The economic contribution of the outdoor recreation industry to GDP decreased in 2020


The collapse of travel and public gatherings during last year’s pandemic cost the U.S. outdoor recreation industry $156 billion.

But that’s according to federal accounting.

In more traditional outdoor recreation accounting that measures the economic contributions of people who camp, hike, ski, fish, boat, and hunt, the outdoor economy has weathered the pandemic with aplomb.

“Really, it’s a tale of two stories,” said Jess Turner, executive director of the Outdoor Recreation Roundtable, who works in Washington, DC, for 35 outdoor recreation trade groups that represent 110,000 businesses.

Because the federal government’s Bureau of Economic Analysis counts outdoor recreation very differently from people inside the world of outdoor recreation, this is one of those stories that requires a few asterisks.

For the fourth consecutive year, the Bureau of Economic Analysis Tuesday released an annual assessment of the nation’s golden outdoor recreation economy. Four years ago, those numbers showed that Americans loved playing outdoors to fuel an industry bigger than fossil fuels.

Asterisk #1: This is because the bureau, to keep its sector tallies in order, tackles all kinds of peripheral industries when it counts the economic contribution of outdoor recreation, such as, for example, warehousing, tourism , catering and transport.

Landon Mayer is a Florissant-based outfitter who guides fishing trips along the South Platte River. He is shown here hiking on October 5, 2021 above a tree that was washed away by the river in 2018 and came to rest along the banks of the Dream Stream in Charlie Meyers Nature Reserve. (Mike Sweeney, Special for The Colorado Sun)

On Tuesday, the office’s outdoor recreation figures for 2020 showed an industry crippled by the pandemic. But what about all those reports from property managers and outdoor recreation advocates showing the pandemic is driving record outdoor activity attendance and the highest gear sales ever?

Asterisk #2: To tell this story, we must first understand how the federal government matters.

Four years ago, when the Bureau of Economic Analysis took on the task of tracking the outdoor industry, it did so the same way it tracks industries like energy and health care.

It counts contributions from “conventional outdoor recreation” industries, such as boating, fishing, RVing, skiing, climbing, hiking and camping. Then it counts “other” outdoor recreation, such as gardening and sightseeing, as well as people who go to amusement parks, festivals, concerts and sports games. And finally, nearly half of the office’s accounting for outdoor recreation comes from “support” industries, which include trucking, warehousing, home building, and tourism operations like restaurants, lodging. , the purchase of souvenirs and transport.

During the pandemic, the economic output of these conventional outdoor recreational activities has barely changed from the record year of 2019. Increased spending on boating, fishing, bicycling, RVing and motorcycling left the 2020 economic output of the “conventional leisure” industries down just 2% from 2019.

Boulder resident India Wood prepares her tent for a full day hike in the Castle Peaks Wilderness Study Area on Saturday, July 18, 2020, near Wolcott. (Hugh Carey, Special for The Colorado Sun)

But the economic contribution of people visiting festivals and sporting events, as well as anything travel-related, has plummeted dramatically in 2020. Add to that the supply chain issues plaguing the industries of l warehousing and trucking and the impact of the 2020 pandemic appear to be pouring outside of recreation. But that’s using the perspective of the Bureau of Economic Analysis.

“We manage our data on the leisure economy like any other industry to compare apples to apples,” said Jeannine Aversa, the office’s communications manager. “The framework we use to derive the numbers for outdoor recreation is exactly the same as for arts and culture and travel and tourism.”

So the federal government’s wide-angle view of the outdoor recreation industry, which was growing much faster than the national economy before the pandemic, shows it lost its mojo last year, dropping 19% compared to a 3.4% drop in the overall US economy last year. year.

In 2020, outdoor recreation businesses and industries that support outdoor recreation created $689 billion in economic output, up from $845 billion in 2019. The contribution of the outdoor recreation industry in 2020 to the country’s gross domestic product — which the bureau defines as that economic output minus the cost of supplies and services to create that output — was $374.2 billion, down from $465.2 billion in 2019. The 4 .3 million industrial workers make up 3% of the country’s workforce.

Asterisk #3: The Bureau of Economic Analysis adjusted its output figure for 2019 to $845 billion, from $788 billion previously forecast, after factoring additional public and private information into its accounting.

The leisure industry, according to the Bureau of Economic Analysis, contributed $9.6 billion for Colorado’s economy in 2020, accounting for 2.5% of the state’s total gross domestic product. It’s down from $12.2 billion in 2019, which accounted for 3.1% of the state’s economy. The 120,000 workers in Colorado’s recreation economy in 2020 marked a 19.5% decline from 149,000 in 2019. Every state saw declines in outdoor recreation jobs in 2020, largely partly because the bureau aligned those jobs with the pandemic-ravaged service and hospitality industries.

Cyclists on the Platte River Trail near Elyria-Swansea on Sunday August 8, 2021 in Denver. (Olivia Sun, The Colorado Sun)

But ask anyone in the field of outdoor industry advocacy and they say 2020 was a banner year that revealed the resilience of an industry that drives many rural economies across the country. Admittedly, these outdoor recreation cheerleaders are optimists who tend to see the rosiest hue of most scenarios.

“You just have to dive deeper” into the numbers, Turner said.

For example, look at attendance. After years of trying to interest younger, more urban and more diverse populations to recreate outdoors, the pandemic has delivered

“In fact, this is the biggest increase in any year that we’ve found and we’ve been tracking this for 15 years,” said Lise Aangeenbrug, executive director of the Outdoor Industry Association.

For years, barely half of all Americans participated in outdoor recreation. Last year, the Outdoor Industry Association counted a record 53% of Americans going outdoors to play.

Sales of hunting and fishing licenses soared in 2020, reversing long-term trends. Retail reports this year show camping gear, hiking boots and other outdoor gear heading for another all-time high, Aangeenbrug said.

“Early indications are that the trends will continue into 2021,” she said.

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