REI Is Banking on Its Outdoor Experts to Plan Your Next Trip

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For more than 30 years, REI Adventures has been taking travelers and outdoor enthusiasts, both new and experienced, on hikes, cycling trips, paddling tours, and climbs around the world. But this year, they’re doubling down on the U.S.—so much so that the co-op is closing its international branches of the Adventures program after its final trip abroad in May to offer exclusively domestic trips.

“One of [our decision-making filters] is really listening to our customers. And there has been a huge interest and growth in the outdoor industry in the U.S.” in the last year amid the pandemic, says Curtis Kopf, REI’s chief experience officer, adding that 2021 bookings for domestic experiences are up 28 percent over 2019.

Among the most popular Adventures? Signature camps like REI Adventures’ offering in Great Smoky Mountains National Park, a four-day trip where the company handles the bulk of the upscale camping logistics, among other things, to help make the experience more accessible to the average person. As expected, other national park adventures, like hiking and camping tours of Zion and Bryce national parks and Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks, are among top sellers.

But hiking and camping aren’t the only points of growth. Cycling trip bookings have blown up in the past year, and have more than doubled 2019’s numbers. And it isn’t just for those looking to experience a more local Tour de France—REI is one of the top providers of beginner bike classes in the country.

“We want the customer to drive us and the growth in cycling, as an example, tells us we need to offer more cycling activities,” says Kopf, who notes that the company is seeing a renewed interest in biking in its retail stores as well.

Beyond more expected activities, REI organizes everything from day trips to multi-day treks in a variety of interests, from kayaking in the San Juan islands to snowshoeing in Yosemite and climbing California’s Mount Shasta, plus women-only adventures, family-focused outings, and trips specifically for those over 35 years old.

The company’s strong commitment to domestic trips is all in an effort to bring some 3 million people into the outdoors by 2030, a new goal the company announced today. It’s a big jump from the 310,000 travelers who had participated in an REI Adventure as of 2019.

Three million is a number that Kopf calls both audacious and achievable—if REI can reach out to the right audiences, a combination of newly interested outdoor enthusiasts, experienced trekkers, and those who haven’t seen themselves represented in the outdoor industry before.

“We know that we need to focus on communities that haven’t participated as much in [the outdoors], and that will be a big part of what we do,” says Kopf. “We want to make sure that our experts and our employees who are guiding and giving instructions represent the communities that we work in.”

The effort also includes building out its existing infrastructure of experience centers, like REI’s adventure hub in Scottsdale, Arizona. There, you can rent gear, join guided tours, or book intro classes like orienteering, wilderness safety training, and the aforementioned “how to ride a bike” courses, for adults and kids alike. The company expects to build 12 more similar centers throughout the U.S.

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