The year 2020 was a huge year for the outdoor recreation industry, but 2021 was most likely the largest year for the industry’s impact on the United States economy in American history, Chris Perkins, the senior director at the Outdoor Recreation Roundtable (ORR) today said at the Outdoor Hospitality Conference & Expo 2022 (OHCE2022) in Florida.
According to the 2021 Outdoor Recreation Satellite Account released today, the U.S. outdoor recreation industry reached $862 billion in economic output. The figure means that the outdoor industry represented 1.9% ($454 billion) of the country’s GDP in 2021, up from the 1.8% reported the prior year.
In 2020, the outdoor recreation industry had an economic output of over $659 billion—a sign of significant growth within only the span of a year, said Perkins.
“This is part of the reason why when we go into those policymaker’s offices and say the outdoor recreation economy wants to talk to you, their ears perk up ‘cause they know what role we have in the American economy, and that’s true in Florida as well,” he said.
Partnerships with the National Association of RV Parks and Campgrounds (ARVC), Perkins said, are vital in pushing advocacies to policymakers both at the state and national levels. The Outdoor Recreation Roundtable is a coalition of which ARVC is a member.
“So it’s a really important partnership that we have with ARVC to make the case to policymakers, both at the national and state level, that outdoor recreation is core to vital communities,” he added
Asked whether there will be a strategy shift given the current political climate, the senior director of ORR believes there won’t be major changes to its plans.
“Our strategy doesn’t change because we do think there’s something in outdoor recreation for everyone. If your primary driver to your constituents is economic development and job creation, outdoor recreation is there for you,” Perkins said.
He also added that the industry presents an opportunity even to those who want to invest in natural resources, improve public health outcomes for underrepresented communities, and more no matter how big the changes in the political landscape.
“I think we’ve gone from a place where we were seen by policymakers as like, a sort of cute little industry to now an economic powerhouse. And with great power, of course, comes great responsibility,“ Perkins said.
The Duties of Recreation Businesses
Even with major efforts being made by associations such as the ARVC, businesses in the outdoor recreation industry still have a role to play.
ORR’s Perkins said during the “How National ARVC’s Advocacy Works For You” session at OHCE2022 today that businesses have to signal to policymakers, local non-government organizations, and the public that they care just as much about the health of their business as they do about the resources that sustain their business.
This means being involved with the health of the surrounding national forests, national parks, or state parks around campgrounds.
“We also need to share and disseminate information about responsible recreation; what it looks like to be a good steward of the outdoors while we’re having some of our core experiences,” said Perkins.
Coming into play is the public-private partnership between the two sectors. More than anything, public destinations and private campgrounds have a mutually beneficial relationship, he said.
Firstly, campgrounds are a huge help for most parks in addressing the demand for RV recreationists that want to visit national parks. If no private campground can be found near national parks, they will have a hard time servicing the ever-growing demand for campsites.
In the same manner, private campgrounds benefit from public investments in trails, infrastructure, utilities, and services that go into public lands.
“So it really behooves us as a community to be working both on investments in public infrastructure and private infrastructure at the same time,” said Perkins.
He also talked about a collaboration with the U.S. Economic Development Administration (EDA) to help increase investments in private infrastructure, adding the government agency is viewing the outdoor recreation industry beyond the lens of travel and tourism, but also as a sustainer of healthy communities.
“[T]o see the U.S. EDA looking at outdoor recreation through that lens, um, makes me feel like we have a lot of momentum in the years to come,” Perkins said.
Aside from the ORR and ARVC, the RV Industry Association (RVIA)—a founding member of the coalition—is one of the associations pushing for advocacies that benefit the outdoor recreation industry.
Through RVIA’s efforts, the Outdoor Recreation Bill was recently approved by Senate. One of the pilot programs of the bill RVIA is pushing for is a public-private partnership in modernizing campgrounds on federal lands.
As the outdoor recreation industry continues to grow, similar industries such as the outdoor hospitality industry will also be affected. Even as associations push for advocacies on behalf of their membership and the industry as a whole, stakeholders have big shoes to fill.
“I think the businesses have a responsibility to demonstrate to policymakers and the local public that they are committed. As well as the recreationist themselves because we have this amazing economy,” Perkins said.
“…but we do have to work to sustain it in the midst of other political pressure,” he added.