News Release

BEA 18-48

Outdoor Recreation Satellite Account: Updated Statistics for 2012-2016
Outdoor recreation accounts for 2.2 percent of GDP in 2016

Updated statistics from the Outdoor Recreation Satellite Account (ORSA) released today by the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA) show that the outdoor recreation economy accounted for 2.2 percent ($412 billion) of current-dollar GDP in 2016 (table 2). In data produced for the first time, using inflation-adjusted (real) GDP, the outdoor recreation economy grew 1.7 percent in 2016, faster than the 1.6 percent growth for the overall U.S. economy (table 6). In addition, real gross output, compensation, and employment all grew faster in outdoor recreation than in the overall economy in 2016.

Growth in Outdoor Recreation Compared to Growth in the U.S. Economy, 2015-2016

The statistics released today are updated to include refinements in methodology and presentation incorporated by BEA after receiving public feedback to the prototype statistics released February 14, 2018. The outdoor recreation account is the latest addition in a series of satellite accounts complementing BEA’s statistics. These satellite 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 gardening and outdoor concerts); and supporting activities (including construction, travel and tourism, local trips, and government expenditures).  In 2016, conventional outdoor recreation accounted for 32.7 percent of real outdoor recreation gross output, other recreation accounted for 19.3 percent, and supporting activities accounted for the remaining 47.9 percent (table 9).

Real Gross Output for the Largest Core Outdoor Recreation Activities, 2016

  • Boating/Fishing was the largest core outdoor recreation activity in 2016, accounting for $36.9 billion of real gross output.
  • Motorcycling/ATVing activities accounted for $20.3 billion of real gross output in 2016, representing one of the fastest-growing activities at 8.0 percent growth from the previous year.
  • Multi-use Apparel and Accessories, such as backpacks and bug spray, that cannot be linked to a specific activity accounted for 12.2 percent, or $89.3 billion, of real gross output in 2016.

Outdoor Recreation by Industry

Outdoor recreation value added is presented by industry in the ORSA and shows how an industry’s participation in the outdoor recreation economy contributes to GDP.  For example, the data show that the arts, entertainment, recreation, accommodation, and food services industry was the largest contributor to the outdoor recreation economy in 2016, accounting for 25 percent ($94 billion) of all outdoor recreation activity (table 1). Gross output, employment, and compensation are also presented by industry in the ORSA.

  • Outdoor recreation real gross output for manufacturing was $177.5 billion in 2016, the largest of all industries (table 15). About 44 percent of this value came from petroleum and coal products.
  • Arts, entertainment, recreation, accommodation, and food services was the largest industry for both compensation ($68.8 billion) and employment (1.96 million) in 2016 (tables 21 and 22).
  • Retail trade was the second-largest industry for both compensation ($45.7 billion) and employment (1.37 million) in 2016.

Industry Composition of Outdoor Recreation Employment, 2016

Preparing the Outdoor Recreation Satellite Account

The Outdoor Recreation Satellite Account (ORSA) measures the size of the outdoor recreation economy and the link between outdoor recreation and the broader U.S. economy. Like other satellite accounts, the ORSA was built on BEA’s comprehensive supply-use framework. The supply-use tables provide a detailed look at the relationships among industries and how each industry contributes to Gross Domestic Product (GDP). In practice, the ORSA is a rearrangement of the published supply-use tables that isolates outdoor recreation spending and production. For example, the supply-use tables show the production of all apparel, whereas the ORSA shows the production of apparel used specifically for outdoor recreation activities, such as wet suits and hiking boots. A variety of private and public data sources were used to identify outdoor recreation spending and production in order to develop the ORSA estimates.

The term “outdoor recreation” can be defined in many different ways. BEA staff worked closely with outdoor recreation experts from academia, government, and industry to develop the definition of outdoor recreation used in the ORSA. To meet the needs of diverse data users, the definition and presentation of statistics used in the account are designed to capture both the conventional and broad views of outdoor recreation reflected in existing literature. The conventional definition reflects more traditional outdoor recreation activities such as hunting, hiking, camping, and fishing. More formally, the conventional definition includes all recreational activities undertaken for pleasure that generally involve some level of intentional physical exertion and occur in nature-based environments outdoors. The broad definition includes all conventional outdoor recreation activities and a range of additional activities. More formally, the broad definition includes all recreational activities undertaken for pleasure that occur outdoors.

The ORSA follows other BEA satellite accounts by dividing outdoor recreation activity into two general categories: core and supporting. Core activities include the production and purchase of goods and services used directly for outdoor recreation, while supporting activities are defined as goods and services that support access to outdoor recreation activities. Core activities for the ORSA include the production and purchase of gear, equipment, fuel, concessions, maintenance, repair, and fees. Supporting activities include travel and tourism expenses, construction, and government expenditures related to outdoor recreation activities.

An important feature of the ORSA is the presentation of gross output estimates by type of outdoor recreation activity, in addition to the standard presentation of estimates by industry. Due to overlap among many outdoor activities (for example, hiking while camping or fishing while boating), activities were either split into mutually exclusive categories when source data allowed or combined into a single category containing multiple related activities. For example, tent camping and hiking were combined into a single category to avoid double counting the many items that can be used for both activities.

The ORSA statistics fulfill requirements of the Outdoor Recreation Jobs and Economic Impact Act of 2016, which directed the Secretary of Commerce to “enter into a joint memorandum with the Secretary of Agriculture and the Secretary of the Interior to conduct, acting through the Director of the Bureau of Economic Analysis, an assessment and analysis of the outdoor recreation economy of the United States and the effects attributable to such economy on the overall economy of the United States.”

Additional information on the outdoor recreation statistics and the data sources and methodology that underlie their preparation are available in the September 2018 issue of the Survey of Current Business.