As Americans continue to suffer from COVID-19, wrestle with ways to regain our financial footing, and debate our economic future and priorities this election year, the outdoor recreation industry is well-positioned to play a prominent role in our nation’s economic growth, the physical health of American citizens and the rejuvenation of our national spirit. Seeking to “revitalize America through recreation,” the Outdoor Recreation Roundtable (ORR) – comprised of 32 national associations representing more than 110,000 businesses nationwide – has released A Roadmap for a 21st Century Outdoor Recreation Economy to frame national discussions around the critical importance of an economic sector that creates jobs, builds healthy communities, and strengthens the health and well-being of our public lands and waters for all Americans.
“ORR members represent large and small businesses in every corner of our country – rural, suburban and urban areas,” said Jessica Turner, ORR executive director. “We know that supporting our outdoor recreation economy will drive a national business growth agenda. Our sector was thriving before the pandemic took hold, and we haven’t been immune to the adverse effects of the virus. However, as more and more Americans seek respite in the Great Outdoors, this sector will recover and make America even stronger.”
Prior to COVID-19, the US Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA) determined that outdoor recreation comprised 2.2% of U.S. GDP, generated $778 billion in economic output and employed 5.2 million people, including significant numbers of jobs in rural areas. The sector was growing faster than the economy as a whole in every indicator and was larger than many sectors, including agriculture, mining and utilities and chemical products manufacturing. During the last 6 months, COVID-19 impacts have been severe: 90% of businesses have experienced sales drops, some by as much as 75%; nearly 8 in 10 have cut jobs or furloughed employees; and nearly 90% report difficulties with production and distribution.
At the same time, demand for outdoor recreation pursuits and products has increased: 80% of Americans report participating in outdoor activities during the pandemic, one third of them doing so for the first time. Sales of bikes and bike products are up 81 percent from May 2019 levels, resident fishing license sales are up 10 percent nationwide, boat sales are back to pre-pandemic levels, over 40,000 RVs were shipped in June making it the best month in nearly two years, and new off-highway motorcycle sales saw a 50% increase in the first half of the year, with significant increases in ATV and side-by-side sales.
“All this points to the need to focus on recreation businesses and new strategies for dealing with increased demand and pressure on our outdoor spaces and products,” Turner asserted. “Outdoor recreation can be the answer to a lot of the problems we are facing as a nation, such as high unemployment and health disparities, as well as economic recession and inequality.”
ORR’s revitalization agenda includes four main components, each with specific action items:
- Recreation infrastructure investments to meet increasing demand and create jobs throughout the nation that grow local economies
- Improve recreation access to public lands and waters and ensure equity and inclusion
- Sound conservation policies that help sustain our recreational areas for future generations, including helping manage the impacts of climate change
- Free and fair-trade policies and practices that ignite innovation and manufacturing
“This agenda recognizes how vital and dynamic this sector is. As our report states, a ‘thriving outdoor recreation economy supports local communities across the country, millions of jobs, healthy people and healthier places.’” Turner concluded.