Outdoor Recreation: An Overlooked Economic Giant

From Outdoor Industry Association, 2012

In total, 6.1 million American livelihoods directly depend on outdoor recreation, making it a critical economic sector in the United States.

January 01, 2012

Conclusions

Outdoor recreation is a larger and more critical sector of the American economy than most people realize. As a multi-dimensional sector, the outdoor industry pumps $646 billion in direct spending into the American economy and fuels traditional sectors like manufacturing, finance, retail trade, tourism and travel.

Furthermore, 6.1 million American lives directly depend on outdoor recreation. As the globally recognized leader in outdoor recreation, America is poised to drive an industry that offers a diversity of rewarding and highly skilled career opportunities for people today and into the future.

Supporting the outdoor recreation economy are our nation’s public recreation lands and waters. Not only is access to quality places to play outside critical to our businesses, it is fundamental to recruiting employers and at the heart of healthy and productive communities. Open spaces and recreation areas are magnets that draw after-work activity and tourists alike.

Most importantly, the outdoor recreation economy can continue to be a growing generator of jobs and an economic powerhouse if we manage and invest in America’s parks, waters and trails as a national outdoor recreation system designed to reap economic dividends for America. The continued growth and success of this great American industry hinges on outdoor recreation opportunities for everyone.

Outdoor recreation expenditures

The outdoor recreation economy thrives when Americans spend their hard-earned dollars in the pursuit of outdoor recreation. This spending occurs in two forms: the purchase of gear and vehicles, and dollars spent on trips and travel.

Trips and travel-related spending: $524.8 billion - Food/drink, transportation, entertainment/activities, lodging, souvenirs/gifts/misc.

Outdoor Recreation Product sales: $120.7 billion - Apparel, footwear, equipment, vehicles, accessories, services

Gear purchases include anything for outdoor recreation, such as outdoor apparel and footwear, bicycles, skis, fishing waders, tents, rifles or backpacks. Vehicle purchases include vehicles and accessories used only for outdoor recreation, such as boats, motorcycles, RVs, snowmobiles and all-terrain vehicles.

The outdoor recreation economy grows long after consumers purchase outdoor gear and vehicles. They spend money on day and overnight trips, and on travel-related expenses such as airfares, rental cars, lodging, campgrounds, restaurants, groceries, gasoline and souvenirs. They pay for river guides and outfitters, lift tickets and ski lessons, entrance fees, licenses and much more. Their spending supports innumerable small business owners. And they visit recreation areas that are cared for by land managers, park rangers, NGOs and volunteers.

This spending is the outdoor recreation economy — $646 billion in spending that each year supports 6.1 million direct jobs and $80 billion in federal, state and local tax revenue.

More than 140 million Americans make outdoor recreation a priority in their daily lives – and $646 billion a year on outdoor recreation

More than 140 million Americans make outdoor recreation a priority in their daily lives – and $646 billion a year on outdoor recreation

Outdoor recreation creates and sustains jobs

America is globally recognized as the leader in outdoor recreation. Advancements in technical apparel, footwear and equipment for outdoor activities are driving innovation and entrepreneurism, while creating a demand for highly skilled workers in areas like technology, product design, manufacturing, sustainability and global commerce.

A tremendous diversity of career opportunities exists beyond product-related jobs. When Americans play outside during day outings or overnight trips, their spending directly supports professions like guides and outfitters, lodging operators, park managers and rangers, concessionaires, small business owners and many more.

In total, 6.1 million American livelihoods directly depend on outdoor recreation, making it a critical economic sector in the United States.

A growing part of the economy

  • The outdoor recreation economy grew approximately 5 percent annually between 2005 and 2011 – this during an economic recession when many sectors contracted.
  • The outdoor recreation economy generates $80 billion in national, state, and local tax revenues each year.

Much has changed since 2006 when Outdoor Industry Association commissioned the first economic study on outdoor recreation in the United States. The Great Recession radically altered consumer spending habits, unemployment reached its highest level in decades, and federal and state deficits resulted in massive spending cuts.

Despite the uncertainty, more than 140 million Americans make outdoor recreation a priority in their daily lives, proving it with their wallets by putting $646 billion of their hard-earned dollars right back into the economy. Even better, this spending directly results in highly sought-after jobs for 6.1 million Americans.

At the core of the outdoor recreation economy is the outdoor consumer, whose diverse interests fuel a robust and innovative industry. Today’s outdoor lovers aren’t confined to traditional demographics or activity segments. They seek meaningful outdoor experiences in their backyards and in the backcountry. They are all genders, ages, shapes, sizes, ethnicities and income levels. They live throughout America, and they view outdoor recreation as an essential part of their daily lives. They fill their garages with bicycles, dirt bikes, backpacks, boats, skis, tents, hunting rifles and fishing gear. This is redefining the outdoor industry, an evolution that is evident in the growth of sales and jobs since 2006.

In short, outdoor recreation is a growing and diverse economic super sector that is a vital cornerstone of successful communities that cannot be ignored. Most importantly, outdoor recreation is no longer a “nice to have,” it is now a “must have” as leaders across the country recognize the undeniable economic, social and health benefits of outdoor recreation.

Measuring economic impacts

The Outdoor Recreation Economy report takes a conservative approach in tracking direct annual spending by Americans in pursuit of outdoor recreation across 10 activity categories (Bicycling, Camping, Fishing, Hunting, Motorcycling, Off-Roading, Snow Sports, Trail Sports, Water Sports and Wildlife Viewing). It is not inclusive of every activity that could be recognized as outdoor recreation. Vehicles used for commercial purposes or commuting are not included, nor is spending by international visitors.

Most importantly, the report focuses on direct economic impact, rather than using indirect, implied, multiplier or ripple effects that include impacts of spending, jobs and wages as they circulate further throughout the economy. If these effects were used as the basis of this report, the stated economic impact and jobs impact would be substantially larger.


About the Outdoor Industry Association Based in Boulder, Colo., with offices in Washington, D.C., Outdoor Industry Association (OIA) is the leading trade association for the outdoor industry and the title sponsor of Outdoor Retailer. OIA supports the growth and success of more than 4,000 manufacturers, distributors, suppliers, sales representatives and retailers of outdoor recreation apparel, footwear, equipment and services. For more information, go to outdoorindustry.org or call 303.444.3353.

About Southwick Associates, Inc. For over 20 years, Southwick Associates has been the leader in quantifying the economic benefits of outdoor recreation, and fish and wildlife economics and statistics. Southwick Associates also helps companies understand their position in the outdoor market and the products in greatest demand by consumers. Experienced and dependable, Southwick Associates provides the insights and intelligence needed to succeed in the outdoor market. southwickassociates.com