Outdoor Recreation Economy Reaches $862B

Outdoor recreation is outperforming the US economy.

What’s happening: A report from the US Bureau of Economic Analysis showed GDP from outdoor recreation grew 18.9% from 2020 to 2021, outpacing overall economic growth (5.9%).

  • The outdoor recreation category contributed $862B in gross economic output, outproducing mining and agriculture.
  • Hawaii (23.4%), Wyoming (18.4%), New Mexico (18.2%), Montana (18.1%), and Arizona (17.8%) saw the biggest YoY growth.

Reading the fine print, to the government, outdoor recreation encompasses “conventional recreation” like hiking, biking, and boating… but also “supporting activities” like construction and tourism and “other” things like concerts and gardening.

Between the lines: A lot of these numbers are bounce-backs from the COVID lockdown year, when employees were furloughed and travel reduced to a trickle. But the impact from conventional recreation—particularly that requiring equipment—was significant.

  • Core outdoor activities accounted for $239B of US GDP, the largest contribution in five years.
  • Boating/fishing ($27.3B), RVing ($25.1B), and hunting ($10.8B) were the largest of activities.
  • Valued added from climbing/hiking/tent camping segment grew from $3.7B to $5.05B.

Looking ahead: While GDP isn’t a crystal-clear indication of overall participation, it is correlated with a swell of first-timers in need of gear. While retail will likely return to predictable growth in the coming years, sustained interest in adventure sports and recreation could keep the outdoor economy booming.

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