We recently sat down with Aaron Lieberman, executive director of the Idaho Outfitters and Guides Association to get an inside scoop on how the IOGA and its members are currently dealing with the longer term effects Covid has had on the industry. What should hunters, guides, and industry professionals alike expect come this fall and into the future? Continue reading to find out. Link to their previous interview can be found below:
CW: I THINK IT'S SAFE TO SAY THAT THIS PAST YEAR WAS SOMETHING THAT NONE OF US COULD HAVE PREDICTED. WITH ALL OF THE UNFORESEEN HURDLES, WHAT WAS THE LARGEST STRUGGLE YOUR MEMBERS EXPERIENCED? HOW DID THEY MANAGE?
Aaron: Outfitters and guides in Idaho faced myriad challenges from the onset of the COVID crisis—from cascading cancellations to staffing to implementing new and rigorous operational protocols and communicating those to guests, lagging equipment supply lines, transportation, testing; you name it. But the single most significant overriding struggle they faced were the connected challenges of (a) being able/allowed to operate or guide, to whatever degree and whatever way, in the first place, and (b) surviving the season at all financially (given the number of cancellations and other fundamental issues stacked against them).
CW: WHAT SHOULD WE BE EXPECTING FOR THIS UPCOMING SEASON?
Aaron: With all of the restrictions and distance this past year has accompanied, people are appreciating the fundamental things—family, the outdoors, fresh air and meaningful experiences. People want to be outside and feel alive, and this is driving people to outdoor recreation and adventure. I think it’s pretty clear that we’re seeing a huge rebound of people who want to get back to wild places, meaningful personal interactions, and enlivening experiences.
In short, we should expect catharsis and celebration; all signs and anecdotal indications point to a banner year for guided outdoor recreation this year.
CW: HAS THIS PANDEMIC STRENGTHENED THE IMPORTANCE OF COLLECTIVE ASSOCIATIONS AND THE RESOURCES THEY PROVIDE?
Aaron: Absolutely. The pandemic threw into sharp relief just how critical associations like ours are to the industry and the resources that industry supports.
Frankly, it’s no exaggeration to say that without the work that IOGA did from the beginning of the crisis and shutdowns, most outfitters and guides in Idaho would have had drastically curtailed seasons, if they would even have been able to operate at all.
Associations bring together and leverage the collective resources—opinions, connections, communities, and ‘clout’—of an industry in a way that would be extremely difficult for individuals acting independently. As a group, we can access legislators and regulators to effectively advocate and lobby for solutions specific to the industry. Associations can provide a framework, a structure to collect the best information and ideas, and to bring those en force to the folks in positions of authority. Associations like ours help make the industry as a whole much more informed, efficient and stronger by connecting and uniting outfitters and guides across the state, sharing best practices and industry standards, sharing ideas and information, fostering the continual improvement in professionalism, excellence, information and engagement within the industry.
The past year has underscored this. More importantly, It has also brought us all closer together as members of a professional community.
CW: HOW HAS THIS PAST YEAR ALTERED THE WAY OUTFITTERS AND ASSOCIATIONS ALIKE ARE PLANNING TO OPERATE INTO THE FUTURE?
Aaron: The COVID Pandemic Year required fundamental shifts and adaptations, across all sectors of our economy, in the way we all work and run our businesses.
For Associations like IOGA, we have developed a real appreciation for the value of being able to connect with outfitters and guides across the state, as well as our agency partners, more regularly and responsively via virtual formats. Going forward, IOGA will absolutely continue to take advantage of these tools with our members and partners. (Though Zoom, Teams, Google Meet and the rest are no substitute for in-person meetings and conferences—and we look forward to gathering again and burning the barn down.) The pandemic also served to remind us how important it is that we reach out to and meaningfully work with the communities we live in and operate out of. The connections, input, coordination, and support of community members across the state was invaluable throughout the ordeal of last year.
For outfitters and guides, the ‘season’—whether that be Fall, Spring, Winter, Summer or some combination—is a great, annual coming together, a reunion with their friends and chosen- families and communities. COVID-19 and all it accompanied challenged guides on this most fundamental level, requiring a physical and emotional distance and different, more cautious modes of behavior on and between trips to the backcountry. I think it has made outfitters and guides more acutely attuned of those risks that don’t fit into the traditional set we associate with guided activities, as well as to their own health and wellness.
I expect this all has made us better, more creative, resilient, and that we’ve come out stronger as an industry. I think due to the cooperation we’ve seen, we will come out of this with better relationships to other people, groups and agencies, like BLM, parks and recs, National Park Service and legislators here and in Washington, D.C. The public is more interested than ever in experiencing the outdoors, and we’re ready to provide them access better than ever before.
CW: "POST- COVID", IS THAT TOO OPTIMISTIC? WHAT'S NEXT?
Aaron: “Post-COVID” may or may not be too optimistic. That’s above my paygrade. But much like farmers, outfitters and guides are Realists; they work their trade, work their butts off, and control what they can. To sum that sentiment up in a quote by William Arthur Ward:
“The pessimist complains about the wind; the optimist expects it to change; the realist adjusts the sails.”
In general, even beyond outfitting, we all need to take the time to appreciate what is most important to us. What gratifies you as a human, motivates you? What is beautiful and inspiring to you? Hopefully, this enforced isolation and anxiety will remind us how important these things are to us and how we should protect them. I hope the necessity to shelter, this disconnection, reminds that we’d all rather be connected (and outside!).