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$1 Trillion? Outdoor Recreation Industry Outpaces US Economy, Thanks to Thirst for Travel

Americans' increased desire to travel represented nearly half of all 2022 growth in the outdoor industry, according to federal officials.

Arches,National,ParkA tourist in Arches National Park. Travel and tourism have led 2022 growth of the outdoor industry, a new report says; (photo/Shutterstock)
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The outdoor recreation industry isn’t just growing quickly — it’s doing better than the U.S. economy overall.

That’s one of the key findings from data released Friday by the U.S. Department of Commerce. From 2021 to 2022, the outdoor industry — including RVs, boating, motorcycling, hunting, and many other activities — more than doubled its growth (4.9%) compared to the U.S. economy in general (1.9%). It’s responsible for $1.1 trillion in economic output (2.2% of GDP), 5 million jobs, and 3.2% of all U.S. employees.

The data was collected by the Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA), which started tracking the outdoor industry’s economic impact just six years ago. In 2021, the industry grew by a whopping 22.7%, thanks to a renewed thirst for nature after the end of pandemic quarantines.

While growth was much smaller in 2022, leaders at Outdoor Recreation Roundtable (ORR), a coalition of outdoor-focused associations, said the new data proves that the industry’s economic growth has staying power.

“If there’s one thing to take away from today’s BEA presentation it’s this: the state of the outdoor recreation economy is strong to the tune of over a trillion dollars in economic output,” ORR President Jessica Turner said in a news release.

“It shows that sustained investment in outdoor recreation and protection of our shared public lands and waters pays huge dividends for our local and national economies and quality of life.”

The outdoor industry outpaced the US economy overall; (graph/BEA)

Growth Driven by Travel, Tourism

Nearly half of all outdoor industry value added in 2022 (46%) came from “supporting outdoor recreation,” a category which grew from increased travel and tourism, according to the BEA report.

That stemmed primarily from increased spending on transportation, hotels, and restaurants. Federal officials defined the other two categories for the industry as “conventional activities” (cycling, boating, hiking, hunting, etc.) and “other activities” (such as gardening and outdoor concerts). They represent 34.2% and 19.8% of value-added growth, respectively.

Interestingly, the latter two categories didn’t grow much compared to 2021, unlike travel and tourism. In other words, Americans’ increased desire to travel has been an important economic driver, especially for outdoor recreation.

Several states saw much higher growth in outdoor recreation than others; (graph, BEA)

As for specific activities, most of the major categories saw growth from 2021 to 2022, especially snow activities, which got a massive 33% boost. More specifically, skiing grew by 18%, snowboarding by 17%, and “other activities,” which include snowmobiling, grew by 56%.

“The BEA report puts data behind what we’ve always known, that in addition to improving Americans’ quality of life, outdoor recreation is a major economic driver,” Glenn Hughes, president of the American Sportfishing Association, said in the press release. “To continue growing our sector and the millions of jobs it produces, policymakers must support sound public land and natural resource policy that facilitates access to the great outdoors.”

To that end, ORR leaders said they would use the new data to support their legislative push for America’s Outdoor Recreation Act, which could reshape federal policy on public lands. They hope to get the bill passed through Congress by the end of the year.


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