BEA stats show outdoor recreation economy is thriving and growing

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The federal government and private industry have a picture of the outdoor industry’s contribution to the national economy, and this picture shows it has been growing quickly.

The U.S. Department of Commerce’s Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA) show that the outdoor recreation economy accounted for 2 percent ($373.7 billion) of current-dollar GDP in 2016. In addition, the outdoor recreation economy grew 3.8 percent in 2016, compared to growth of 2.8 percent in the overall economy.

RV use is a big source of economic activity, the BEA found. Activity around motorized vehicles was the single-largest category, accounting for $59.4 billion of gross output in 2016. RVs accounted for more than half that value at $30 billion.

“Businesses need the right data to help them hire, invest and grow. The historical lack of detailed federal data regarding outdoor recreational activities has handicapped both the private and public sectors. 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. This release is a milestone for business executives, small-business owners, entrepreneurs, and government officials, who will rely on these detailed data to plan, grow, and gain new insights into this dynamic part of the U.S. economy,” said U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross.

The new account is the latest addition in a series of satellite accounts complementing BEA’s statistics, including accounts on travel and tourism and arts and cultural production. These accounts do not change BEA’s official statistics, including GDP. They provide greater detail and allow closer analysis of a specific area of the economy by extracting information embedded in the official economic statistics.

Outdoor Recreation by Activity

In the Outdoor Recreation Satellite Account, gross output—principally a measure of sales or receipts associated with the outdoor recreation economy—is presented both by industry and by outdoor recreation activity. Outdoor recreation activities fall into three general categories: conventional core activities (including activities such as bicycling, boating, hiking, and hunting), other core activities (including activities such as 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 gross output, other recreation accounted for 22.1 percent, and supporting activities accounted for the remaining 41.2 percent (table 2).
Gross Output for Selected Conventional Outdoor Recreation Activities (2016)

Motorized Vehicles was the largest activity within conventional outdoor recreation in 2016, accounting for $59.4 billion of gross output. Recreational vehicles accounted for more than half of this value at $30.0 billion.

  • Boating/Fishing activities were $38.2 billion in 2016, an increase of 4.0 percent from the previous year.
  • Hunting/Shooting/Trapping activities were $15.4 billion in 2016, with hunting accounting for over 60 percent of this value.
  • Multi-use apparel and accessories, which include backpacks, bug spray, and other general-purpose gear and accessories that could not be allocated to specific activities, grew 7.2 percent in 2016 and accounted for 35.0 percent of conventional outdoor recreation gross output.

The public is invited to submit comments and feedback on these preliminary statistics by emailing Final statistics are scheduled for release in the fall of 2018, and feedback will be used to help finalize the definitions, data sources, and methodology that underpin the new account and the format in which final results are displayed. To ensure consideration, comments should be submitted no later than April 27, 2018.

SOURCE: U.S. Department of Commerce’s Bureau of Economic Analysis press release

Ronnie Wendt

Ronnie Wendt

Ronnie Wendt has been a writer/editor for more than 25 years, working in law enforcement, aviation, supply chain and the RV industry. She's not a stranger to RVs, however. She grew up camping, and still camps as many weekends as she can every year. She is the owner of In Good Company Communications and can be reached at

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