It has been two years since the COVID-19 pandemic landed in Europe. Statistics show that the pandemic has increased the popularity of outdoor activities in Finland and around the world. This article explores how the pandemic has affected outdoor recreation and how these changes could cause a more permanent shift in our lives as well as in nature and adventure sports services for years to come.
Finns have enjoyed the nature a lot even before the pandemic, but COVID-19 made outdoor recreation one of the most popular hobbies in Finland. According to the Finnish Forest Administration (Metsähallitus), there was an all-time record for visitors in national parks in 2020. The Forest Administration has been following visitor trends since 2001, and the pandemic has increased the use of nature areas by almost 20% in 2020. This is mostly accounted for by mountain bikers and the increased enthusiasm of young people for hiking. The Forest Administration predicts that traffic will remain high even after the pandemic.
All around the world, 2020 has been considered as the year of the “bike boom”. People that had never before been interested in cycling rediscovered their old bikes or bought new ones. Bike shops and repair services have been busy trying to cater to all customers, old and new. Strava – an application for tracking physical exercise and sharing exercises on social media – reports a large increase in outdoor exercise during the pandemic.
Over the past year and a half, pop-up bike lanes have been added in several major cities around the world. The biggest investment was made by Paris, where hundreds of kilometers of new bike lanes were created. It could be assumed that the increased interest in outdoor exercise is due to the restrictions caused by COVID-19, but according to an Australian study, that is not quite the case. Instead, the study claims that the restrictions and new bike lanes have not been a significant factor in the increase in cycling. In addition, the research shows that people are bicycle commuting less and leisure cycling significantly more than before.
Yle reports in March 2021 “Hiking Clothes Became the New Windsuit.” Increased interest in outdoor recreation has also led to people buying more hiking gear. Outdoor clothing has become part of street fashion and a new customer base has been found, especially among young people. Not only hikers wear clothing made for hiking these days – outdoor clothing is now part of everyday fashion. The good thing about these kind of clothes is that they work in the street scene but also when moving around in nature.
A record number of cottages were sold in Finland during 2020. This is an increase of 50% compared to the previous year, according to the National Land Survey. Remote work has been made possible for many and people have moved from cities to quieter areas to work remotely. Cottage living allows for more walking, running, skiing, and cycling in the nature due to the absence of city services. With the removal of COVID-19 restrictions, the use of outdoor sports services has also increased.
The increased interest in outdoor recreation provides new jobs and opportunities for new outdoor sports services.
One example of this is provided by the Finnish Avalanche Education, which teaches outdoor enthusiasts safer route selection in the mountains. The education system was created in 2015-2017 in an ESF project managed by Humak. Although the project itself has nothing to do with the COVID-19 pandemic, the popularity of the Finnish Avalanche Education has been increasing significantly during the pandemic. This suggests that outdoor sports enthusiasts are also willing to pay for outdoor sports services.
Although many have lost jobs in the adventure services sector due to the pandemic, there is now an opportunity to create a new culture in outdoor sports services. Finns are and will be interested in outdoor recreation even after COVID, and they own the necessary clothes and equipment by now. Many have acquired a remote workstation or a cottage close to nature and are in need of leisure activities. Climate-conscious outdoor enthusiasts are also opting for services that rely on muscle power. There is also demand for outdoor sports services where the goal is to calm down and relax.
Humak has been providing adventure education for more than 20 years. In 2018, the first education program for community educators held in English began, in which adventure education is offered more extensively and diversely. One of the goals is to meet the growing needs of the experience economy, where in addition to traditional organizational and youth work, emphasis is placed on the development of adventure education and adventure services for outdoor sports enthusiasts as well.
In adventure education, students get to learn extensively about several different outdoor sports. Through these activities, students also learn how to develop other skills needed in life, such as leadership of self and others, decision-making, and project management. This kind of training plays a key role in the development of new outdoor and adventure sports services. Traditional adventure services are not going anywhere, but there is certainly a demand for new types of services as well.
2020 was the year of the worldwide bike boom – but would it be possible to create smaller booms in outdoor sports more locally? The growing appreciation of nature, increasing interest in outdoor recreation, normalization of remote work, and return to more calming environments may well trigger a chain reaction in which the actors involved find new niches or completely new areas of business. It remains to be seen what will happen in the end, but in any case – there is a good opportunity for the outdoor and adventure market to expand at the moment.
Bernhard, Adrienne 2020. The great bicycle boom of 2020. BBC. https://www.bbc.com/future/bespoke/made-on-earth/the-great-bicycle-boom-of-2020.html
Fuller, Glen & McGuinness, Kieran & Waitt, Gordon & Buchanan, Ian & Lea, Tess 2021. The reactivated bike: Self-reported cycling activity during the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic in Australia. Transportation Research Interdisciplinary Perspectives. Volume 10. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2590198221000841
Luontoon.fi 2021. Kansallispuistoissa ennätysvilkas vuosi – Koronapandemia vahvisti pitkään jatkunutta trendiä retkeilyn suosiosta. https://www.luontoon.fi/-/kansallispuistoissa-enn%C3%A4tysvilkas-vuosi-koronapandemia-vahvisti-pitk%C3%A4%C3%A4n-jatkunutta-trendi%C3%A4-retkeilyn-suosiosta (in Finnish)
National Land Survey of Finland 2021. Tilasto: kiinteistökauppa on vilkastunut reippaasti. https://www.maanmittauslaitos.fi/ajankohtaista/tilasto-kiinteistokauppa-vilkastunut-reippaasti (in Finnish)
Mäennenä, Jukka 2021. 2020 oli pyöräalan ennätysvuosi – Kysyimme suomalaisilta pyöräalan toimijoilta, miltä alkava vuosi näyttää ja milloin pyörien toimitusongelmat ratkeavat. Tekniikan maailma 8.2.2021. https://tekniikanmaailma.fi/2020-oli-pyoraalan-ennatysvuosi-kysyimme-suomalaisilta-pyoraalan-toimijoilta-milta-alkava-vuosi-nayttaa-ja-milloin-pyorien-toimitusongelmat-ratkeavat/ (in Finnish)
Preston, John 2020. Public Transport. Science direct. https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/social-sciences/public-transport
Sandell, Markku 2020. Koronakevät muutti suomalaisten luontosuhdetta myönteisemmäksi, mutta harva on huolestunut luonnon yksipuolistumisesta. Yle 26.6.2020. https://yle.fi/uutiset/3-11418159 (in Finnish)
Text: Jussi Muittari, Lecturer, Master of Sports Sciences, Adventure Education, Humak University of Applied Sciences, 15.12.2021
Translation: Mari Ervasti