New data shows impact of COVID on outdoor recreation

lake, boat, dock, sunset, friends, nature

The U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA)  released new data on the economic impact of outdoor recreation in 2020. BEA found outdoor recreation accounted for $689 billion in gross output (consumer spending) and 1.8% of gross domestic product in 2020.

“Throughout this pandemic, outdoor recreation has been a cornerstone of American life,” said Lise Aangeenbrug, Outdoor Industry Association (OIA) executive director. “As stay-at-home orders forced people to adapt their lifestyles, new groups of people, including more women, more urban-dwellers, and more minority populations turned to the outdoors as a place for recreation and refuge. Declines in indirect spending like dining out, air travel, and hotel stays may have impacted our industry’s output, but we saw a significant uptick in outdoor recreation participation. At a time when people needed an outlet for social connection and physical activity, the outdoors was there to provide countless mental and physical health benefits.

“As we look forward, it’s clear the outdoors will be an important part of America’s economic future. Many OIA member companies had exceptionally strong sales over the past year, pointing to how increased participation and newfound respect for the outdoors is putting the outdoor industry on a path toward continued success. Further, lawmakers have introduced new legislation to expand access to the outdoors and invest in climate resiliency, positioning the outdoor industry to continue to grow, create new jobs, and contribute to the national economy. Together, the outdoor industry is a force, and OIA is determined to ensure our industry and the outdoors will thrive for years to come.”

BEA launched its outdoor recreation economy project in 2017 to “deepen the public’s understanding of the economic impact of outdoor recreation, inform decision making, and improve governance and long-term management of public lands and waters.” In 2019, the agency announced it would also start sharing prototype statistics on state-level data.

The BEA release of economic data comes at a time when the health and wellness benefits of recreation cannot be overstated. A recent poll showed 69 percent of Americans have gained a renewed appreciation for the outdoors during the COVID-19 pandemic.

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