Boating and Fishing Powered Outdoor Recreation Economy in 2020

On Tuesday, the Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA) released its 2020 report on outdoor recreation’s powerful and positive economic impact, which confirmed that boating and fishing remain the number one contributor to this critical sector of the U.S. economy. The new numbers show outdoor recreation generates $689 billion in economic output, supports 4.3 million American jobs, and comprises 3 percent of all U.S. employees. The report, a snapshot in time of a challenging and uncertain year, includes national and state level data.

In 2020, conventional outdoor recreation activities (such as bicycling, boating, hiking, hunting, etc.) accounted for 37.4 percent of U.S. outdoor recreation value added, up from 30.6 percent in 2019. This increase was due to higher spending on boating and fishing, as well as RVing. Boating and fishing was the largest conventional activity for the nation – up nearly 30 percent compared to 2019 – as well as the largest conventional activity in 39 states and the District of Columbia.

“Americans have faced a number of challenges and uncertainty since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, but one thing is certain – recreational boating and fishing provided a much-needed outlet for millions of Americans, and continues to be a major economic driver,” said Frank Hugelmeyer, president of the National Marine Manufacturers Association. “Looking ahead, we expect consumer interest and sales to remain strong through 2021 and beyond as Americans continue to discover the benefits and joys of being on the water.”

“Despite the pandemic, public lands and water closures, canceled trips and travel, gathering restrictions, supply chain issues and more, the outdoor recreation economy is a huge contributor to national and local economies,” said Jessica Turner, president of the Outdoor Recreation Roundtable (ORR). “This data, along with what we have seen throughout the past year and a half, proves how vital continued investments in our public lands and waters and recreation infrastructure are to the national and local economies and how communities big and small, rural and urban, benefit from outdoor recreation.”

During an ORR briefing event on the new report, Steve Heese, President and CEO of Chris-Craft and Chairperson of NMMA’s Board of Directors, highlighted the increasing demand the industry experienced in 2020. According to Mr. Heese, America’s recreational boating industry is strong and getting stronger and this trend is expected to continue in the years ahead.

Key highlights from 2020 data on the outdoor recreation economy:

  • Outdoor recreation generated $689 billion in gross output during a year of shutdowns and closures, and 4.3 million jobs in communities across the country.
  • Industry segments like boating and fishing, biking, camping and RVing, hunting and shooting sports, and powersports experienced record sales and unprecedented growth.
  • 2020 was one of the toughest years in recent history. With so much isolation and loss, the outdoors was something we could all turn to in order to connect with families and friends while maintaining physical and mental health.
  • Declines in travel and tourism had an outsized impact on outdoor recreation’s overall economic activity and related outdoor segments may continue to struggle.
  • Outdoor participation soared, especially close-to-home recreation, highlighting the importance of better access to the outdoors for all communities.
  • Americans’ prioritization of outdoor recreation continues into 2021 with strong numbers in participation and sales data.

This is the fourth consecutive year that BEA, an agency of the U.S. Department of Commerce, has released government data on the outdoor recreation sector. The release shows how the outdoor industry, despite the impact of widespread public lands and business closures, suspended trips and travel, gathering restrictions, supply chain issues and more, continues to support communities across the country during the pandemic. Prior to 2020, the outdoor recreation economy was growing faster than the economy as a whole in every indicator and served as a resilient economic growth engine and job creator.

America’s outdoor recreation community continues to support the Outdoor Recreation Satellite Account (ORSA) – the project compiling and releasing this data. Just like is the case for many other industries, the goal is to provide annual data on the economic importance of national and regional outdoor recreation economies that can be tracked for years to come.

For additional information or questions, please contact John-Michael Donahue, vice president of North American public affairs, at jdonahue@nmma.org