian considering a holiday. When asked where they’d like to visit, this group showed an above-average preference for unspoiled regions such as Freycinet National Park, the Flinders Ranges, Cradle Mountain and Lord Howe Island,’ she said.

If this graduation process occurs then the adventure-specific retailers and clubs should also start to see a marked increase, but it may be too early to see these effects taking place. Also, given the popularity of online retail and community groups, the benefit to traditional organisations will no doubt be a little muted.

We need to be careful that we don’t love these special places to death. Hopefully the most significant change will be for parks and reserve management, otherwise the increase in participation will have adverse impacts on the environment. In NSW, we have seen some walks become over-the-top popular, going from just a few walkers per day to sometimes as many as 1000. Many of these bushwalkers are inexperienced and not aware of potential risks to themselves and the bush. This is not the norm, but show the impact social media can have in encouraging people to adventure, a lesson and warning.

Keeping Bushwalking on Track

Since we are now talking about nearly 30% of the population participating in bushwalking (more than golf, competitive sports, and cycling) it is time to start doing some solid research.

We need to better understand where people are walking, how they use the track networks, how often they return, walking speed, direction of travel, group sizes and so on. Much of this is easy data to collect and will help in better planning, equipping and promotion.

We can better understand how people are using walking tracks now, I am confident that we can plan for a future where even more people are walking, where we maintain a sense of wilderness and look after these precious areas. To do this we need to stop making assumptions and get some real data that can inform planning.

Unlike golf and cycling, the cost of entry to bushwalking is much lower for most popular short walking tracks. Gear suppliers have done a wonderful job at producing lightweight gear for experienced walkers. A challenge for the industry will be to find ways to provide products and services of interest to all these new bushwalkers, again the challenge would be made easier if we can better understand how, when and where these people are walking.

In the meantime, at least we know our national pastime is more popular than ever.

Our thanks to Matt McClelland for permission to republish this article. It was published in Wild on 17 February 2016.

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