By Don Holbrook, Site Location Advisor
“Outdoor recreation is an economic powerhouse in the United States, each year generating $887 billion in consumer spending and 7.6 million jobs. Generates $65B in federal tax revenue and $59B in state and local tax revenue.” — Outdoor Industry Association
Consumer Spending on Outdoor Recreation ($887 Billion) Includes:
- Outdoor Recreation Products – including gear, apparel, footwear, equipment, services and vehicle purchases ($184.5 billion)
- Trip And Travel Spending – including airfare, fuel, lodging, groceries, lift tickets, guides, lessons and more ($702.3 billion)1
A Growing Body of Research Suggests that Investments in Outdoor Recreation Infrastructure and Programming Could Significantly:
- Reduce crime rates by six to eight percent,
- Improve educational outcomes for elementary, secondary and post-secondary students, including attention and test scores, retention and high school graduation rates.
- Lower long-term individual and public health care costs by reducing stress and obesity rates, improving physical fitness and strengthening social bonds with family and friends. Exercise is a primary need for our otherwise sedentary gaming children.1
Public lands and waters are the outdoor industry’s basic infrastructure, and without them the industry cannot survive. Preserving access is imperative to enhancing the industry’s economic and social impact. Access ensures every American’s ability to get outside where jobs, health and communities grow.
Cities, especially in the West are learning to leverage this for their growth such as Las Vegas, Vail, Seattle, Anchorage, Lake Havasu City, Denver, Colorado Springs, Portland, Casper, Boise, all have tremendous bounty of outdoor lands. They have capitalized on the high growth and affordability of outdoor recreational attraction of visitors to their areas by building out amenities and access and focusing their marketing accordingly.
The primary drivers of the outdoor leisure industry are hunting, hiking, water sport crafts, ATV trail riding, archery, bicycle touring, fishing, bird watching, horseback riding, snowmobiling climbing, skiing, and camping. America finds these outlets for fun affordable and full of adventure, which seems to spark a core passion within the human spirit. They are also for the most part, recession proof, with the exception of RV and towed campers. Even the pricey RV market has seen an increase of over 189 percent in the past two years. While the price of vacationing, especially luxury vacationing as soared, camping remains comparatively far more affordable, even with fuel figured into the equation.
Outdoor recreation is something a majority of Americans embrace in some fashion or another. It crosses every demographic line: age, income, gender, race, political, orientation, nationality and culture.
The growing outdoor recreation economy brings with it more jobs—diverse, high-paying and highly-sought jobs for American workers. As communities invest in the outdoor infrastructure that attracts employers and active workforces, those communities that have this asset are thriving economically and socially again. While the global economy remained tepid and undecided, this segment consistently grows faster than our national economy. Outdoor recreation is a rare symbiotic economy for all stakeholders that a vast majority of Americans and our foreign tourists spend their leisure dollars on when seeking entertainment away from home.
While the recreational leisure economy is a segment of tourism and further sub-segment of destination-based economic development opportunities, it is a far more different approach.
Cities that seek these disposable dollars must emphasize the outdoor and natural features of their locales, while maintaining their advanced use of constant connectivity to the social media grid and providing great access via transportation to such places. Furthermore, the amenities just like ski hills need to be honestly assessed and classified from remote to luxurious choices. Some people will want to rough it, while others will want primitive with a return to luxurious and comfortable by night fall.
Economic development regions with bountiful natural beauty and resources need to invest in their recreational amenities to reap the high growth of this exponentially-expanding sector of the economy. While in the past the marketing of places focused upon living costs and job opportunities, the third focus now needs to be firmly accepted on FUN!
Many regions and communities are collaborating so that they can capitalize on the exponential growth and popularity in outdoor recreation. There are several reasons this is fast becoming a major economic development strategy.
It’s a much more affordable investment, that not only benefits tourists, but also local residents. Some communities such as Goodyear Arizona, Tempe and Buckeye have invested in expanding and connecting their Gila River trails to build economic vitality. Their new trail expansion is bringing extended visits and additional economic opportunity.
The sweet spot can be perfected if regions can link their story to a trail system and also accomplish other necessary improvements, such as possibly flood control and natural waterways. Those that don’t have the amenities can create such features as part of such plans.
The expansion and improvement of heritage trails in the East are also popular in locales such as Johnstown, Pennsylvania, expanding their trails such as the Ghost Town Trail, which saw a spike of tourism growth by 25 percent in just one year.
Locales are quickly discovering that this investment has a multitude of positive windfalls such as a large rising economic tide that pumps much needed outside cash into local businesses, a boon in image and wider appeal to quality of life for Viatour’s and residents.
It’s much easier to promote traditional economic development of the image and quality of life are broadly appealing as an underlying asset.
Bio: Don A. Holbrook is a 25-year veteran economic development site location and incentive consultant. He and his team have worked on projects across North America and around the globe. His focus is primarily on place-based economic development tourism strategies and designing the team and products that communities’ can use to attract such investments. He lives in Las Vegas, Nevada and has written five, best-selling books speaking frequently around the world at professional functions. He has been featured on CBS, NBC, Fox, ABC, PBS television and radio networks, and in LA Times, USA Today, New York Times, Washington Post, FDI (the Economist Group) and many local television, print and radio interviews. He has been one of the North American Judges for FDI Magazine for the past six years on The Best Community Economies for Growth & Investment. He is a former board of director of the International Economic Development Council, and Fellow Member of IEDC, as well as Certified Economic Developer.
(1) Outdoor Industry Association Annual Report 2017