Where Are the Millennials and Will They Start Showing Up?

Where Are the Millennials and Will They Start Showing Up?

This past weekend, I spent some time in our booth at the Chicagoland Fishing, Travel and Outdoor Expo.  The crowds were large and the conversations were good.  But something, or should I say, someone, was missing – the Millennials.  One of our team members did an unofficial count and estimated a ratio of 15 “graybeards” to each millennial at the show.

What is a Millennial Anyway?

Millenials boundary waters

Millennials are the infamous group of people currently about 19 to 35 years old and are about 80 million strong.  Millennials have replaced the Boomers as the trendsetters and the influencers.  Some other traits include:

  • Not being shackled to tradition or location.
  • Millennials don’t necessarily believe in the inherent value of face time.
  • They believe in learning, not pieces of paper.
  • Millennials believe in learning from others’ experiences.
  • They believe in life, not in work-life balance.

In addition, millennials can be characterized as follows:

  • High levels of curiosity
  • High levels of individuality
  • The desire for social good
  • Wanting financial stability
  • Obsession with technology

Competition for the attention of the millennials is fierce and the outdoor industries are failing.  Statistics are now showing that millennials have much less interest in the outdoors, particularly hunting, fishing, and camping, than prior generations.  Millennial participation in these three activities is significantly lower than that of their parents.

This Spells Trouble for the outdoors

This spells trouble for the outdoor industries and not just in terms of selling stuff.  As outdoor participation declines, so do the monies generated to keep improving our outdoor resources.  Resources get allocated to where the interest lies. We run the risk of losing the environmental gains achieved in the last several decades.

So What Do We Do?

First, and foremost, we need to meet millennials on their terms.  We can’t turn them into their parents.  We need to accept them as they are.  After that, we can do the following.

  1. The average millennial picks up a smartphone about 50 times a day. This creates a great opportunity to interact and engage in the outdoors.
  2. Millennials’ No. 1 reason for going outdoors is to exercise. The second is as a venue to socialize. Third is to camp or hike. So focus messaging around these topics
  3. Millennials are attracted to experiences, not necessarily buying or collecting stuff. Again engage them about the benefits of the experience, not just touting how good a piece of equipment is.
  4. The attraction to experience is, at least in part, driven by the desire to share experiences with others, usually electronically. Allow storytelling to become part of your own electronic platforms, particularly social media sites.
  5. Ensure that first experiences are positive. All people are more likely to repeat something if the first experience was a good one.
Millenial boundary waters trip

A Millennial takes in a BWCA sunset.

Part of our legacy, as members of the outdoor industries, is to ensure that the next generations will continue to build on the protections and improvements we have made for the outdoors.  To achieve this legacy, we need to do a better job of engaging the millennials.  Accept the millennials for who they are, be creative and get started now.


To start planning your family’s trip to the boundary waters canoe area contact Williams and Hall or call us at 218.365.5837

Paddle On. Be Free.