As the global pandemic and its impact on the American people continues to grip the nation, business leaders are utilizing every tool they have assembled in their careers to protect their families, preserve their companies and retain their people. At the same time, management teams are working overtime to find fresh opportunities and fertile ground hidden in these unpredictable and foggy waters.
The dangers and open questions we all face are self-evident. How do we and our loved ones remain healthy and safe? How do we manage cash flow and pay bills until the national emergency is lifted and regional economies open back up? How do we protect our employees and customers? Specific to our industry, how will changes in consumer behavior disrupt or benefit recreational fishing and boating and our historical business models? How should we lead and structure our organizations to be relevant and sustainable in a post-pandemic future?
While 2020 current events are unprecedented in modern society, pandemics are not unprecedented in human history or the great outdoors. The last disruptive force occurred in 1918 and killed 675,000 people in the United States. Then, like now, the human toll and economic costs from the Spanish flu were profound, and our national psyche was wounded, but normal life did return and go on.
After the 1918 epidemic, a fresh wave of creativity and opportunity emerged across America. The ’20s roared in, along with an impressive expansion of our national parks. The two decades following that pandemic led to the renowned efforts to form iconic recreation areas, such as Shenandoah National Park, Great Smoky Mountains National Park and Everglades National Park. These assets —along with many other national public land and water treasures — were widely supported by Congress and a committed group of legendary conservationists and philanthropists.
During this period, in the midst of an economic catastrophe and then a world war, the national parks played a critical role in getting Americans back to work and provided much-needed peace for a country that had experienced the threat of losing its freedom. The Civilian Conservation Corps initially began as a relief effort focused on road, waterway and infrastructure construction. Many reservoirs and national conservation efforts can be directly traced to this era, which also resulted in the greatest rise of mass recreation in our nation’s history.
Opportunity was found in the aftermath of those difficult years, providing a window into how we can effectively respond as an industry in today’s environment if we all work together.
Discover Boating and numerous marine dealers are reporting sustained triple digit growth in consumer Web traffic and boat searches during self-quarantine. The innovative retailers who are quickly adapting their approach report strong consumer traffic and sales. This rising and renewed interest in the boating lifestyle by many Americans suggests that close-to-home recreation may be in for a revival. More specifically, activities that allow families to safely enjoy the outdoors while social distancing are well-positioned to thrive in the days to come.
And as activities such as large sporting events, vacations, even youth sporting camps and leagues are canceled this summer, Americans’ pent-up demand for recreation will be at its peak. If there were ever a time to help Americans get back to basics and discover the joy of being outdoors with their loved ones, it is now. From relishing in the excitement of catching that first fish, finding a moment of peace while anchoring from shore to take in the sunset, or igniting our inner child while bouncing on a tube across the lake, boating and fishing can be the remedy we all need coming out of this dark time.
The NMMA, Discover Boating, the Recreational Boating and Fishing Foundation, the MRAA and our partners are not standing still. We are working together to develop a national campaign to share the restorative escape that only the water can provide. Now is not the time to be fragmented in our individual campaigns, but, rather, to be united in highlighting a return to boating and fishing.
In unprecedented coordination, Take Me Fishing, Discover Boating and MRAA are aligning to broadcast our industry’s story around the country. By pooling our resources, we’ll get in front of Americans like never before. Together, we’ll produce a public service announcement that will run on television and radio in key markets, in addition to deploying robust digital advertising, social media and public relations.
To make the campaign successful, we need your help. When it launches in June, all industry stakeholders will be given access to carefully created materials developed by RBFF and Discover Boating for your social media channels, websites, newsletters and local media outlets. If the marine industry fully joins together to share our unique message at this difficult time — meaning all industry associations, dealers, marinas, boatyards, banks, insurance companies and retail outlets — we will attract more consumers to the lifestyle, improve the wellness of Americans and sustainably position the industry for the years to come.
The goal for our industry needs to be exiting this pandemic more relevant than when the crisis arrived. What we offer and sell is desperately needed during this time, and our future is bright and clear. If we can collectively raise our voice and promote a unified message, if the marine industry can loudly speak as one and capture the opportunity in these unpredictable times, we will ensure we survive and thrive while helping Americans experience our beautiful national waters and discover what we all know and love.
Frank Hugelmeyer is president of the Marine Manufacturers Association.