The outdoor recreation economy is thriving and benefitting many communities. Participation in the outdoors continues to grow, even during the Coronavirus pandemic. In this report, produced in partnership with the State Outdoor Business Alliance Network (SOBAN), we show the economic contributions of outdoor recreation.  

Outdoor recreation contributes to economic success.

Outdoor recreation is a large and growing employer, providing jobs to almost 5.2 million people who earn more than $226.3 billion dollars.

Outdoor recreation contributes $459.8 billion to the Gross Domestic Product (three times the size of the airline industry).

Illustration shows the scale of outdoor recreation value-added contribution to GDP is $459.8 billion, or 2.4 times the size of oil and gas, 2.8 times the size of motor vehicle manufacturing, 3 times bigger than air transportation, and 5 times bigger than the motion picture industry. Source: Bureau of Economic Analysis.

Outdoor recreation exists in a diversity of industries. Value-added contributions from arts, entertainment, accommodation and food services; retail trade; manufacturing; transportation; and wholesale trade are among the largest contributors.

Pie chart shows the total value-added contribution from outdoor recreation by sector. Source: Bureau of Economic Analysis.

Communities with outdoor recreation-based economies attract entrepreneurs and new residents, including retirees and people with investment income.

Bar chart compares the average net migration from 2010 to 2016 in counties with and without outdoor recreation based economies for large cities, medium sized cities, and rural areas. Source: Headwaters Economics.

Outdoor recreation supports community values

In this report we illustrate how investments in outdoor recreation support diverse community values, such as public health, equity, transportation alternatives, and resilience to natural disasters. We also highlight the need to anticipate challenges that can be associated with outdoor recreation, such as diversifying the economy, developing affordable housing, creating inclusive access, and reducing the impact to the environment. Also, while the demand for outdoor recreation access and equipment grew during the pandemic, some companies were faced with significant supply and distribution constraint challenges.

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The future for outdoor recreation

To continue building a robust future for outdoor recreation, the outdoor sector needs investments in outdoor infrastructure, businesses that support collaboration and sustainable growth, a talent pipeline to build a skilled workforce, and marketing resources that ensure quality and equity. The State Outdoor Business Alliance Network (SOBAN) envisions that outdoor recreation includes robust economies, thriving outdoor places, and inclusive outdoor recreation for all people. More than two dozen organizations in 18 U.S. states, plus two in British Columbia make up the SOBAN network today. SOBAN shares knowledge, opportunities, and best practices to strengthen commerce, infrastructure and participation in the outdoors. See SOBAN to learn more.

Additional Helpful Resources

Megan Lawson, Ph.D.       406.570.7475

Megan leads Headwaters Economics’ research in outdoor recreation, economic development, and demographics. She has more than 20 years’ experience as a quantitative economist analyzing policies and trends for communities, governments, and nonprofit organizations.