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

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

In a more traditional outdoor recreation accounting that measures the economic contributions of people camping, hiking, skiing, fishing, boating, and hunting, the outdoor economy has resisted the pandemic with aplomb.

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

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

For the fourth year in a row, the Bureau of Economic Analysis on Tuesday released an annual assessment of the country’s golden outdoor recreation economy. Four years ago, those numbers showed Americans’ penchant for playing outside, fueling an industry bigger than fossil fuels.

Asterisk n ° 1: This is because the office, to keep its sectoral accounts 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 that guides fishing trips along the South Platte River. He is shown here during an October 5, 2021 hike on a tree that was swept away by the river in 2018 and came to rest along the banks of the Dream Stream in the Charlie Meyers State Wildlife Area . (Mike Sweeney, Colorado Sun Special)

The office’s outdoor recreation figures for 2020 showed an industry crippled by the pandemic on Tuesday. But what about all those reports from land managers and outdoor recreation advocates showing the pandemic is leading to record outdoor participation and the highest ever equipment sales?

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

Four years ago, when the Bureau of Economic Analysis set out to track the outdoor industry, it did so in the same way it tracks industries like energy and healthcare.

It identifies contributions from “conventional outdoor recreation” industries, such as boating, fishing, RVing, skiing, rock climbing, hiking and camping. Then it counts “other” outdoor recreation, such as gardening and tours, and 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 the “support” industries, which include trucking, warehousing, homebuilding, and tourism activities such as restaurants, accommodation. , souvenir shopping and transportation.

During the pandemic, the economic output of these conventional outdoor recreation activities barely changed from the peak year of 2019. The increase in spending on boating, fishing, biking, camping. because and motorcycles left the 2020 economic output of “conventional recreational” industries down just 2%. from 2019.

India Wood, a Boulder resident, packs her tent for a full day of hiking in the Castle Peaks Wilderness study area on Saturday, July 18, 2020, near Wolcott. (Hugh Carey, Colorado Sun Special)

But the economic contribution of people visiting festivals and sporting events, as well as everything travel related, has collapsed dramatically in 2020. Add to the supply chain issues that are disrupting the warehousing and warehousing industries. of trucking and the impact of the 2020 pandemic seems to have flowed into outdoor recreation. But that’s using the perspective of the Bureau of Economic Analysis.

“We do our data on the leisure economy like all other industries to compare apples to apples,” said Jeannine Aversa, communications manager of the office. “The framework we use to derive the numbers for outdoor recreation is exactly the same as 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% decline in the overall US economy last year.

In 2020, outdoor recreation businesses and industries that support outdoor recreation created economic output of $ 689 billion, 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 this economic output minus the cost of supplies and services to create that output was $ 374.2 billion, up from $ 465.2 billion in 2019. The 4 , 3 million industrial workers represent 3% of the country’s workforce.

Asterisk n ° 3: The Bureau of Economic Analysis adjusted its 2019 output figure to $ 845 billion, from previously projected $ 788 billion, after factoring in additional public and private information in its accounts.

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

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

But ask anyone defending the outdoor industry and they will say that 2020 has been a banner year that has revealed the resilience of an industry that powers many rural economies across the country. Granted, these outdoor recreation cheerleaders are upbeat and tend to see the pinkest shade in most scenarios.

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

For example, look at participation. After years of efforts to get younger, more urban and diverse populations interested in recreating the outdoors, the pandemic has delivered

“In fact, this is the biggest increase in any year we’ve seen and we’ve been following it for 15 years,” said Lise Aangeenbrug, Executive Director of the Outdoor Industry Association.

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

Hunting and fishing license sales soared in 2020, reversing long-term trends. This year’s retail reports show camping gear, hiking boots and other outdoor gear are advancing to a new record, Aangeenbrug said.

“The first indications are that the trends will continue in 2021,” she said.


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