Outdoor recreation industry sees some rebound from pandemic, but says future remains uncertain


Business is starting to pick up for parts of the outdoor recreation industry, which have suffered during the pandemic not only from the closure of shops and manufacturing plants, but also from the closure of national parks and State, trails, marinas and other places where people enjoy themselves.

In May, the US Census Bureau ranked the industry as the second hardest hit by the coronavirus-induced downturn, behind the restaurant and lodging sector, said Lindsey Davis, vice president of the Round table on outdoor recreation.

But Davis said a new investigation members of the national trade organization shows that the financial impacts are beginning to ease as more Americans turn to the outdoors as vacation and entertainment options remain limited. Sales of recreational vehicles, boats, motorcycles and all-terrain vehicles are setting records, she said in a call with reporters Thursday.

The surge in sales and the start of a turnaround for many businesses coincides with a significant increase in outdoor recreation, Davis said.

Sales of fishing licenses are on the rise across the country. National forests and state parks experience large crowds as well as problems with litter and vandalism. In Colorado, the Brainard Lake Recreation Area west of Boulder was seeing visitation rates two to four times higher than normal in July.

In June, state parks saw a total of 3.2 million visitors, up from 2.3 million in June 2019, according to Colorado Parks and Wildlife.

“People want to be outdoors enjoying the outdoors safely with their families where the virus has less of a chance of being contracted,” Davis said.

But many businesses are still struggling and could end up shutting down permanently, Davis said. The industry is pleading for support in any additional coronavirus relief aid from Congress.

And nothing will make up for the losses from business closings in the spring, Davis added.

The industry recovery may differ from segment to segment and even within sectors. Aaron Bannon, executive director of America Outdoors, which represents outfitters, hunting guides and tour operators, said while public demand is high, access to areas is limited due to concerns over the COVID-19.

“The impacts have been quite varied,” Bannon said. “I would say the vast majority of outside operators are definitely operating at reduced capacity – 60% capacity is a fairly common figure I hear.”

Public land managers have implemented COVID-19 guidelines that affect how many people can be in certain areas. Bannon estimates that about 80% of operators are able to perform at some level. He worries about the 20% who “have not found a way to open their doors in a feasible way”.

Recreational vehicle dealerships across the country saw record sales starting in May, with first-time buyers making up the majority of customers, said Monika Geraci of the RV Industry Association. However, the industry is still around 10% lower than it was a year ago, she said.

“You can’t just erase the six to eight weeks we lost earlier this year,” Geraci said.

The Outdoor Recreation Roundtable’s survey follows one published in June which found the overwhelming majority of its members had laid off or furloughed employees, suffered a drop in sales and disruptions to the production and distribution due to the coronavirus.

The latest survey shows that 91% of respondents experienced supply chain issues in August, with 48% reporting significant impacts. In April, 68% said the issues were significant.

Other findings were:

  • In August, 65% of businesses in the outdoor industry reported a drop in sales, with 17% seeing a drop of 50-75% or more. But 22% reported an increase from a year ago. In April, 89% saw their sales drop, with 39% seeing a drop of 50-75% or more.
  • In August, 47% laid off or furloughed part of their workforce while 36% said they were hiring. As of April, 79% of businesses had laid off or laid off some employees and 11% had closed or laid off most of their workers.

Twenty-three of the trade group’s 32 member associations participated in the survey, conducted in partnership with Oregon State University Outdoor Recreation Savings Initiative. Respondents represent about 25,000 businesses with nearly 2.5 million employees, according to the Outdoor Recreation Roundtable.

Before the pandemic, the outdoor recreation industry supported 7.6 million direct jobs nationwide and generated $887 billion a year in consumer spending, according to the Outdoor Industry Association. A state report released in 2018 pegged the industry’s contribution to Colorado’s economy at $62.5 billion, supporting 511,000 direct and indirect jobs.

Davis and other speakers said the July passage of the Great American Outdoors Act, which permanently funds the Land and Water Conservation Fund, was a major boost.

“In the outdoor industry, there is a direct link between improving our public lands and waters and the success of small businesses in the industry,” said David Basler of the National Parks and Terrains Association. RV camping.


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