Outdoor recreational activity generates $887 billion in consumer spending each year, according to a report released April 25 by the Outdoor Industry Association.
Most of that spending ($702 billion) was tied to travel-related spending, lodging, fuel, guides and lessons, while about $185 billion was spent on gear, apparel, equipment, services and vehicle purchases related to the industry, according to the report.
Each year, consumers spend more on outdoor recreation than on pharmaceuticals and fuel, combined, and almost as much as they did on hospital care, according to Bureau of Economic Analysis data cited by the report.
Joe Jacobs, marketing and revenue manager for Arkansas State Parks, said he wasn’t surprised by the size of the outdoor industry, because of the popularity of all types of activities. In the west south central region, which includes Arkansas, Texas, Oklahoma and Louisiana, individuals spent $85 billion on outdoor activity. The data for Arkansas was not released for the 2017 report. However, Jacobs said spending five years ago was estimated at about $10 billion.
“I expect it’s improved since then.”
Jacobs pointed to the cycling industry as a major growth driver, especially in Northwest Arkansas.
“There’s been a big boom in that, with the addition of a lot of trails. In NWA, they hosted the International Mountain Bicycling Association World Summit last year, and Arkansas now has a total of five IMBA ‘epic trails.’ It’s tied with Colorado, second only to California,” Jacobs said. “Here in the state, it’s going gang busters.”
The Outdoor Industry Association mentioned Northwest Arkansas, and Bentonville in particular, for its cycling offerings.
“Northwest Arkansas’ top three bike riding locations host nearly as many cyclists per capita as San Francisco’s top three, thanks to more 130 miles of connected multiuse and natural service trails, largely funded by the Walton Family Foundation,” according to the report.
“We are fortunate to have individuals with a vision,” she added. “Visit Bentonville has invested dollars in promoting Bentonville as a cycling destination for the last couple of years.”
The biking trails have brought in visitors from places like Chicago, Denver and Minnesota, in addition to Arkansas’ neighboring states, Griffin said.
“Also in Arkansas, hunting and fishing are obviously huge,” Jacobs said. “We have a lot of great floating rivers – and, in fact, the first national river – and one of the oldest national parks here in Arkansas and also one of the top state parks systems. We have long trails like the Ouachita National Recreation Trail and the Ozark Highlands Trail, and we also have the cleanest water,” Jacobs said. “When you look at it, there is a lot of spending and a lot of economic impact, including the money taken in by marinas, restaurants, hotels and other lodging, outdoor equipment and all the hunting and fishing gear. It adds up pretty quick.”
The 2017 report also said the industry accounts for 7.6 million jobs, including park rangers, hydrogeologists, fly fishing guides and retail sales associates. The industry is larger than computer technology, construction, finance and insurance. In fact, more Americans are directly employed by hunting and fishing (483,000) than oil and gas extraction 180,000, according to Bureau of Labor Statistics data cited by the report.
Also recreational motorcycling and off-roading generates more jobs (867,000) than there are lawyers in the U.S. (779,000). Arkansas is a top location for motorcycling because of its scenic farmland and curvy, mountain roads, Jacobs said. He said the 2012 report showed 126,000 jobs in the outdoor industry in Arkansas, accounted for $2.9 billion in wages and generated just under $700 million state and local revenue.
Region-wide in Arkansas, Louisiana, Oklahoma and Texas, this year’s report shows the industry is comprised of 706,000 jobs, generated $6.2 billion in federal tax revenue and $5.8 billion in state and local tax revenue.
On a national level, the outdoor industry made $65.3 billion in federal tax revenue and $59.2 billion in local and state tax revenue, according to the report. It looks at camping, motorcycling, trail sports, wheel sports, fishing, off-roading, water sports, wildlife viewing, snow sports and hunting.
In addition to economic benefits, the report touts the industry as important for public health.
“From the smallest rural towns to the most densely populated cities, outdoor recreation makes America stronger,” Amy Roberts, Outdoor Industry Association executive director, said in a press release. “This report makes clear that the outdoor recreation economy is not only thriving, but a powerful economic force that embodies the American spirit. Public lands and waters are the foundation of this powerful economic force. By investing in and protecting America’s public lands and waters, we invest in our future and the continued well-being of America. Together, we can thrive outside.”
Link here for a PDF of the OIA report.