MIAMI — The outdoor recreation economy grew 3.8 percent in 2016, compared with the overall U.S. economy’s 2.8 percent growth that year, according to new data from the Bureau of Economic Analysis.
Boating and fishing had one of the largest growth rates of outdoor recreation in 2016, just under bicycling, generating $38.2 billion,
It saw a 4-percent increase from the year prior, and a 5.4-percent growth rate from 2012 to 2016, said Lucas Hitt, communications chief at the BEA, who presented the new data at the Miami International Boat Show last Friday.
“It had nearly twice the growth rate as outdoor recreation as a whole,” Hitt said of boating and fishing. “It’s clearly one of the driving subsets of growth of outdoor recreational activities.”
Outdoor recreation contributed $373.7 billion to the GDP in 2016, about 2 percent.
“There is nothing minor or small about 2 percent,” Hitt said, adding that mining contributes 1.5 percent to the Gross Domestic Product and agriculture accounts for 1 percent. Manufacturing accounted for 11.7 percent. “That’s larger, but not significantly. Of course, some of that manufacturing is of durable and nondurable goods related to outdoor recreation.”
Tina Highfill, an economist with BEA who helped work on the report, said she was surprised by outdoor recreation’s contribution.
“I thought 2 percent was pretty big,” Highfill said. “People hear that number and think it’s low, but it’s significant.”
The boating and fishing category was the largest outdoor recreational activity after motorized vehicles, which accounted for $59.4 billion of the gross output — more than half of that is attributed to RVs.
The group designated outdoor recreation as activities that occur in nature that require some amount of exertion.
“It’s also important to tell you that we did this, and this is key, entirely consistent with the way GDP is measured,” Hitt said. “The key point is it is apples to apples. There is no consensus about what constitutes what outdoor recreation is. Some are obvious, like hiking and camping. Some are not as obvious; for example, gardening.”
Highfill explained how the data is collected and measured. A cooler, for example, might be used both on a boat and a camping trip. The bureau looks at industry reports to see which products are specific to each activity.
Dock construction, for example, would be part of the construction line item, but is obviously related to outdoor recreation.
One area that received several questions from the 40 or 50 attendees of the presentation, hosted by the Outdoor Recreational Roundtable and the National Marine Manufacturers Association, was guided tours, which were broken out separately since they fall under trips and travel. Many of those questions were around yacht chartering. (Read more about the data here.)
“There is overlap in every one of these activities,” Highfill said. “We can’t double count. We have to draw lines — there’s no one dollar amount that exists in more than one line item.”
For that reason, the bureau wants industry feedback on how those lines are drawn.
“We want to get feedback on how presentations laid out,” Hitt said. “Our hope is to add breakdowns on geographical area.”
This is the first time that outdoor recreational activity ripples through the U.S. economy. The prototype, published Feb. 14, marks a milestone in the in BEA’s work to measure the size and growth of outdoor recreation.
“Feedback about these experimental data will help us finalize the definitions, data sources, methodology and presentation for the new Outdoor Recreation Satellite Account,” the BEA said on its website.
“This is giving us really objective data,” said NMMA president Thom Dammrich. “This gave us a lot of ammunition [going to Congress] with some really credible numbers.”