Saturday, March 15

NEC Outdoor Show Report - Fri 14 March

The trip northwards started early amongst heavy rush hour traffic; And, naturally, equally heavy rain. Three hours later I found myself, fellow UKOB Weird Darren by my side, in a brightly lit Press Office being formally sworn in to uphold the grand tradition of the Outdoors Show Official Press.

Shirt open to the navel with right breast bared; Left trouser log rolled up to one inch above the knee; Wedged firmly behind my left ear a pencil stub, point honed to a razor sharpness that would be the envy of Ray ‘who ate all the pies’ Mears; And finally, with suitable cocky jauntiness, I wore a hand rolled cigarette of somewhat dubious parentage behind my right ear.

I was prepared for action.

The sight, I’m certain, couldn’t have been anything to do with the reaction that rippled across the thronging Press Pack as signing in with a grand flourish I forcibly relocated several semi-full coffee cups from the table.

No. Surely it was the realisation that the New Boys were in town – The Bloggers had arrived. Occasionally there would be break-out from the main press group, occasionally blinking in the bright daylight shining from a place beyond their understanding. One, braver perhaps, would nervously reach forward to touch at the hem of my still rolled up trouser leg, and then giggle quietly, before retreating back to the corner of the room.

Yes we were armed, cynical and ready for the feast.

It’s a strange life on the other side of the fence. On the plus side there’s somewhere to sit, have a coffee, and quietly observe household TV celebs casually wander by withdrawn and lost, or ebullient and inquisitive as is their character. But all largely left to their own devices (Hi there Kate Humble, Simon King & Johnny Kingdom – I did mean to say Hi)

And then there was our small group of bloggers/podcasters chatting about outdoor matters, the show’s key offerings, and the reaction of the people who we’d come across, or intend to, and the new ideas we’d spotted.

Andy Howell feeling threatened by Podcast Bob's microknife demo? A brief lull in podcast material gathering.

And as I write this I realise this group seemed to be the only one actually talking in depth about our reaction and interaction with the show itself. What we saw, heard and felt.

Perhaps by doing this some terrible taboo was being breached?

But it felt right for this gig, for after all we represent you - Joe Public. The one who decides whether to pay the cost of admission. And whether to return. Ultimately the one whose continued interest brings in the cash to justify next year’s show, and how it will be formatted and presented.

And there-in lies the dilemma. The show’s strong organising team has once again managed to provide 3 halls packed full of stands and events. This year it felt like even more floor space than usual was was covered, or perhaps that was due to a better floor plan.

But to attract the public the show has broadened its appeal, and continues to try to balance specialist outdoor niches alongside generalist activity both gear and activity based, but with a large wedge of interest from the commercial tourism sector. It feels strange to come across a stand owned by Bournemouth Tourism encouraging people to surf an artificial reef that has not yet been constructed, or enjoy a 4 day kite festival. I live there and I would never figure that to be the area’s outdoor attraction.

But when the cost of exhibiting is balanced against the income and interest generated I suspect the tourist industry enjoy a bigger budget than many independent gear stockists, who this year once again were no-shows, or offered limited stock, sharing stand space on occasions.

Is this the sort of confused outdoor purist such events aim to cater for in the future? (And yes - that is a flight bag on wheels alongside a hard-core climber T-shirt)

Much of Friday was spent running from stand to stand dropping off E-Petition Wild Camping leaflets & trying to interest others to take on a small supply. By the end of the day approx. 3,000 flyers had been spread at various points around the cross the show.

(Edit - E-P drop thanks removed to provide a comprehensive summary in a following post)

I spent a pleasant half-hour discussing various outdoor matters with the Mountain Rescue Team organisation who understandably wished to remain apolitical as far as leaflet dispersal was concerned, but happy to discuss a potential magazine article in a future issue.

A less enthralling time was encountered on a few of the "Come To….our town here..." tourism stands, including one national park organisation, who seemed very keen to attract people to their areas, but couldn’t quite get their head around the wildcamping thing.

Ignore the Green Pound at you peril O Tourist Boards. We backpackers may not necessarily intend to spend large amounts on B&B or hotel accommodation. But we do support the local economy spending liberally in your pubs and shops. Often away from the larger areas of population, despite the acknowledged, but accepted, hike up in prices.

A feeling that we could be seen as an On/Off switch to supplement your local economy, only to be sent away when drained of cash, is not a pleasant sensation.

So a big hug to Rachel on the Active Exmoor stand who was prepared to listen, learn and clearly explain the issues involved for one living in an area where continued survival means diversification on a shoestring budget. Especially when so close to Dartmoor National Park, an organisation who positively welcome wild camping. And an offer to find out more which I hope to take up in the future.

Such a pity that this positive level of comprehension seemed lost on LakeDistrictActive (supported by Northwest Dev agency, Cumbria Tourism & Kendal Mountain Festivals) and VisitNorthEastEngland (Northumberland Tourism, Tourism Tyne and Wear, County Durham Tourism Partnership & visitTeesvalley) Not very encouraging, or so it felt to me, when it comes to those visitors not requiring expensive accommodation.

The sound of an opportunity being dropped. Rolling gently away. And disappearing down the back of the sofa?

And finally, in the best tradition of gonzo journalism, verbatim jottings lifted from the dictaphone that accompanied me around the show. Reflections on the good and bad on this Friday show visit.

1. Terra Nova tents at the show entrance
In the flesh comparison across the range of pitched tents on show (not including the lightest model strangely?) and knowledge of my own Hilleberg Akto make it quickly apparent that weight loss below a certain level has physical penalties. Smaller headroom, reduced porch space, and a flysheet that appears at first glance to be liable to wind gusts working their way underneath it, although I was assured they are rock stable. They are undoubtedly a popular brand. So the question is in which tent would you rather be storm bound for a couple of days? My vote is for the slight increase in weight, along with associated comfort. Others have their own view.

2. The Outdoor Show can try to be many things to many people with the risk it may spread itself too wide and actually deliver little of difference year on year. Which will lead to less interest if not carefully considered. But the exhibitors go much of the way to make or break this show alongside the organisers.

3. Some stands are large light and attracting. Others are confusing. Pity Montane, whose I visited to compare waterproof jackets. Or should I say Rab. For that’s the stand I had drifted into without realising. And no there wasn’t nearly enough Montane product range on show to make any sort of informed comparison.

4. Paramo have a large stand. And then a few stands further along, another Paramo stand. Not too sure why the company spread out, but at least the product range was there to be seen, felt and tried.

5. The Cumberland Arms landlord of 2007 is nowhere to be seen. Hopefully that bodes well for Saturday’s Blogger meet-up since the 2007 event resulted in his fame, along with his perpetual frown, appear across various UKOBers blogsites. I wondered if we might get a frosty reception this year (But oh was it so very deserved - Mr Grumpy.

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I am really very much fascinated after reading the blog. The tour and their adventurous expedition motivate me with energy.
SPAM - Ignore it!
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