The Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA) released economic data for 2020 on outdoor recreation’s powerful and positive economic impact on the U.S. economy this week. These new numbers show outdoor recreation generates $689 billion in economic output and creates 4.3 million jobs. The report, a snapshot in time of a challenging and uncertain year, includes national and state-level data.
This is the fourth consecutive year that BEA, an agency of the U.S. Department of Commerce, has released government data on this critical industry sector. Today’s release shows how the outdoor industry, despite the impact of widespread public lands and business closures, suspended trips and travel, gathering restrictions, supply chain issues and more, continued to support communities across the country during the pandemic. Prior to 2020, the outdoor recreation economy was growing faster than the economy in every indicator and served as a resilient economic growth engine and job creator.
Key Highlights from 2020 data on the outdoor recreation economy:
- Outdoor recreation generated $689 billion in gross output during a year of shutdowns and closures, and 4.3 million jobs in communities across the country.
- Industry segments like boating and fishing, biking, camping and RVing, hunting and shooting sports, and powersports experienced record sales and unprecedented growth.
- 2020 was one of the toughest years in recent history. With so much isolation and loss, the outdoors was something we could all turn to in order to connect with our families and friends and maintain physical and mental health.
- The “Transportation and Warehousing” category decreased 62.37% from 2019 to 2020.
- Declines in travel and tourism had an outsized impact on outdoor recreation’s overall economic activity and related outdoor segments may continue to struggle.
- Outdoor participation soared, especially close-to-home recreation, highlighting the importance of better access to the outdoors for all communities.
- Americans’ prioritization of outdoor recreation continues into 2021 with strong numbers in participation and sales data.
“Despite the pandemic, public lands and water closures, canceled trips and travel, gathering restrictions, supply chain issues and more, the outdoor recreation economy is a huge contributor to national and local economies,” said Jessica Turner, president of the Outdoor Recreation Roundtable (ORR). “This data, along with what we have seen throughout the past year and a half, proves how vital continued investments in our public lands and waters and recreation infrastructure are to the national and local economies and how communities big and small, rural and urban, benefit from outdoor recreation.”
“COVID-19 inspired huge participation growth in 2020, as outdoor spaces became places of refuge to safely socialize, improve physical and mental health, connect with family and recover from screen fatigue,” said Lise Aangeenbrug, executive director of the Outdoor Industry Association. “In 2020, 53 percent of Americans ages 6 and over participated in outdoor recreation at least once, the highest participation rate on record. Remarkably, 7.1 million more Americans participated in outdoor recreation in 2020 than in the year prior. Early indications are this trend continued into 2021 and sales data comparing August 2020 to August 2021 show that the sales of tents, backpacks, coolers and camping equipment, trail running shoes, and other outdoor gear are up more than 20 percent year over year.”
“Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the demand for recreational boating has surged, with new, younger, and more diverse consumers driving record sales for our industry,” said Frank Hugelmeyer, president of the National Marine Manufacturers Association (NMMA). “Looking ahead, we expect consumer interest and sales to remain strong through 2021 and beyond as Americans continue to discover the benefits and joys of being on the water.”
“As the BEA numbers indicate, 2020 was an extraordinary year for recreational fishing,” said Glenn Hughes, president of the American Sportfishing Association and ORR’s Vice Chairman. “When the COVID-19 pandemic took hold, people turned to the outdoors like never before. We saw a big uptick in fishing participation from families with children as well a new generation of young anglers. That’s why it is so important that we continue to increase and improve access to our public lands.”
“2020 was a challenging year for everyone, and the outdoor recreation industry was no exception. Even with the incredible number of people turning to RVs and outdoor recreation in 2020, it was impossible to overcome the economic losses resulting from the entire US economy coming to a screeching halt in the spring of 2020, including closed campgrounds and suspended operations at RV dealerships and RV manufacturing plants,” said RV Industry Association Vice President of Government Affairs Jay Landers. “The good news is that nearly 20% more RVs will be built in 2021 than in any prior year and the streak is expected to continue into 2022. This bodes well for the future of not only the RV industry but the wider outdoor recreation economy as a whole.”
“Sales of motorcycles, ATVs, and side-by-sides were up considerably in 2020, and that trend is continuing in 2021,” said Erik Pritchard, president and CEO of the Motorcycle Industry Council. “More families and individuals are recreating outdoors close to home, which highlights the need to support expanded access to public lands and investments into recreation infrastructure.”
America’s outdoor recreation community, represented by ORR, continues to support the Outdoor Recreation Satellite Account (ORSA) – the project compiling and releasing this data. Just like is the case for many other industries, the goal is to provide annual data on the economic importance of national and regional outdoor recreation economies that can be tracked for years to come.