Outdoor Recreation Nearing Trillion-Dollar Industry

A picture of friends camping

The U.S. Department of Commerce Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA) released economic data for 2021 exhibiting outdoor recreation’s powerful and positive economic impact on the economy.

The national and state level data shows that outdoor recreation generates $862 billion in economic output and sustains 4.5 million jobs. Outdoor recreation contributes more to the economy than oil and gas extraction, mining and agriculture.

According to RV Industry Association President and CEO Craig Kirby, RVs provide a basecamp for every recreation type, from boating and fishing to hiking, biking and climbing.

“The RV industry has seen a record number of younger and more diverse customers flock to RVs as a way to fulfill their desire to get outdoors, take part in all kinds of outdoor recreation, and live an active outdoor lifestyle,” Kirby said. “What these new numbers show is that outdoor recreation is not just good for people’s physical and mental health, it is also a significant economic driver across the entire country.”

The BEA has released the data for five years. Many outdoor recreation industries reported record sales during 2021 and manufacturing also increased.

“The BEA data underscores how important it is to invest in public lands, waters and recreation infrastructure from coast to coast and for recreation activities of all types,” Outdoor Recreation Roundtable President Jessica Turner said. “From the creation of jobs and increased profit for small businesses in local economies, to larger boons to our national economy, this sector is a consistent driver … even in times of economic uncertainty. The strength of the outdoor recreation economy reflects what many in the industry have long known to be true: there are infinite benefits that come from more people spending time outdoors and the will only grow with continued investment.”

Michael Happe, Winnebago Industries’ president and CEO, said camping has grown a record amount in recent years with millions enjoying RVs.

“The record economic impact in the BEA numbers demonstrates the collective power of our industry to help people discover and experience the tremendous benefits of the outdoor lifestyle. We continue to welcome an increasingly diverse group of new participants, so we look forward to maintaining this momentum by developing recreation infrastructure and increasing access for all.”

The outdoor recreation economy accounted for $454.0 billion of the gross domestic product, the report said.

“The latest BEA numbers are a testament to the power of outdoor recreation, and we are thrilled to see our industry’s economic impact grow,” Vista Outdoor CEO Chris Metz said. “This data shows that people continued to venture into the outdoors for health, wellness and adventure in record numbers.”

The goal now, he said, is to build on that momentum.

“We will stay focused on increasing access to public lands, building more recreation infrastructure and growing participation across all outdoor activities.”

Kampgrounds of America (KOA) President and CEO Toby O’Rourke said that during the company’s 60 years watching the industry, KOA has seen intrinsic value in the outdoors.

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