Outdoor recreation contributed $454 billion to the US economy in 2021, accounting for 1.9% of the country’s economic activity and marking a huge rebound from the pandemic.
The Bureau of Economic Analysis’ fifth annual report released on Wednesday shows outdoor recreation regaining lost ground from the pandemic’s impacts on travel and tourism in 2020. The record rise in 2021 – adding income from jobs in outdoor recreation, the industry generated an overall impact of $862 billion on the USeconomy – driving industry advocates to call for increased federal support for recreation.
“Outdoor recreation is one of the few areas where we see bipartisan support,” said Frank Hugelmeyer, president of the National Marine Manufacturers Association. (Boating was hot in 2021, with boat buyers and manufacturers contributing $50.4 billion to the outdoor recreation economy, making it the industry’s largest sector.) gathering people to improve our economies and our quality of life.
The federal government began measuring the outdoor recreation economy in 2017, following the Outdoor Recreation Jobs and Economic Impact Act. Department of Commerce annual reports show outdoor recreation users, manufacturers, service providers, retailers and support industries like travel and tourism drive economy bigger than agriculture industries , energy, pharmaceuticals or electronics.
Since 2017, 18 states have established outdoor recreation offices. Congress passed the Great American Outdoors Act in 2020, the largest conservation investment in decades, directing billions toward recreational access and infrastructure. The recent US bailout and Inflation Reduction Act focus even more on recreational infrastructure.
Outdoor recreation cheerleaders are urging federal lawmakers to pass the U.S. Outdoor Recreation Act, which would streamline federal permits for outdoor recreation across all land management agencies.
President Joe Biden convened again this year the Federal Interagency Council on Outdoor Recreation, or FICOR, which was first formed by President Barack Obama in 2011, bringing together leaders from the departments of interior, of agriculture, commerce and defense to work together to expand outdoor recreation opportunities.
Legislative momentum, presidential support and now economic numbers showing that recreation is one of the nation’s strongest industries have outdoor recreation advocates pushing for something “bigger than a law,” said Jess Turner, chair of the Outdoor Recreation Roundtable. , which represents dozens of outdoor trade groups working for more than 110,000 outdoor businesses.
“FICOR is wonderful,” said Turner, who hopes to see a federal office of outdoor recreation in Washington D.C.
“Having a national recreation office and someone in the office and in the White House who is focused on this economic sector and making sure that all of these agencies are at the table as well as state and state directors, that would be our long-term goal,” Turner said.
The rebound from 2020 is the industry’s best argument for increased federal support. Many are quietly lobbying the Biden administration to create a national office and an undersecretary for recreation, possibly in the Commerce Department. This week’s strong support for Democrats adds further momentum to the push.
“There’s a lot of wind at our backs right now,” said Conor Hall, director of the Colorado Office of Outdoor Recreation.
Not so long ago, outdoor recreation was not recognized as an economic driver. But now the leisure industry has growing economic and political weight.
The $861.5 billion economic output of the outdoor recreation economy compares to $659.7 billion in 2020. Figures for 2020 show outdoor recreation is down 19% from 2019, against a 3.4% decline in the overall national economy.
All 50 states saw a decline in dollars spent on outdoor recreation in 2020 compared to 2019. Colorado suffered a 19.5% decline in 2020.
The 19% annual growth of the national outdoor economy in 2021 comes as the overall national economy grew by 6% last year.
Most of the growth in 2021 comes from a rebound in travel and commuting around outdoor recreation. In 2020, travel for outdoor recreation collapsed to $149.6 million in direct spending, investment and wage dollars supporting the outdoor recreation economy, compared to $291 million in 2019. contribution from travel and tourism soared to $257.9 million in 2021, floating the entire leisure economy. at a record high.
The increase in travelers included many campers, said Toby O’Rourke, chief executive of Kampgrounds of America, the nation’s largest network of independent campgrounds.
KOA considered 2021 its best year in its 60-year history, with revenue up 33% from 2019, O’Rourke said. More Americans than ever consider themselves campers, she said. And like many outdoor sectors, participation increased during the pandemic when outdoor activities offered respite from urban shutdowns.
“The pandemic catapulted our business,” O’Rourke said.
Colorado’s outdoor recreation economy employed 125,244 workers in 2021 who earned $6.1 billion, or 2.5% of all wages paid in the state. That compares to 120,063 jobs in 2020 with workers earning $5.7 billion.
Add those salaries to the entire outdoor recreation industry in Colorado and the outdoor recreation economy contributed $11.6 billion to the state in 2021, or 2.7% of the state’s GDP. This economic output in Colorado is up 20% from 2020.
Hall sees Colorado playing a leading role in pushing for a federal recreation czar.
“Colorado is looking at more than 20% growth in one year. We’re way ahead of all other industries in this state. This is a great time to see if we can get a federal office together,” Hall said, noting that the effort has the support of Colorado Governor Jared Polis and U.S. Senator John Hickenlooper.”We have the buy-in. It’s a big step and it’s an ambitious swing. But I think we have the momentum to get there.