Isolationism in the outdoor industryIsolationism in the outdoor industry


April 20, 2017

5 min read
Words & Photos:

Trump, Brexit, and the growing trend of tightening borders may put a squeeze on tourism and adventure travel.

For many, the reality of a global shift towards isolationism came to light with Brexit, and exploded when Trump stunned a large portion of the world by winning the U.S. Presidency. But the conservative-backed trend has been stirring for some time, just under the surface. And now that it’s in the public light and impacting legislature around the world, we outdoor enthusiasts and roving adventure seekers — and the physical places we play — may be in for a tough time.

Immediately after the June 2016 Brexit announcement, tourism in the U.K. soared despite predictions that it would suffer. “Tourism will hold up after Brexit,” the BBC declared in August, reporting that international travelers were “loosening the purse strings owing to a more favourable exchange rate.” But the fantasy only lasted so long.

This past January, the British Hospitality Association’s Travel Monitor revealed that international travel to the U.K. had been on the decline since October, and that by November 450,000 fewer holidaymakers visited the U.K. in 2016 compared to the previous year.

National Parks
  1. Peak District National Park, one of 15 UK National Parks potentially affected by slow tourism since Brexit.

Tourism, actually helps promote wildlife conservation and preservation of natural resources”.

While outdoors enthusiasts tend to groan about tourists disturbing their favorite places, they sometimes forget that tourism, in the right dosage, actually helps promote wildlife conservation and preservation of natural resources. Less demand for the land will inevitably mean less funding to keep it maintained, accessible, or even there at all.

Revenue from entrance fees often go directly back into protection and management of sensitive, sometimes even endangered, environments and wildlife. For example, the Tanjung Puting National Park in Indonesia’s Central Kalimantan province is struggling against deforestation and river pollution from unrestricted gold mining in the area, while tour operator Discovery Initiatives contributes about $45,000 — revenue generated from just five tours of 10 people per year — to fund the staff, rangers and a rehab center for orangutans at the park. If the industrial interruption grows too severe, the tours will lose their draw, and as a result the park will lose the aforementioned funds.

Palm Fronds
  1. Palm Fronds in Costa Rica, one of many Central American countries reliant on eco-tourism.

On the other side of the globe, Costa Rica is able to classify a quarter of its territory under conservation management because tourism accounts for 72 percent of national monetary reserves. Should funds from nature and ecotourism run dry, these protected lands would undoubtedly be put in danger.

And right smack dab in the middle of the American — and global, really — outdoor industry lies Utah, and Bears Ears, a 1.3 million acre national monument and world renowned recreation area designated by President Obama in 2016. Sadly, in February, Utah Governor Gary Herbert signed a resolution asking President Trump to rescind the national monument status, no doubt with visions of oil drilling sparkling in his eyes. In response Patagonia, Polartec, Arc’teryx and a host of other massively influential companies announced a boycott of Outdoor Retailer, and days later the Outdoor Industry Association announced they would pull the $40 million industry trade show from Salt Lake City. Still, Governor Herbert plans to stay the course, however detrimental it may be.

Arches National Park
  1. Arches National Park at sunset, just south of the hotly contested Bears Ears National Monument, Utah.

“As global travelers, as people with a conscience, this isn’t something we can sit and watch. Not in silence.”

  1. Canyoneering near Bears Ears National Monument, Utah.

Aside from the environmental risk, fewer international travelers will also mean less demand for an industry that is entirely reliant on people moving freely between borders: adventure tourism.

On January 31, 2017, James Thornton, the Global Managing Director of Intrepid Travel, published an open letter in response to President Trump’s initial Muslim ban that drew outrage from around the world.

“Intrepid stands against any policy that closes borders, separates families, discriminates against religion or demonizes the less fortunate,” he wrote. “As global travelers, as people with a conscience, this isn’t something we can sit and watch. Not in silence.”

The world-renowned guide company leads more than 100,000 people on expeditions ranging from Antarctica to the Arctic Circle each year, and employs more than 1,600 staff on all seven continents. In Thornton’s letter, he writes that each trip is “taken in the spirit of inclusiveness, tolerance, and understanding,” and that it’s “not just a marketing line,” but rather the foundation of Intrepid and adventure tourism in general.

Thankfully two U.S. Federal Judges have struck down both the initial ban and a second, amended version presented by the Trump administration in early March. Though tensions remain high as it’s never quite clear what will come next.

Thus, there is no time to run to the backcountry and hide. We as outdoor enthusiasts must stand up for the land we revere and face the issues that threaten it head-on. It’s more important than ever to educate those around us, vote with every dollar by supporting sustainably-minded business, and to engage in local politics by speak loudly to defend our lands and others’ right to experience it. Do anything, except be complacent. Because if we don’t stand up now, not only will such close mindedness change the way we play, but it will harm the beautiful natural world we dream of leaving for future generations to explore and enjoy.

A Norwegian archipelago
  1. A Norwegian archipelago within the Arctic Circle, and a popular destination for Intrepid Travel expeditions.


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