2021 In Review

Goodbye 2021 and welcome 2022! Reflecting on 2021, it was a year of exceptional domestic USA outdoor adventures, record-breaking seasons for many of our USA-based clients, extended resilience, continued hope, growth of inclusivity in the outdoors, and successful firsts for Liquid Spark.  All this in the midst of full on pandemic year #2 and natural disasters.  We have high hopes for a globally better 2022 for all – at every level.

Here’s a recap of our highlights from 2021 and a look at early 2022 digital marketing and tourism trends to power up your success for this coming season.

Liquid Spark 2021 Highlights

1. First-Ever Staff Adventure Retreat

Our Liquid Spark team headed to McCarthy, Alaska for our first multi-day adventure retreat rafting down the Kennicott, Nizina, and Chitina Rivers with McCarthy River Tours & Outfitters. Our fully remote team had a blast spending four days connecting in person in the awe-inspiring Alaska wilderness of Wrangell St. Elias National Park and around the campfire.

Kennicott River Lodge overlooking Kennicott Glacier with McCarthy River Tours

2. Adventure Spark Chats

We began Adventure Spark Chats – our series of conversations with leaders in adventure tourism and sustainability, and the inevitable intersection with social justice and spirituality. The chats have been a great way to build connections and expand diverse thinking and perspectives. While we didn’t get as many done as we thought we would in 2021, we are excited for many more great conversations in 2022.

Liquid Sparks First Adventure Chat

3. Spark Forward Non-Profit Program

After our successful, mostly pro bono total digital makeover of the non-profit Tibetan Language Institute (website, e-commerce bookstore and online language courses), we felt so good about this inspired Dharma gift, that we decided to do it for other non-profits. We launched our new Spark Forward Non-Profit Program offering a mix of free and deeply discounted expert marketing services to transform and “spark” one organization per year! We believe this program really allows Liquid Spark to put our money where our mission is, and feel equally encouraged by helping non-profits put more good into the world.

New Tibetan Website

4. New Staff Added to Our Remote Team

We added a few marketing rockstars to the Liquid Spark team this year! Lucinda and Allie joined our full-time staff, writing emails, posting engaging social media content, and more. Rylee project managed us into our most efficient selves. Mary shared her SEO and PPC expertise. We’re thankful for a team that knows how to work hard and have fun!

  • Allie
  • Rylee

5. Top 20 Marketing Agency in North Carolina

The expert analysts at DesignRush carefully vetted the leading digital marketing companies in North Carolina that specialize in driving brand awareness and lead generation across channels like email, website content, advertising, social media and more. Voila –Liquid Spark – made their list as a Top 20 North Carolina Digital Marketing Agency. This was not a “pay to play” entry, unlike some award sites. We are honored for the recognition!

Design Rush Accredited Agency

6. Women Travel Leaders

We joined Women Travel Leaders.  Women Travel Leaders (WTL) is a new professional association comprising inspirational and influential business owners, executives, influencers, journalists, managers, hoteliers, representatives, and directors in adventure travel and tourism from around the world. Their mission is to elevate diverse female professionals in the travel industry through community connections, peer-to-peer coaching, tailored community-led learning, and masterminding. Julie, our fearless leader, jumped into their Elite Mastermind Groups and then was also invited to be a board member. She is thrilled to participate, learn, grow, and help encourage other women with her decades of adventure travel and tourism experience.

Women Travel Leaders

Client Awards in 2021

Our clients are making waves as premier leaders of outdoor adventures in the USA and abroad!

7. Alpaca Expeditions wins Peru’s Leading Tour Operator 2021

8. Wilderness Voyagers wins 3rd Place in USA Today’s Top 10 Best White Water Rafting Tour

9. Wildwater Rafting wins 8th Place in USA Today’s Top 10 Best White Water Rafting Tour

2021 Sustainability and Stewardship Gains

10. 1% For the Planet had a record-breaking year, with:

  • 2,150 new business members
  • 380 new individual members
  • Over $50 million was given back to the planet

Liquid Spark is proud to be a 1% for the Planet business member, since 2014.

2021 Outdoor Industry Trends

11. Record-breaking numbers of people visited National Parks:

Here are statistics for June visits to some popular National Parks.  In June alone, over 31 million people visited a National Park Service site.

  • Yellowstone National Park saw at least a 27% increase in visitors, with 1 million visiting in June
  • Acadia National Park in Maine received 661K visitors during June, over 200% increase from 201k in 2020.
  • Zion National Park saw 676 thousand park entrees, compared to 377 thousand in June of 2020, which is a 79% increase.
  • Finally, in our own backyard, 2 million people visited the Great Smoky National Park in June, a 25% increase from 1.5 million visitors in 2020.
  • Statistics for the whole year of 2021 are not yet available – stay tuned for more on that later in 2022.

12. Outdoor retail sales and activities saw year over year big increases:

  • According to the Outdoor Retailer trade show, by May of 2021, outdoor gear sales were already up double digits:
    • Kayaks by almost 30%
    • Backpacking tents by almost 50%
    • Sleeping bags by 28%
  • Some outdoor brands saw their sales in 2021 double those of 2020, and expect to see them double yet again in 2022.
  • Fishing Licenses sold are up 2% to 39.3 million in 2021, from 38.5m in 2020. Tiny %, but very big absolute numbers at 800,000 more licenses sold.
    • Fishing gear sales grew to $3.9 Billion (yep, with a B) for the 12 months ending September 2021, for mass merchants, sporting goods stores, and ecommerce stores.
  • Bicycles as a category grew 65% in the 12 months ending July 2021, compared to July 2019, for a total category of $5.3 Billion (yep, another B!).
    • E-bikes are now a larger category than road bikes!

2022 Top 8 Marketing & Tourism Trends

(Preparing for the year ahead? We can help – our Marketing Roadmap will set your 2022 up for success.)

  1. Video, Video, and More Video – We don’t just mean for a TikTok or Instagram Reel – video has become king when it comes to engagement on all platforms. Videos allow audiences to really connect to the experience you provide.
  2. Speak to Newbies – Be sure that your communications speak directly to newcomers, especially addressing their needs and lack of experience and/or knowledge of what you offer. Landing pages and newsletters full of insider jargon or assumptions are not helpful to hesitant new adventurers.
  3. Keep Social Social – Limited and stop/start gatherings for 2 years and running mean people want to connect authentically more than ever. Keep the content you share an authentic representation of what your brand represents – it’s easier for you to be yourself, and you’ll grab the attention of the kind of adventurers you want!
  4. Automate Those Emails – Frankly, this is “must-take-advantage-of-tool” in 2022. The efficiency of creating and scheduling an automated email series generates quality leads and engagement, frees up your staff from answering the same questions, gets customers on the right trips for their abilities/interests, and can lead to higher per-customer revenue and retention. Make your life easier – go automated!
  5. Track and Use Your Data to Make Decisions – This is not new, but we are always amazed at how many companies do not track their marketing initiatives carefully through their entire sales funnel, aka customer journey experience. Google Tag Manager (GTM) is your unsung marketing hero and will help you see what marketing is working at each point of your sales funnel.  The reasons to track and use your data got a lot bigger for 2022, with AI exploding into the de facto foundation of most ad platforms.  See trend #6.
  6. Artificial Intelligence (AI) Settles In  – Google and Meta (formerly Facebook) are overtly prioritizing “smart” programs, aka artificial intelligence to understand the intent behind user behavior. Both platforms know a whole lot more about your user than you do (or ever will) – across the web, they just no longer share as much information. While this gives marketers less third-party data to work with, be aware that AI is here to stay and you need to set up your brand up to make the most out of these changes. Dial in your conversion tracking across your sales funnel so that AI conversion automation in ads actually gets you results you want, not just fat piggy banks for ad platforms.
  7. Inclusivity in Outdoor Adventures – If we are not part of the solution, actively engaged in outreach to customers, communities, and partners who do not look like us – then we are part of America’s larger problem. Really. Simple steps of outreach will win this long-distance event of engaging, welcoming and doing the internal and external work so everyone thrives, including our businesses. Look to hear a lot more about this from Liquid Spark’s awesome advisors in the adventure community, in 2022.
  8. Regenerative Tourism Is the New Sustainability  – Leaders in adventure travel and tourism experiences will step up their game to go beyond sustainability (minimize harm) into truly regenerative business operations practices, community outreach, and stewardship along the 4 Pillars of Sustainable Tourism.   Not sure what this is about? Learn more here: Sustainability Trends in Business and Tourism.  Get your free, powerful toolkit on Sustainability in Business here.

Overwhelmed with something on this list? This is where savvy tourism marketing agencies will make your world much easier, and your success measurable. Contact us for a free 30 minute consult on where to go next.

As we venture further into 2022, more reports about outdoor adventure and marketing trends will be released. Stay tuned – we’ll keep you up to speed on trends and stats that matter for a successful year!