Outfitters from around the country convened in Daytona Beach, Fl. at the beginning of December to swap stories, learn tips, and catch up with old friends at the 30th annual America Outdoors Association Conference.
The America Outdoors Association represents nearly 500 outdoor recreation companies, advocating for public policies, connecting members, and providing resources for outfitters and guides.
Bryant Baker has been guiding river trips for the ACE Adventure Resort in West Virginia for 15 years. Having recently moved into a managerial role, he attended the conference for the first time this year to network with others in the business.
“They had a number of roundtable discussions sessions which is just great to sit with other managers from all over the country who are all dealing with the same kind of issues and getting to hear how we handle different issues or staffing or logistics,” Bryant said. “Sometimes it was just nice to hear other people are struggling with the same issues.”
Attendees at the conference could choose between sessions about risk management, marketing and innovation, leadership development, and customer service and business management. Popular topics at this year covered cultivating an inclusive and respectful work environment and ADA compliance in the outfitter world.
“There was a big focus this year on the women in our industry who are a part of the America Outdoors organization to come together as a group and support and empower each other in what is typically a male driven industry,” said Stacey Rice.
Rice works as the admissions director for Adventure Treks, an outdoor adventure summer camp for teenagers based in North Carolina.
“It doesn’t matter whether you’re a rafting guide company or a fly-fishing guide company or a camp for teenagers like we are, folks are facing some of the same issues and brainstorming together how we can creatively face those was a really great opportunity for me,” she said.
In addition to multiple days of educational sessions, the industry only trade show featured 150 booths with anything an outfitter might need to run their business, from t-shirt and sticker companies to software reservation systems and insurance providers.
“That was good to put some faces with names as far as reps go who I’m talking with on the phone or emailing back and forth with throughout the season,” Bryant said.
Before the conference kicked off, a small group of attendees headed out for a Week of Waterways. Hilary Wickes, the association’s marketing and communications specialist, said this was something the association used to put on way back when and decided to bring back this year.
“A handful of outfitters paddled six different rivers in Florida to get to the conference,” she said. “That was a really neat thing they did that they got a lot out of and now they’ve got lifelong friends.”
The conference alternates between the East and West Coast so that members from around the country are able to attend. Next year’s conference will be held December 9-12, 2019 in Salt Lake City, Utah.