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Thursday 21 August 2014

How walking benefits the economy

Senior Tourism lecturer Nicola Adams talks about the great outdoors’ contribution to the UK economy .

Do you know who Thomas Arthur Leonard is? Perhaps some of you do but I guess the majority of you don’t. The Observer newspaper recently noted that Leonard should be as well known to you as Thomas Cook and Billy Butlin, names I’m in no doubt you do know.

What has Leonard got to do with tourism I hear you ask? Well, he was a passionate social innovator and he devoted his life to encouraging and supporting the British working class to get out into the countryside.

He founded the Co-operative Holiday Association in 1897 and worked hard at trying to offer the working class of Britain an alternative to spending their hard earned cash on a week-long binge to seaside resorts. Not only that, he was instrumental in setting up theYouth Hostel Association (affordable basic accommodation predominately found in countryside locations), the Ramblers Association and the National Trust, which are all still thriving.

Recent evidence suggests that young people aren’t particularly interested in participating and visiting the great outdoors. Yet in Britain today, we have infinite choice when it comes to rural tourism and it was pioneers like Leonard that paved the way (pardon the pun) for many of the opportunities we have to visit and utilise the countryside.

Without his creativity, innovation and entrepreneurial drive our countryside and, perhaps more importantly, our use of the countryside would be significantly different.

Today, walking is estimated to contribute a sizeable £2.76bn for the UK economy and this doesn’t include the mega money we all spend on fashion wear within outdoor recreation. It’s clearly big business and the tourism industry is a big part of this success because it’s inextricably intertwined with the leisure, outdoor and recreation industries.

Here in Southampton, the New Forest National Park is right on our door step and its quite staggering to realise that over 15 million people live within a 90 minute drive and it has the most visitors per square kilometre than any other UK National Park. It attracts 7.5 visits/km2 and they use the New Forest regularly.

The bigger picture is that 55% of the British population of England regularly participate in outdoor recreation through day trips, weekend breaks and full blown rural tourism holidays.

So if you were saying to yourself earlier that you’re not particularly interested in leisure, recreation or tourism in the countryside, you might now be wondering what you’ve been missing out on! Those of you who know what they’re missing can sit smugly!

With the diversity of choice and the buoyantly high numbers enjoying our countryside come some conflicts and issues which need to be managed to safeguard the quality of tourism experiences.

Could you manage this myriad of challenges or be the next innovator or pioneer within the UK’s tourism industry? Or is your dynamism better suited to setting up your own business in the great outdoors? Maybe you’re going to be the next person at the forefront of organising a mega spectacle, like hosting the Tour de France somewhere in the UK.