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Professional Competencies and TrendScanning

ACE Communities has developed a leadership competency framework that places emphasis on vision, big picture thinking, planning and the change agent function. Many of these elements are also incorporated into the ARPA Vocational Competencies for Recreation and Parks Practitioners, along with capabilities related to leisure education, programming, facility/parks planning and management, community development and all aspects of management.
None of these competencies can be learned at some fixed time in the past and be relied upon as the communities we serve change around us. As leaders and professionals, we must monitor related trends, predictions and prescriptions. Otherwise, we will:

  • miss emerging opportunities;
  • create facilities based on yesterday’s demand patterns that will lose relevance over their 50 to 100 year lifespan;
  • and generally run the risk of simply backing into the future by cleaning up historical patterns and problems.
  • In a dynamic operating environment, the ability to manage with foresight is the ultimate leadership competency. The list below illustrates the connection between ACE/ARPA leadership competencies and the types of trends captured in this blog

    Competency 1: Leisure Education
  • trends in leisure time availability
  • trends in consumer target categories (e.g. those with leisure time and discretionary income, those with time but limited funds, those with limited time and funds)
  • trends in the determinants of leisure (age, income, education, cultural background)
  • broad trends in leisure interests and demand patterns

    Competency 2: Program and Events
  • leisure activity trends – separate sections on participation in specific activities, fitness, sport, arts/culture, park visitation, and outdoor recreation
  • tourism trends – understanding recreation away from home, our growing awareness of emerging demand patterns and their implications for local behaviour and demand

    Competency 3: Community Development
  • changing composition and nature of communities (both geographical and communities of interest)
  • influence of the digital age and social networking on community and service provision
  • shifts in perceptions of rights and responsibilities – changing view of citizenship
  • shifts in voluntarism
  • shifts in government support for the non-profit sector
  • general trends in non-profit capacity

    Competency 4: Human Resource Management
  • management/leadership trends
  • shifts in the motivation of volunteers and volunteer supervision
  • general trends in employee attitudes and values

    Competency 5: Diversity
  • trends in cultural composition of the communities we serve
  • disability trends
  • the shifting family
  • income trends – economically disadvantaged
  • monitoring gender and sexual orientation – interests, needs, opportunities

    Competency 6: Resource Development
  • trends in government budgets related to recreation, fitness, sport, arts, culture, tourism and parks
  • trends in government grants to community, arts, culture, recreation, sport, parks and environment activities and groups
  • fundraising and fund development trends

    Competency 7: Marketing and Communications
  • general trends in consumer behaviour that may have implications
  • predictions related to market segments (often taken from tourism literature)
  • trends in how consumers prefer to get their information

    Competency 8: Recreation Facility Management
  • participation information related to facility demand in the future
  • trends in facility management (e.g. emerging technology, emerging best practices)
  • implications of socio-demographic shifts for facility demand and design

    Competency 9: Parks Management
  • participation information related to park demand in the future
  • trends in parks and protected area management
  • implications of changing communities and modern planning practices (e.g. density) for urban parks, open spaces and corridors.

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Arts in the US - 1998 to 2007

'Americans for the Arts' has just produced the National Arts Index - an annual measure of the health and vitality of the arts in the United States, using 76 national level indicators.  The full report is a 'must read' as trends in all 76 areas are reviewed and discussed.

The 2008 National Arts Index score is 98.4, compared to the 2003 baseline of 100 and the previous year's score of 102.6.  The Report draws attention to four overall themes:
  • the arts follow the business cycle - facing tough times in 2008/2009 but looking forward to an arts rebound in 2011
  • demand for the arts lags supply - the report documents stready growth in the number of artists, art organizations and arts-related employment opportunities; yet one out of three nonprofit arts organizations fail to achieve a balanced budget (even during the strongest years)
  • there is a noticeable decline in attendance at concerts, plays, opera and museum opportunities; however the percentage of Americans who create art is up, as is the percentage who experience the arts through technology and social media
  • the competitiveness of the arts is slipping - not holding it's own when you look at uses of potential audience member time, donor/funder commitment, or spending (when compared to non-arts sectors).

From our Foresight perspective, highlights of the report follow:
  • the % of Americans attending museums declined by 13% between 2003 and 2008
  • the % of Americans attending performing arts events declined by 17% between 2003 and 2008
  • the % of Americans personally creating art (e.g. photography, music making and drawing) is growing slightly ahead of the US population growth rate - up from 18.5% to 19.5% between 2003 and 2008
  • a slightly greater percentage of toal personal consumption was spend on arts and culture (e.g. theatre, books, movies) , growing from 1.78 to 1.83 percent from 2003 to 2008
  • the share of foundation funding being directed to the arts decreased from 14.8% in 1998 to 10.6% in 2007
  • the corporate giving share to the arts decreased from 10.3% to 4.6% from 1998 to 2007
  • artists remained a steady 1.5% share of the total civilian workforce from 1996 to 2008
  • there has been a steady growth in the number of nonprofit arts organizations over the past decade - from 73.000 to 104,000.
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Potential for Permanent Shift in Tourist Behaviour

The UN World Tourism Organization expects global tourism to rebound strongly after "one of the most difficult years", the 2009 travel downturn created by the credit crisis and H1N1 scare.  However, after reviewing over 30 independent predictions for tourism in 2010, we react to this prediction with some scepticism.

Over the years, there have been many bad years for the travel industry each with a readily identified cause, 911 and SAARS being the most memorable.  However, the past decade has produced a perfect storm of negative tourism drivers, influences that have not been short term and may well lead to a permanent shift in tourist behaviour.  Tourist decisions are increasingly influenced by:
  • concerns for personal security, while travelling and in the destination community
  • concerns for personal health
  • increasing travel costs combined with persistent personal economies of restraint
  • a new awareness of the carbon footprint related to airline travel in particular
  • shifting air travel policies that frankly reduce travel appeal, and
  • heavy investments in domestic tourism promotion - as governments, destination marketing organizations and industry groups adjust to reduced international movement.
These influencers have been in place and growing for a full decade.  They are changing the way individual consumers think about travel.  Together, they are pushing tourists towards a tipping point where permanent behaviour change may result.  We are convinced that at least some market segments will make a significant shift requiring major travel industry adjustment.

Personal Security

911 and more recent in-air terrorist attempts have shaken our confidence in air travel safety.  Terrorist activities and threats in popular resorts reduce the appeal of each destination involved.  Crime against tourists, while not rampant, seems always to be in the news.  These issues are of particular concern to security minded older travellers - the booming market.

Health Risk

SAARS dampened our enthusiasm for travel.  H1N1 did the same, just as we were getting over SAARS.  Potential travellers are now listening carefully to regular warnings about the inevitability of the next epidemic.  Many popular destinations (e.g. Dominican Republic) have developed reputations for high tourist illness rates; susceptible travellers are increasing concerned about the return trip, listening to coughs throughout the plane and breathing recycled air.  Again, it is the mature traveller that will likely be influenced most.

And don't forget all the new information about exposure to sun and the risk of skin cancer - gradually eroding our 'sun seeker' enthusiasm.

Economic Restraint

The cost of travel is increasing dramatically, particularly when airplanes, RVs and cars are involved.  Old habits made it easy to pull out the credit card and deal with cost later; now, many are rethinking their dependence on credit and at the same time realizing how difficult it really is to save the cost of a trip in advance.  Travellers have been looking for better deals for some time, with last minute bookings almost becoming the norm.  There is a real possibility that even a good deal will seem too expensive.  Expect travel demand to remain high, but expect many travellers to sign up for fewer expensive trips, moving towards a more sustainable balance with inexpensive staycations or other forms of domestic tourism.

Carbon Footprint

Not only is air travel expensive, it is also one of the 'grand contributors' to global warming.  More information is available all the time and the public is beginning to make life decisions based on environmental impact.  Expect airline trip reduction per traveller, continued RV use but with less travel, and general movement away from fuel consuming recreation/tourist activity towards complimentary alternatives (power yacht to sail, motor boat to canoe/kayak, downhill to Xcountry skiing).

Air Travel Change

Air travel is simply less appealing as we move into the second decade of this very volatile century.  Consider:
  • increased security hassles at the airport
  • fare increases which always feel like we're paying more for less
  • reduced service and/or more special fees (fuel surcharge, luggage charges, advance seat selection, prefered seats on the place, pets, etc.)
  • ongoing cuts to routes and the number of planes per route
  • less legroom and more crowded planes
  • few service personel per plane (on ground and in air), often more stressed as a result of cuts.
Airlines are hoping that we need our travel fix badly enough that we will tolerate all of this.  But this mix of deteriorating airline hospitality factors may turn out to be the straw that breaks our air travel desire (on top of other concerns).

Domestic Travel Promotion

As the travel industry faces reductions in inbound trips and witnesses the move to staycations, their promoters are spending more time and money convincing us to travel locally or in our native countries.  The impact of several years of mass social marketing, designed to convince us that patriotic travel is best anyway, will have a cumulative impact.  It could well be the final factor that changes travel behaviour permanently, for some market segments.
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The Great Outdoor Recreation Debate

Over the past couple of decades, we have concluded that demand for outdoor recreation will remain high and more stable that facility oriented and team-based pursuits.  This assumption was shaken a couple of years ago by two publications:
  • Richard Louv in his book, 'Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder', raises concerns that our children have little or no experience of what it's like to explore the great outdoors.  Today's child is being deprived of the knowledge and the spiritual and emotional grounding that nature offers.
  • Oliver Pergmas and Patricis Zaradic, in their article 'Evidence for a fundamental and pervasive shift away from nature-based recreation', looked at 16 time series variables before concluding that we are witness to a general downtrend in per capita participation in nature recreation.
Possible reasons for the identified decline in participation rates include:
  • growth in ethnic populations that often have a different view of nature and the wilderness
  • increasing cost of travel as fuel costs increase - as well as increases in time required related to urban development and traffic congestion
  • the shift over the years to more expensive forms of outdoor accommodation (e.g. RV camping) and the negative impact of the economic downturn in this regard
  • increasing competition from various forms of electronic entertainment that keep us indoors
  • crowding and congestion at destination points, and
  • increasing awareness of the environmental impacts that accompany overuse.
A rebuttal of sorts has come in the form of a 2009 presentation by Ken Cordell, Carter Betz, Gary Green and Shela Mou - a team that has kept the outdoor industry informed about trends for years ( ).  The team concludes that:
  • between 2000 and early 2008, the total number of Americans who participated in one or more outdoor activities increased by 4.4%
  • at the same time, the total number of days of participation increased from 67 billion to 84 billion
  • between 2000 and 2007, the total number of people participating in nature-based activities grew by 3.1%, while the number of participation days grew by about 32% - over all 50 nature-based activities studied, per capita days increased by more than 22%.

This latest analysis indicates that, when you look at total annual recreation activity days:
  • hunting and fishing is holding steady
  • backcounry activity trends are mixed but steady (with recent increases in backpacking and mountain climbing)
  • non-motor boating activity trends are mixed but experiencing a slight decline (kayaking grew in the first part of the decade and has held its place as the most popular activity in this category)
  • both snow skiing and snowboarding are experiencing significant decline
  • motorized activity trends are mixed: off-highway vehicle driving is up; snowmobiling is down; motorboating, personal watercraft, and waterskiing all steady
  • viewing/photographing nature grew rapidly mid decade and is relatively stable at that new level or plateau.
The bottom line appears to be that while per capita participation rates are generally down in the outdoor recreation field, visitor numbers are actually up due to a combination of more frequent visits and population growth over the same time period.

As if to confirm the above summary, Leisure Trends Group reported that outdoor product sales were down 2.2% in 2009.  Based on point-of-sale data, chain retail sales dropped 3%, specialty shop sales dropped 4.1%, while internet sales increased 4.5%.

However, the 2009 Topline Report of the Outdoor Industry Foundation used an online survey process and concluded that per capita participation rates were actually higher in 2008 than in 2007 for all outdoor activities included in the survey except kayaking and skiing.  The debate is not yet conclusive.

Meanwhile, those interested in ensuring continued public interest in the outdoors are being encouraged to take action:
  • Louv speaks to may ways of becoming active in a "No child Left Inside" movement
  • USA Today reports on a burgeoning, nationwide "back-to-nature movement to reconnect children with the outdoors", and
  • there's a new American Girl Doll, Lanie designed by American Girl in partnership with the Natinal Wildlife Federation (NWF) in support of the organization's "Be Out There" campaign.  She is intended to help girls play with growing a garden, bird-watch, camp, create a butterfly habitat, etc.
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Fitness Predictions for 2010 - What's Hot

It's that time of year again - when leadership organizations in the fitness world make their predictions for the upcoming year.  Check out:
Some of the predictions appear a little self-serving:
  • increased use of personal trainers
  • group personal training (two or three clients together arrange private class or coaching)
  • growing importance of proper professional credentials
  • increase in demand for group training as participants try to save on expenses.
Others reinforce and remind us of trends that have been in place for some time:
  • strength training (both as part of a comprehensive program and as a key to weight reduction)
  • core training (focus on muscles of the pelvis, lower back, hips and abdomen)
  • growing seniors market
  • increasing emphasis on children and obeisity.

Having reviewed over two dozen speculative reports, we would like to weigh in on the six trends or shifts that will likely have the greatest impact on service provider investment decisions - building facilities, buying equipment.

Cost Conscious Fitness

SGMA reports that, for the first time in 20 years, overall sales in the fitness equipment industry "took at hit" and declined.  Fitness participants are looking for ways to achieve efficient workouts at reasonable cost.  ACE reports that gyms will alter programming and training tobetter serve the needs of the cost-conscious member.  SGMA points out that the home fitness market is now roughly three times bigger than the institutional/club market. Look for:

  • In home workouts to gravitate towards smaller, portable fitness equipment - both to lower cost and to fit in the smaller homes that have become the urban norm

  • a return to 'no equipment' options (calisthenics, yoga, body weight exercises) or minimal equipment (stretch cords, step)

  • expect growth in outdoor workouts in parks, on the beach - outdoor boot camps

  • fitness support groups to form using social networking - meeting when convenient, in borrowed spaces, with volunteer leadership.

Functional Fitness

Closely related is the trend towards fitness activities that mimic the functions required in daily life or by one's selected sport(s).  These activities require few tools and appeal to those who want to grab fitness breaks while at home, the office, on a business trip, etc.   Growth can be expected in:

  • any activity that maintains strength, balance and flexibility as we age (yoga, stretching, tai chi)

  • special, equipment-free workouts for skiiers, golfers, and off-season athletes of all ages

  • workouts that reduce the risk of injury when doing essential chores (gardening, snow shoveling).

Fusion and Fun

The advantages of cross-training, blending spirit/mind/body activities, and building in the enjoyment factor are now fully appreciated in the wellness and fitness market.  Pole dancing, belly dancing, Zumba, and hooping are all examples of more fun things to come.  And we will see even more merging of yoga/stretching/pilates, of boxing/Tai Chi, fitness/spa, workout/wellness, strength/flexibility/balance, and other holistic approaches.

Technology and Tools

The next decade will see fitness activity transformed by technology.  Specifically, watch for:

  • increadible breakthroughs in fitness gaming.  Wii is just the beginning as Microsoft brings in gaming systems that use your movements and words as guides (no fingers required).  The new fitness games will be more fun, allow for online coaching and feedback; and fitness will be a by-product of many regular games, as we leave the couch to move around in virtual worlds.

  • increased use of sensor devices (smart pedometers, GPS technology, metabolic sensors built into clothing (GoWear, SenseWear, Bodybugg)

  • web based fitness program advice, program tracking, support groups (e.g. TrainingPeaks, Fit Day, Sparkpeople)

  • a continuous stream of exercise gadgets (some very useful: TRX suspension, kettlebells).

Senior Market

According to SGMA, already 30% of US 'core' fitness participants (those who participate 50 days of more a year) are 55 year of age or older.  Basic demographics and a new appreciation for the value of exercise in offsetting the dibilitating aspects of aging guarantee further expansion.  The fitness market will respond by:
  • producing age appropriate programs - low impact, low resistance (e.g. aquabics) 
  • supporting specialist classes and opportunities for boomers
  • blending mind/body exercise
  • developing fitness interventions specific to feared health conditions (dimentia, heart/stroke, osteoperosis, rheumatism, etc.)
  • partnering with the health system to provide in-home, personal trainers for those who have limited mobility.

Obeisity is now viewed as a priority health issue throughout North America.  We can expect it to get the attention that smoking cessation received over the past few decades.  There will be particular emphasis on children and youth as the market demands it and health promotion agencies offer incentives and partnership opportunities to participant and provider alike.  Anticipate:
  • increased requirements for schools to ensure daily fitness activity
  • increased referals and partnerships between the health and recreation/fitness communities
  • even more opportunity for tax benefits related to preventive participation
  • emulation of the 'Biggest Loser' at fitness and recreation centres across the country
  • modified 'Boot Camps', customized for the overweight.
The Big Shift

Overall, we conclude that fitness demand is trending towards the most economical, convenient and practical solutions available.  We have long known that exercise and fitness activity was slipping away from the leisure domain and increasingly viewed as an essential task along with eating, sleeping and household maintenance.  Trends over the past year, along with predictions for 2010 reinforce home based, minimalist approaches - with professional support delivered virtually.

Good news for the consumer - not so good for the fitness centre entrepreneur.
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Leisure Behaviour in the Digital Age

Digital Behaviours