Outdoor activity centre sector trends

Multiple people riding quad bikes in open field on cloudy day

(last updated July 2019)

What has been happening in the outdoor activities sector

Significant developments within the sector have been:

  • the formation in 1986 of the British Activity Holiday Association (since renamed as the British Activity Providers Association (BAPA)). The Association was formed by activity holiday operators whose aim was to demonstrate good standards of practice in the absence of any specific pieces of legislation regulating the sector. The Association has a Code of Practice and an inspection scheme, both of which were revised in the mid-1990s to take account of the Adventure Activities Licensing Regulations. The BAPA inspection scheme provides three accreditation routes depending on the nature of the business. BAPA Daycamp accreditation is for non-residential day camps in an activity setting; Adventuremark accreditation is available for centres that provide residential accommodation; and the LoTC Quality Badge is for centres that work with school and statutory youth groups
  • the Lyme Regis canoeing tragedy. In March 1993, four teenagers died in a tragedy that was described in a Devon County Council report as something which, "quite simply, should not have happened". The commercial company that was running the canoeing trip and its managing director were successfully prosecuted
  • the Foot and Mouth outbreak in 2001. This resulted in the closure of large areas of the countryside for around ten months of the year and hit outdoor activity centres very hard
  • the introduction of the Adventure Activities Licensing Regulations. These regulations were implemented in April 1996 as a result of the Lyme tragedy and reviewed in 2004. They require certain outdoor activity centres that cater for young people under 18 to acquire a licence. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has responsibility for implementing the regulations and has contracted much of the operation of the scheme to Tourism Quality Services (TQS). After carrying out a review and consultation, HSE has decided to remove the AALA regulations and move to an industry-led, non-statutory, not-for-profit scheme to provide assurance to users of outdoor activities. The contract with TQS Ltd was extended until September 2019 to allow time to tender for a new provider and to consult on the implementation of the new regime. Until the decisions on implementation have been made, the current licensing requirement remains in place. Elsewhere in the UK, the statutory licensing regime will remain in place regardless of what happens in England. You can find out more on the HSE AALA website

Participation and interest in all leisure activities increased for much of the 2000s as the stable economy and strong housing market led to a rise in the level of consumers' disposable income. 'Extreme' sports, in particular surfing, enjoyed an elevated profile in both the print and television media. Despite the economic downturn of the late 2000s/early 2010s, consumer expenditure on outdoor pursuits remained relatively strong. This is largely because the typical outdoor pursuits enthusiast is young, with few financial responsibilities.

Outdoor activity centres have become increasingly popular venues for groups celebrating an event, such as birthdays or stag and hen weekends. Many businesses also use activity centres for team-building exercises for their employees.

The late 2000s and early 2010s saw a trend towards taking domestic holidays rather than going abroad and the outdoor activities sector in the UK may have benefited as a result. Even though the number of overseas holidays picked up a little in 2014 and more strongly in 2015, the number of domestic trips has remained high. The sharp fall in the value of the pound after the vote in June 2016 to leave the EU meant a big increase in the cost of holidaying abroad. This, and the raised threat of terrorist attacks, meant that a lot of people decided to take their holidays in the UK. The number of holidaymakers in the UK was further increased by foreign visitors attracted by the favourable exchange rate for the euro against the pound. Both domestic tourism and the number of visitors from overseas was higher in 2017 than in 2016, with record numbers of overseas visitors, but figures for the first half of 2018 show declining numbers of visits from overseas residents.

According to the Outdoor Industries Association publication 'Getting Active Outdoors', which brings together data from a number of sources, there are indications that the outdoors market is growing with participation levels in some activities having increased quite significantly in the first half of the 2010s. This trend continued in 2017 and into 2018 as the focus on reducing obesity increased and the general health benefits of exercise and community activities became more apparent and well documented. 'Getting Active Outdoors' is available on the Outdoor Industries Association website, along with a number of other helpful resources.

Keeping up to date with developments

Joining a trade body is an excellent way of keeping up with developments in your industry.

The British Activity Providers Association (BAPA) is the main trade association for private sector activity holiday and course providers. All BAPA members abide by a code of practice and have three accreditation routes depending on the nature of the business. Visit the BAPA website for more information.

The Outdoor Industries Association (OIA) is a trade body for businesses operating in the outdoor leisure pursuits market as a whole. (Although the OIA is aimed mostly at manufacturers and retailers, a small number of centres are also members.) The OIA publishes a range of member and non-member resources, many of which are available on the OIA website.

Trade shows

You can get a lot of useful information at a trade show for the outdoor activities sector. You'll be able to meet manufacturers, suppliers and importers and plan your future equipment buying. Information about forthcoming trade shows is available on the OIA and Exhibitions UK websites.

What does the * mean?

If a link has a * this means it is an affiliate link. To find out more, see our FAQs.