In Nevada, residents flocked to outdoor recreation in the early months of the pandemic as restrictions shut down bars, restaurants and concert halls.
The Lake Mead National Recreation Area saw a record number of visits and the Red Rock National Conservation Area closed several times in 2020 to reduce overcrowding along its scenic loop and hiking trails.
However, a new report prepared for the nonprofit group Get Outdoors Nevada by BBC Research & Consulting has revealed that the pandemic has hit the outdoors and recreation industry in Nevada as a whole.
Between March and December 2020, the outdoor recreation economy in Nevada lost about 6% of its total jobs, or 3,566 jobs. These job losses reduced labor income by about $ 161.5 million on an annualized basis, costing local governments about $ 29.4 million in revenue, according to the research firm’s estimates. .
“We all know the stories of big impacts on small businesses in the state of Nevada, and outdoor businesses were not immune to it either,” said Colin Robertson, administrator of the Nevada Division of Outdoor Recreation. , in a presentation of the report. “One of the important things this study reveals is the level of this impact and its significance.”
In the first months of the pandemic, National Park Express, a Las Vegas-based transportation and tourism operator, estimated its customer volume and revenue fell by nearly 90%. The business continues to operate at a loss every month.
Before the pandemic, the company had 35 full-time employees. They are now reduced to the full-time equivalent of around 10.
Bindlestiff Tours, another Nevada tour operator, reported a similar drop in guest volume.
Housing in outdoor entry communities, like Boulder City, has also suffered. A Best Western hotel in Boulder City reported that the March restrictions caused their occupancy rates to drop sharply.
The hotel typically receives international visitors who come to visit the Hoover Dam and the Grand Canyon, but those tours ceased during the pandemic.
The hotel’s revenue for the year is down about 40 percent from 2019. The bBusiness was approved for the Payroll Protection Program (PPP), but before those funds were available, the hotel laid off five employees. Currently, around half of the hotel staff are on leave.
According to the report, restaurants and retail businesses dependent on the outdoor recreation economy saw their attendance decline by 22%.
Eclipse Pizza in Reno estimates that 25% of its normal clientele is in some way associated with the local sports and outdoor community. In 2020, the restaurant saw its revenue decrease by 5-6% compared to 2019. However, sales of beer and wine fell by 90-95%.
Employees and operators in the outdoor recreation economy earn more than $ 2.6 billion in wages and salaries per year, which is about 1.5% of Nevada’s total annual labor income, according to the report. .
More than 87 percent of the state is public land, much of which is open for recreational purposes.
Before the pandemic, the outdoor recreation economy was one of Nevada’s fastest growing sectors, accounting for about 3% of the state’s GDP and producing $ 5.5 billion in direct economic impact as well as $ 12.6 billion in annual consumer spending and supporting about 59,500 jobs, according to the report.
“This is a significant amount of jobs and a very large slice of the pie for Nevada’s economic diversification efforts,” said Robertson of the Nevada outdoor recreation division.
Data of the Outdoor Industry Association during the pandemic, Americans even “undertook significant new activities in April, May and June 2020”, with running, cycling and hiking recording the largest gains.
Outdoor equipment retailers have fared better than other businesses as the demand for outdoor equipment, such as bicycles and hiking boots, has increased. A Las Vegas company, LV Cyclery, reported that after public health and safety measures were relaxed in the state, the company sold the equivalent of a year of inventory in just three months.
“It’s interesting that retail grew 6% overall and this has also been confirmed in many of the case studies we’ve seen,” said Michael Verdone, director of BBC Research & Consulting. “While businesses were able to make their establishments safer, people came and spent money on things like bikes, kayaks and other clothing that allowed them to get out and recreate themselves. “
However, while these activities have grown in popularity, they generate less economic activity than businesses focused on hosting groups such as guided tours.
In Nevada, tours and gear trips are the outdoor industry’s second-largest added-value creator, just behind local travel, at $ 234 million per year.
So while local visits to Nevada’s recreation and conservation areas have increased, local spending has not increased enough to offset the reduction in spending from the drop in out-of-state visitors, according to the report.
Between July 2019 and June 2020, 42 million visitors arrived in Nevada, a decrease of 13.7 million visitors from the same months in 2019 and 2020.
“There are a lot fewer people visiting the state compared to normal,” Verdone said.
Outdoor recreational activities are a major draw for tourists to the state.
Data on park attendance and use by Nevada industry partners shows that approximately 14 million people visited national parks, national recreation areas and state parks in Nevada in 2019
A survey by the Nevada Commission on Tourism in 2018 found that on average 17% of tourists participate in scenic driving, while almost 15% visit a lake or reservoir on their trip.
Up to 20 percent of those surveyed said mountain tours were one of the best experiences of their stay. Another 10 percent on average said visiting parks and recreation areas was a top-notch experience, while about 7 percent of respondents said outdoor recreation was their best experience.
Nevada residents also reduced the time they spent in parks by almost 35%. The onset of the pandemic saw even larger declines, and as of April 2020, households were spending about 40% less time in parks.
In total, Nevada residents spent about 13% less time outside their homes compared to pre-pandemic times, leading to lower spending, according to the report.
“The combination of less time spent away from home and fewer visitor arrivals is starting to show up in tours of public lands,” Verdone said, adding that the visits were much lower than in the past. habit.
Local trips made within 50 miles of a person’s home are the single largest source of economic activity in Nevada’s outdoor recreation economy, contributing an estimated $ 249 million per year according to the report.
“With fewer people going to outside sites, less people recreating, there is just less expense and of course businesses depend on those expenses,” Verdone said.
The Nevada Outdoor Business Coalition and Get Outdoors Nevada are backing bills they say support the outdoor recreation economy by protecting public lands, including SB52, which would assign a dark sky designation to certain sites in the state, and AJR3, a resolution that recommends protecting 30 percent of land and water by 2030, formally protecting the Desert National Wildlife Refuge, and establishing a new national monument called Avi Kwa Ame.
At the federal level, the two groups are supporting the efforts of Democratic Senator from Nevada, Cathrine Cortez Masto, to permanently protect the Desert National Wildlife Refuge and ban fracking and oil and gas extraction in the Ruby Mountains, in northern Nevada.
“We believe that access to the outdoors and to strongly supported outdoor spaces is a non-partisan social benefit, which positively affects all types of people,” said Aaron Lynn Leifheit, dprogram director for Get Outdoors Nevada. “We also believe that protecting and enhancing outdoor spaces creates opportunities for outdoor recreation, which strengthens and diversifies local economies, especially in a tourism-driven state like Nevada.”