Economy Watch: Outdoor Recreation Has Surprising Economic Importance

A new Bureau of Economic Analysis report details a small but important sector of the economy that is adding value to real estate-related fields.
Source: U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis
Source: U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis

The Bureau of Economic Analysis has devised a new report about a small but important sector of the economy, especially for certain retailers and hospitality sectors. Namely, the outdoor recreation economy. Small, but not a trifle: according to the BEA, the outdoor recreation sector accounted for 2 percent of U.S. GDP in 2016, and the sector grew 3.8 percent during that year, compared with 2.8 percent of the overall economy.

The bureau puts outdoor activities into three broad categories: conventional core activities (including bicycling, boating, hiking and hunting); other core activities (including agritourism and outdoor festivals); and supporting activities (including construction, trips and travel, and government). In 2016, conventional recreation accounted for 36.7 percent of total outdoor recreation; other recreation accounted for 22.1 percent; and supporting activities accounted for the remaining 41.2 percent.

When it crunched a few numbers, the BEA found that for the retail trade industry, outdoor recreation value added was $81.7 billion and accounted for 21.9 percent of all activity in the outdoor recreation economy. Outdoor recreation value added was $55.7 billion in accommodation and food services, with about 63 percent of this value coming from accommodations and 37 percent from food services and drinking places. Outdoor recreation value added was $47.4 billion in arts, entertainment and recreation and accounted for 24.7 percent of that industry’s total value added.

“The historical lack of detailed federal data regarding outdoor recreational activities has handicapped both the private and public sectors,” said U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross in a statement released in mid-February. “The public will no doubt be surprised at the economic importance of this industry as we release prototype statistics measuring the impact of activities like boating, fishing, RVing, hunting, camping, hiking and more.”