We’re Off to the Races!

Here at Zebulon LLC we’re avid supporters of knowledge sharing, so we’re kick-starting the 2023 season with a summer scout report on industry trends our clients are experiencing right now.

Like this Forbes article says, the Outdoor Recreation industry has experienced significant growth (and significant consumer behavior changes) since the “before times.” After a banner 2021 season, and a 2022 season during which many outfitters regained their footing, what’s in store for 2023? 

According to journalist Michelle Burton, “For the consumers who have made their outdoor activity of choice a lifestyle — even those who may have only picked up an activity during the pandemic — they’ve made a ‘fundamental behavioral’ choice to invest in that activity.” 

In other words, the outdoor industry’s growing fanbase isn’t going anywhere. 

Advance Bookings are Mostly Stagnant …

Interestingly enough, the number of 2023 passenger bookings Zebulon LLC clients have registered between January and mid-May this year are on-par with bookings logged in the equivalent timeframe in 2019 (the year before everything went topsy-turvy). 

Below is a sample pulled from various clients’ reservations revealing that the Rocky Mountain/Pacific region’s bookings are up only 6% compared to 2019. Colorado, however, is experiencing a marginal 4% drop.

Summer Scout Report: Chart comparing Zebulon LLC client booking numbers from 2019 and 2023.

… But Gross Sales are Better Than Ever!

Even though the number of passengers booked hasn’t changed significantly from 2019 to 2023, which appears to be common industry-wide, we’re still seeing data that points to our clients’ outfits being healthier than ever (financially, that is). 

Just look at the data on average spend per passenger: Zebulon clients were charging around $78 per person in 2019, yet our data shows these same outfitters charging on average $120 per passenger in 2023 – a whopping 54% increase. 

Summer Scout Report: Chart comparing the average spend per Zebulon LLC client passenger, between 2019 and 2023.

Remember: Pre-Bookings Are Not Indicative of Overall Outfit Health

Here’s where things get really interesting: While stagnant pre-bookings seem to be a trend industry-wide, causing some concern for other outfitters, the great news is that Zebulon clients are generating a whopping 62% more gross sales with these “run of the mill” booking numbers. For the average Zebulon outfitter, this means having about $165,000 more cash on-hand going into the summer season. 

Summer Scout Report: Two simple charts comparing gross sales and extra cash on hand for Zebulon LLC clients between 2019 and 2023.

Summer Scout Report: Other Top-Of-Mind Items

We’re all aware of the record-breaking winter we’re emerging from, but did you know that snowpack in the West means many rafting outfits are looking at a season that extends through October? For specifics on water conditions, check out our friends at Sierra South and their “State of the Snowpack.”

Off-the-charts weather also means that many of our clients are looking down the barrel of unprecedented seasons, whether in terms of the length of operations, the technical skill required to operate some trips, and more.

Americans are (Finally) Up in the Air Again 

Did you hear that the TSA is now consistently reporting numbers of passengers that surpass 2019 levels? For the first time since the pandemic, the ole’ summer vacation flying frenzy has truly begun again. Time to watch those numbers translate into a banner season for our clients!

Are Economic Hazards Waiting Downriver?

We know there’s a lot of “doom and gloom” messaging out there about the economy; you’re not alone if stressors like inflation and a potential recession are keeping you up at night. Our recommendation is to let your numbers speak for themselves and trust in what they’re telling you about your specific situation.  

Battle Financial Hazards with Value-Based Pricing

Our tried-and-true pricing methods are holding strong: for most financial worries, value-based pricing provides peace of mind and maximizes your profitability. Remember: the vast majority of outfitters’ customers don’t have seasons upon seasons of experience spent outdoors, so their relative “fear of the unknown” (and their willingness to hire experts to get them safely downriver) makes for a high-ticket value proposition. 

After successfully implementing value-based pricing at dozens of outfitters nationwide, we can guarantee that most customers will gladly part with their money when doing so ensures a safe experience, a healthy dose of the great outdoors and, most importantly, fun memories.

Summer Scout Report quoteworthy phrase:

Zeb’s Expert Advice: Recalibration is the Name of Our Game

So, how do we recommend you handle pre-bookings, record-setting weather, potential economic threats, and more, all at the same time? Says Zeb: “The trick is having the mindset to recalibrate mid-season.”

Scout Things Out and Adjust As Needed

Just like you rely on your guides to assess river conditions day-of and make expert decisions on the fly, it’s imperative that outfit owners and leaders learn to read the (economic) river and make informed, strategic decisions in real-time.

Let the Numbers do the Talking

If your pre-bookings are down, it may be worthwhile to run a few scenarios and build some projections to get a clearer picture of your potential season. Analyze which of your services generate better margins than others, and lean into those offerings. As always, implementing value-based pricing will help you work smarter, make more money, and provide for happy customers — a win-win-win in our books.

Join the Waitlist to Get Expert Analysis

If you could use a boost jumpstarting your recalibration after reading this summer scout report, or if you’re keen to have a financial expert analyze your outfit’s numbers once the season winds down, the most financially-savvy action you can take today is to sign up for our waitlist. Investing just 60 seconds to fill out the form now could mean the difference between another break-even season and one that nets you 62% more cash on-hand.

Scouting Out the Rest of the Season

We’re stoked to watch the rest of the 2023 outdoor season unfold. Sure, there are a handful of unknowns (Will bookings increase? Will the crazy good river conditions outlast our expectations?), but we’re confident our gold-star outfits will make the most of it.

The long and short of this summer scout report: Adopting a recalibration mindset now will allow you to stay the course, ride out any rapids, and confidently take charge of the rest of the 2023 season. Let us help you prepare for 2024, adopt-value based pricing, and preemptively squash any economic hazards waiting downriver.

Did we miss any trends you’re noticing? Drop us a line here. Want to chat with other outfit owners and leaders about timely issues? Join the Outside In-Crowd on Facebook or shoot the sh*t with us during the Groover Gab. Interested in getting weekly updates, insights, and knowledge shares like this in your inbox? Join our mailing list here. Ready for personalized expert advice? Join our waitlist here.

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