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The Economic Impact of Rising Trends in Outdoor Recreation

January 23, 2023
Yacht Marina

The Bureau of Economic Analysis has calculated the economic output of the outdoor recreation industry to be at $862 billion per year. This far surpasses industries like mining, utilities, farming, ranching, and chemical products manufacturing. The outdoor recreation industry is responsible for creating millions of jobs throughout the United States, in a wide variety of industries. In addition to generating a huge economic output, the outdoor recreation industry also accounts for 1.9 percent of the United States’ gross domestic product, and 3% of all United States’ jobs. 

Industry-by-Industry Economic Impact of Outdoor Recreation

Each outdoor industry accounts for its own part of the $862 billion that is contributed to the U.S. economy. Let’s take a look at an industry-by-industry breakdown of economic impact:

  • Biking - $6.2 billion
  • Boating - $37.2 billion
  • Climbing, hiking, and tent camping - $8.8 billion
  • Canoeing and kayaking - $2 billion
  • Equestrian - $12.2 billion
  • Fishing - $11.3 billion
  • Hunting, shooting, and trapping - $18.4 billion
  • Motorcycling and ATVing - $16.2 billion
  • RVing - $48.2 billion
  • Skiing and snowboarding - $5.9 billion
  • Snowmobiling and other snow activities - $5.1 billion

Measuring How Often Americans Participate in Outdoor Recreation

It is difficult to measure the amount of outdoor recreation that Americans participate in because there are such differences in data collection, measurement, definitions, and other factors between different sources. The National Survey on Recreation and the Environment (NSRE) measures the number of people who engage in 17 different outdoor activities by how often they participate. According to their research, more than 194 million people engage in any form of outdoor recreation during a given year. These numbers are affected by geographic location, demographic factors, proximity to recreation sites, and other factors. 

Economic Impact of Outdoor Recreation Jobs

Beginning in 2016, the Department of the Interior began conducting studies analyzing the economic impact of outdoor recreation activities on the United States economy. Having credible data on the tangible benefits of public lands allows stakeholders and Congress to determine how funds will be allocated. Congress passed the Outdoor Recreation Jobs and Economic Impact Act in 2016, which ensures the availability of economic data on outdoor recreation, as well as creating a uniform, standardized measurement of statistical activities that help form an analysis of the economic impact of private outdoor industries. This act directs the Secretary of Commerce to analyze and evaluate the outdoor recreation economy as it relates to employment, sales, and contributions to travel and tourism. 

Other Estimates of Economic Activity Associated with Outdoor Recreation

In addition to the estimates and surveys conducted in accordance with the Outdoor Recreation Jobs and Economic Impact Act, other researchers, advocacy groups, and industry associations also generate estimates of the economic impact of the outdoor recreation industry. These groups evaluate and analyze the impact of individual activities and industries within the scope of outdoor recreation, as well as sectors, geographic areas, and outdoor recreation areas. The broadest of these reports is the Outdoor Recreation Industry Association’s (OIA) Outdoor Recreation Economy Report, which has been generated yearly since 2006. In addition, the Outdoor Recreation Roundtable Association (ORR), which is a 501(c)(6) organization, gathers, analyzes, evaluates, and shares information about the growth and health of the outdoor recreation economy. 

National Participation in Outdoor Recreation

Measures of national trends in outdoor recreation participation are primarily based on the National Survey on Recreation and the Environment (NSRE) which conducts a population-based survey sampling all areas of the country and collects data on 17 different outdoor activities. The NSRE measures both participation and consumption; participation being the number of respondents who report engaging in the activity at least once in a year’s time, and consumption being the number of times the respondent reports engaging in the activity. This information informs further study and measurement of the economic impact these particular activities have regionally on the economy. 

Federal Lands and Outdoor Recreation Participation

The ORSA statistics also measure the state of the economic impact of the outdoor recreation industry in general. For public land management, there is congressional interest in how the government’s provision of recreational opportunities translates into economic impact and opportunity. Legislation, hearings, and congressional reports analyze the impact of this economic activity as a policy consideration in the context of federal lands. Certain federal agencies and interagency groups have conducted in-depth studies that measure the economic contributions specific to federal lands. Federal lands comprise around 640 million acres across the United States, or about 28% of the total land area. There is considerable overlap in the recreation opportunities across agencies and some agencies have dominant niches. The Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management offer a range of outdoor activities, including camping, picnicking, hiking, birdwatching, fishing, and water recreation. The National Park Service offers opportunities for outdoor recreation in iconic natural and cultural resources. 

The State of the Outdoor Industry Going Forward

When the Outdoor Industry Association first commissioned an economic study on outdoor recreation in the United States in 2006, it was hard to imagine how much would change over the next almost 20 years. The Great Recession and the COVID-19 pandemic dramatically altered consumer spending habits, access to resources, and participation in outdoor activities. Still, over 140 million Americans prioritized outdoor recreation in their daily lives, and we see no reason why that trend won’t continue going forward. 

Stay Up to Date on Current Trends and Advancements in Outdoor Recreation

The best way to stay up to date on trends in outdoor recreation and the economic impact of outdoor recreation in 2023 is to stay invested in current trends and advancements so that you’re offering your customers exactly what they want. At Advanced Outdoor Solutions, we do that work for you by researching, analyzing, and presenting the latest trends and data in outdoor activities. 

We also offer those in the industry land planning, design, development, and turnkey third-party management solutions throughout Delaware, DC, and SW Florida. To learn more about these services, contact us today at 1-800-579-9796 or contact us online.