September 7, 2017

BEA is moving ahead on a project to develop a new set of statistics that measure how outdoor pursuits like fishing, camping, and hiking contribute to the economy. The Outdoor Recreation Satellite Account, or ORSA, will add up jobs, spending, and goods and services for leisure activities that range across the American landscape, from hang gliding through the sky, to diving into the sea. Release of the first experimental estimates is expected by early 2018.

Although these activities are already woven into BEA’s core economic statistics, such as gross domestic product, they aren’t easy to identify separately. The new dataset will gather these threads together and add detail to reveal an economic picture of outdoor recreation in the U.S.

ORSA will join similar “satellite accounts,” or supplemental datasets, that focus on health care, arts and cultural production, and travel and tourism. A law passed by Congress in 2016 directed BEA to measure the outdoor recreation economy.

The new dataset will deepen public understanding of outdoor recreation’s role in the economy and provide useful information to policymakers, businesspeople, and managers of public lands and waters. To learn more about the project and to keep tabs on its progress, visit the new Outdoor Recreation Satellite Account page on BEA’s public website. You can also sign up for updates about the project from this page.

To develop these statistics, BEA is working closely with the agencies of the Federal Recreation Council, prominent stewards of public lands and waters; consulting with the outdoor recreation industry, including small businesses; gathering information from experts in the field of outdoor economics; and reaching out to the public for comments and suggestions.

Key steps along the way:

  • Consider how to define “outdoor recreation”
  • Narrow the list to two or three potential definitions
  • Identify data sources and methodologies
  • Release prototype estimates for the potential definitions (early 2018) Gather feedback on the prototypes Finalize the definition, data sources and methodology Produce and release national statistics

Individuals, businesses, state and local governments, and others have weighed in with comments on the development of the ORSA definition and statistics. BEA welcomes the feedback and is considering this input as it makes decisions.

BEA is now working on identifying data sources and methodologies, and is on track with the timeline sketched out below.


  • Define outdoor recreation
    • Jan.-March 2017: Independent development of a range of definitions, and review of goods and services by experts in field of outdoor recreation
    • April-July 2017: Reconciliation of independent reviews, incorporation of public comments, and consolidation into two or three potential definitions
  • Prepare prototype estimates
    • Aug.-Nov. 2017: Identify data sources and methodologies to estimate goods and services that are partially-in-scope of outdoor recreation
    • Dec. 2017-Jan. 2018: Prepare and release prototype statistics based on the two or three potential definitions being evaluated
  • 2018: Gather feedback on prototype statistics and finalize the definition, data sources, and methodology to be used for the national-level statistics

BEA is not settling on a single definition at this point, but is considering presenting two sets of prototype statistics — one using a broad and the other a narrow definition. Based on comments received and work completed to date, the following definitions are under consideration:

Broad: All recreational activities undertaken for pleasure that occur outdoors.

Narrow: Recreational activities undertaken for pleasure that generally involve some level of intentional physical exertion and occur in nature-based environments outdoors.

Once the prototype statistics are published in early 2018, there will be additional opportunities for interested parties to provide feedback.

In the meantime, you can share your thoughts or send questions to us via email at