Expert Edge

Enjoy the Great Outdoors

The first and most important step in developing an Outdoor Activities Program (OAP) is summed up in three letters: W-H-Y. Answering the "why" question determines the motivation behind the program and, as a result, the direction of the program and each of the organizational steps.

Some motivations are:

1. Minimize people's use of the facility (i.e., reduce overcrowding)

2. Broaden the market attracted to the club

3. Increase perceived value of membership

4. Enhance incremental revenues

5. Some combination of any or all of the above

The second step is determining how much the club can spend. Which, by the way, leads to the third step: staffing. Some important areas of expertise for the OAP coordinator are: marketing wizard, forest service bureaucrat, politician, strategic planner, time management expert, certified mountain guide, non-sleeper, organizational genius, liability attorney and travel agent. Clubs can expect to pay between $22,000 to $40,000 for such a coordinator.

Clubs don't have to hire to get help. Clubs with comprehensive, complicated excursions (wilderness locations; activities during potentially extreme weather conditions; use of state/federal parks or forests; trips requiring complex travel arrangements) may find partnering with existing outfitters or travel agents the most reasonable option.

The priorities of a coordinator will depend on the type of activities the program offers. One very important priority may be gaining Forest Service and National Park permits. Options include permits in the club's name (a very difficult task) or working with an existing outfitter/guiding company under its permits.

The fourth step in developing an OAP is choosing the right blend of activities. Begin by asking the following question: "Do the activities produce an outcome that is consistent with the club's motivation?" For example, if you want to minimize facility usage, does the activity reduce overcrowding?

Clubs need the right blend of activities to attract people. The market for people interested in "severe" outdoor experiences is smaller than the market for people interested in joining health clubs. And OAPs have similar "barriers to entry" when compared to other activities offered at clubs. Therefore, choosing activities and services that minimize barriers improve the overall program's chance of success. The three most significant barriers are:

1. Perceived or real lack of time

2. Perceived inability to be successful (which is most often created by requirements for high levels of coordination, strength and endurance, and/or specialized knowledge that produce feelings of intimidation or discomfort)

3. Cost

The fifth step is to get the kids involved! Implementing an in-house training program supplemented by educational, experimental and safe outdoor activities will train juniors in the ways of the outdoors and also keep parents happy knowing their children are in good hands. Involved kids bring their parents, creating a natural feeder system for the program.

Finally, supplement the program with indoor, low-intensity events such as ski clinics, orienteering practices and more. All these can be achieved with minimal member time, and will go a long way in promoting the club's other events. Club members may also find these activities help reduce the intimidation factor.

-- Kevin Hood, athletic director of the 19,700-member, 109-year-old, 600,000-square-foot Multnomah Athletic Club in Portland, Ore., is an ACSM health/fitness director. He can be reached at (503) 223-8740.

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