Outdoor Recreation Small Business Stories

These are firsthand accounts of the impacts of COVID-19 on outdoor businesses.

Gateway Community Impact

Assuming enough resources to reopen, business will likely be down by at least 30% through 2021, which could mean running out of cash and forcing massive layoffs and possible closures. If these business owners are able to keep their doors open until next season, we’re not sure that the seasonal employees they may have on staff will remain in our rural, gateway communities. We’re concerned that they may be forced to move to more urban areas in search of work (which has been a trend in our region for decades).

The outdoor recreation boom had provided many local communities–particularly those that have seen former industry employers leave and resource extraction activities no longer be profitable–a long-term, sustainable economic lifeline. Now that they’ve been able to capitalize on outdoor recreation as rural economic development, losing a season may set them back both in attracting visitors and preparing to service them.

“Have called other hostel owners and urged them to close as well with mixed success. Small towns and rural areas are at a special risk of the pandemic spreading and effecting them. I don’t want my area where there are many elderly to be at increased risk and bringing strangers from other areas in would be irresponsible. This issue is becoming divisive in the trail community which is very sad to see. We love hikers and what we do, but can’t risk our family’s health. Think all hikers should get off trail and postpone their hikes for now. Hope this whole thing passes over soon but fears that lifting restrictions too soon will just create a resurgence in the virus in our country.”

“By not opening this season, I will not be paying the pig farmer for the sausage, the coffee roaster for the coffee, the neighbor for the landscaping service, the grocer for the food, etc. Looking at the ripple effect of just my tiny business, it is hard to imagine what the world looks like on the other side of this thing. I feel very fortunate to not be 100% reliant on the hostel income, but my heart aches for those hostel and other small business owners that are.”


“We are an outfitter that does multi-day trips throughout the West and in Asia. Our season was just about to begin and we have spent a large part of our annual budget to get equipment, insurance, and office staff in place to run our trips. In the past week we’ve had many guests cancel their spring plans and we’re now worried we could lose our entire income for the year which comes from running trips March through August.”

“We are not in operation yet, but we are at the end of our selling season. As of March 1, we were tracking 2020 (which was our best year ever financially). March 2nd, the phones stopped ringing. March 2nd – March 17, we only had 2 people cancel from Adventure Treks, and one move from Adventure Treks to our sister company, Camp Pinnacle. As of March 18, we have had 4% of our guest cancel. Our final payment from guests are not due until May 1st (it was March 1, and we pushed to April 1 and today we are pushing again to May 1). If we had not changed our final payment deadline, I know that we would be down an additional 20% right now. As for hiring, same as with guests. We were tracking to have the same number of staff hired for 2020 as we did in 2019. While we have not stopped hiring, we have put hiring on hold. At this point, we will employ 15 less staff (or about 22%) over last year. Our hope is to be able to employ AND pay our staff, but with the unease about if we are going to be able to operate, it is hard to give staff a definite yes. As if we lose many more clients, we’ll have to start laying off our seasonal staff as we will go bankrupt to pay everyone that is currently hired with the lack of summer operations.”


“Today, a total of 70% of our customers came to us for essential transportation needs. I was surprised and a bit humbled by these numbers. I feel comfortable suggesting that the local bike shop is an essential part of the transportation infrastructure, especially at a time when mass transit is deliberately avoided. Long way of saying I do not believe the local bike shop should be shut down for three weeks. And we never had more than 5 customers in the store at a time, so viral spread from a ‘group’ is minimal.”

Marine Industry

“The Bay Area is now under a shelter in place order with the results beginning to seriously impact most people and our abilities to pursue our livelihoods. As a yacht brokerage owner (as well as a broker) since 1984, my sales staff and I can no longer show boats to any prospects we develop. We therefore cannot conduct our business and are effectively shut down with no source of income to support ourselves or the company. As our expenses mount, I am in search of any and all ways to obtain financial assistance. Clearly time is of the essence.”

“We take a large line of credit each winter to build up inventory for the spring and summer selling season. If we can’t sell the product, we are hosed. On top of that I am only 1.5 years into ownership after purchasing from the founder. I have talked about refinancing with my bank and they basically said it was not possible to do with an SBA loan unless there was a mistake in the origination. Please allow refinance or rate reductions.”

“Coming off the winter when we have very little income our cash is wiped out. Our boat show is normally the start of our cash flow improving and our business picking up. Our boat show started last Thursday and was shut down five hours into the show! Therefore, no deals, no deposits and at this time no money back for the cost of the show. This scenario has hit twelve dealers like myself in Northern California. Now I’m worried we will not be able to work because it looks like a mandate will go into effect any day to self-contain at home. Thus, we will not be able to generate income by completing service work we have in our shop and continuing to move forward with the few boat deals we have. If this happens I want to help our employees with pay for up to two weeks. After this, it will be a huge struggle for my business.”

“Our primary concern is cash flow. We will not be able to pay employees if we are forced to shut down. We will also be in a bind trying to cover operational expenses. With no income, we would not be able to pay bills. The year so far has been slow for us but we were looking forward to spring break when business normally picks up. Now we will not have that.”

“Our industry segment stopped dead once the virus/market plunge happened.”

Outdoor Gear, Footwear and Apparel

Members are deeply concerned that further delays to the resumption of factory work post Chinese New Year will be imposed by the Chinese government, with broad impacts throughout the raw material, finished good production, and logistics supply chain.
According to one member, finished goods and fabric vendors in China have reported that the delayed return to work post-Chinese New Year will likely result in delayed deliveries on open purchase orders.

Two members have reported that closures have been extended – one reported that their main supplier of electronic parts has advised that their factory closure has been extended from February 10 to February 24. Other reports that Chinese New Year has been extended to February 17th. We are still waiting for additional confirmation.

Our members may not know the extent of these delays on orders until people are actually back in the office. One member is deeply concerned that the extension of Chinese New Year could continue, and additional announcements could come at the very last minute.

Two members pointed out that even members who source finished products outside of China will be impacted as inputs from China will be delayed. Or raw materials sourced from China that go into inputs will be delayed. Global value chains frequently lead back to China in some fashion.

The effects of resuming production will be extremely disruptive to logistics and transportation as consumer product companies work to get deliveries back on track. Air and ocean freight congestion will be a challenge as soon as things start to move again.

Members are once again dealing with a lot of uncertainty regarding trade with China. Overall, there are still many unknowns about the impact the coronavirus will have on outdoor businesses. Once we better understand the scope of delays, members will be moving quickly to analyze impacts on freight costs and product availability.

“With all sports, from Professional all the way down to youth sports suspended, our members have seen orders cancelled in huge numbers. On-line sales of equipment have dropped with sports seasons in limbo. This comes on top of the supply chain disruption caused by corona in China. As long as America is in containment stage of this crisis this trend will continue. Once we emerge from containment, families will still be struggling financially due to lost wages and we need to provide them help to jump start the economy.”


Campground Industry

“We are a seasonal summer campground. We have not had cancellations due to the COVID-19 pandemic. However, our reservations have slowed to an almost complete stop. At this time of year, we typically receive about 25-30 new reservations per week for the upcoming summer months. We are down to receiving just 1 new reservation this week. We are worried about a drastic decrease in business for the upcoming summer. We open for the season on May 1st.”

“We are a 320 site RV park with over 200 sites occupied by seasonal guests. Starting two weeks ago, many guests started checking out early. We are now in the midst of a mass exodus. About 1/2 of our seasonal sites are used by Canadian visitors with the others arriving from other U.S. states. The volume of early departures has us working extra hours to keep up. We expect our revenue losses to be significant, however it is too early to determine what that number will be. In years past our customers would make reservations for the next season before they headed home. So far this year less than 10% have reserved in advance. Most are waiting to see what happens as we progress through this health crisis. Customers are also cancelling upcoming reservations due to COVID19.”

“As of 3/16/20 we refunded $4,825.15 and record a loss of $13,295.47 in revenue because of the cancellations. The rate of which cancellations doesn’t seem to be slowing down.”

“We are a small family owned LLC park. We have been closed since October 31, 2019. We are set to open April 1, 2020. If we are unable to open that is a period of no revenue that we did not plan for. If we cannot open it is doubtful that our seasonal sites will pay their balances by April 1st if they cannot camp. If we cannot open there is no income to pay our mortgage, our electricity, our insurance, our water. Not only that but it will impact our ability to pay ourselves the small salary we make. Our salary supports us and our 5 children.”

“The camp fees revenues are down 58% from Jan. 1 through Mar 15. Upon local health department advice on Mar 17, I closed the office to appointment only with overnighters to use the night registry upon arrival. Most do, but I am currently at 10 am waiting for one. I have also closed the laundry and restrooms. I am in the high risks group. I have my phone # posted and welcome calls from people who need help or information.”

“We completed a $10,000,000 park expansion in 2019. We started 2020 with reservation deposits up 30%. Last week it all changed. Reservation cancellations in the first 3 days after the President’s speech last week: 74. We have had a negative net cash flow from reservations/cancellations the past three days. This past weekend was our Spruce Up weekend. Normally I should count on $35-$45,000 of business. We did $2,500. We are one of the northernmost parks open for this time of year. We offer a heated swimming pool, activities, cabins, adjacent to Mammoth Cave National Park. We should have revenues of $250-$300,000 depending on the overall weather for this period. Now, we seriously are considering having to close the park, if the State or Federal Government doesn’t mandate closure before we voluntarily make the decision. We just laid off all the employees we hired to start the season with. We are facing -0- revenue coming in through at least Memorial Day weekend now. Survival will be impossible without a significant cash infusion. An SBA loan alone will not be sufficient. Reduce the interest rates on existing SBA loans. Our INDUSTRY is no less important that the airlines. We are the lifeblood of recreation. We build family memories, interactions between parents and their children when in other times they are just too busy to take time to share in those things that brings smiles to the lives of those they brought into this world.”

“We have been having a good year until March. We have had a lot of cancellations and the reservations have been nonexistent. We had a 11% increase in January, up from 2019. There was a 24% increase in February, up from 2019. There is a 58% Decrease in March 1-17, DOWN from 2019”

“We normally get 10 J-1 workers from overseas. We were notified yesterday from CCI that they will not be coming at all. Which may or may not be an issue. As of right now, we do not open until April 15th, if we get to open at all. We cannot afford to pay our employees much longer, with no money coming in and people asking for their money back. Not sure what to do…”

“We believe if families can financially afford to camp it is a great option during these times. Our campground is full hook up which allows families to use their own RV showers and restroom if needed, they are able to maintain social distancing and able to get outside. We believe this is very important for the mental and physical health of families. This also provides a safe environment for families to escape their homes. We encourage the government to support the camping industry during this time.”

“The virus is killing us financially. We can’t even fund legal requirements. Normally as soon as the snow melts, we have a sizable crowd. We are the only ones opened this time of year for the fisherman and ORV riders in this region. The virus has shut us down with zero customers in what is normally one of our busiest time period. Being a small business, a few hundred dollars is a lot to us. Our income has dropped about 600 dollars a week from short-term campers alone. Each seasonal we lose from this virus is an additional $1200 to 2400 each. By now I would have normally replaced natural attrition plus, which in this case would be between 4800 and 7200.”

“We are certainly worried. We have two young children we are raising, and we left our safe, corporate jobs for this industry that we’ve grown to love and respect so much. We are facing a lot of price gougers as well, which we can’t afford to accept as that will set a precedence when we, hopefully, return to ‘normalcy’. We have bills to pay to the city, insurance, the Government, etc., and can’t afford to undersell ourselves. We’re stuck between a rock and a hard place. I willingly accepted and am honored to serve as Missouri Chapter’s MOARC Secretary and amazing willing to stand up to whatever task you need me to accomplish during this critical phase of our industry’s future.”

“Cancellations now top incoming reservations 3 to 1. We have stopped all planned projects for the campground. These include technology improvements, additional amenities and major maintenance. We are preparing to cut staff and activities for our guests for the year. We have known many of our staff for years. It is heartbreaking for us to have to consider this option, but realize in the end, we may have no choice. More importantly is the anxiety our family feels. Our family works for the campground and I have already prepared them for cuts in their wages. They have their own families and obligations as well. There is a real possibility that my wife and I will not see any profits this year. No profits, no paycheck for us. With the talk of this crisis lasting months, we have to prepare ourselves for the possibility of losing our home. Like many campgrounds, our home is on the campground. Without income to pay the mortgage, taxes, utilities etc., foreclosure will mean not only the loss our family’s business, but the loss of our home. There will be no unemployment for us. Even though we pay into the state’s unemployment system, as business owners, we have been told that we will not qualify for unemployment assistance if our business fails. Our retirement plan is also at stake. Not only has the value of our retirement investments crashed (my wife worked outside of the campground until last year), the value of our business will collapse, and if foreclosed, our retirement will be gone. You ask for a financial analysis of the covid-19 impact. It’s not the financial impact on our business that worries us most, it’s the impact that will impact our family and staff. We all work very hard, very long hours. The possibility, the very real possibility, that everything we have all built could vanish from our lives, that’s what hurts the most.”

“We usually see greatly increased reservations starting in April when people are planning their summers. My gross totals average around $500,000 to $600,000 in revenues for the year. If the current pandemic continues, I expect there will be catastrophic financial results for my resort.”

“We are providing critical and essential services to people who have been forced to leave public campgrounds due to state level park closures. Properly managed RV parks are providing critical infrastructure to many full time RVers who would be forced to park in truck stops if we had to or were closed. We are providing valuable accommodations to thousands of people who can and are self-isolating at our parks and campgrounds. If the US airline industry is set to receive a $50 billion bailout, I would like to see similar assistance to help small privately-owned campgrounds stay afloat financially during this extreme crisis. We are literally providing lifesaving services by remaining open.”

“Customers are wanting full refunds even without credit card processing fees deducted because the President has instructed them not to travel. We are extending very gracious cancellation efforts to try to support our nation, but we are only regular people trying to pay our bills and not lose everything.”

“Our resort is located in Wisconsin Dells, host of approximately 4 million people annually. Typically, we open in mid-May and normally have strong advance reservations. Currently our advance reservations are 100% down. We are refocusing on American hiring to help the unemployed Americans. We are currently feeding and housing the international students that are unable to return to their home countries due to closed borders.”



“Outdoor recreation manufacturers have been impacted in terms of ability to deliver product across state lines. This past week, outdoor recreation manufacturers had difficulty delivering product into Pennsylvania.”