RVing and Camping is Second Largest Outdoor Activity Nationally; Adds $18.6B to US Economy

Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA) Announces Updated Data Showing Value of RV Parks and Campgrounds

The Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA) today released its latest data from 2019 showing the overall value of the outdoor recreation industry and, more specifically the RV and camping sector, which contributes an estimated $18.6 billion to the US economy, according to the research. 

This economic contribution places the RVing and camping sector as the second largest outdoor activity nationally, and part of the overall outdoor recreation industry which contributed $788 billion to the US economy, the equivalent of 2.1% of the country’s gross domestic product (GDP). The economic impact of the outdoor recreation industry is larger than mining and agriculture and on par with broadcasting and telecommunications. 

According to the BEA report, RVing and camping was the largest outdoor activity in 10 states and the second largest in 22 states and the District of Columbia. The largest contributors were Indiana ($3.4 billion) and Ohio ($646.3 million). 

This morning, ARVC President and CEO Paul Bambei represented the RVing and camping sector on a webinar hosted by the Outdoor Recreation Roundtable(ORR) which featured the BEA’s data announcement.  

We are excited about these newly released numbers that show how valuable RVing and camping is to our nation’s economy, and we believe the RVing and camping sector is on a trajectory to have even bigger growth in 2020,” said Bambei. “At the start of 2020, the year looked grim with triple-digit cancellations compared to the same period in 2019, but once the country began to open up and people wanted to get outside again, we saw RVing and camping skyrocket in most sectors of the country. 

Bambei attributes much of this growth to the curiosity factor of people who traditionally didn’t camp but saw it as an opportunity to get outside during a pandemic to recreate responsibly. 

This curiosity factor has people of all ages getting outside in record numbers, but especially millennials and GenXers with their families camping like never before,” said BambeiAs the unpredictability of COVID continues in the coming monthsI see it as a positive that our industry allows people to get outside, have fun, create memories and do it all in a responsible way." 

While the BEA report focuses on the direct economic impacts of our industry, Bambei says it’s important to also understand the indirect impacts as well. 

“Besides the direct impact our sector has on the US economy, including direct consumer spend, employment, and taxes, this new data points to the indirect impact of RVing and camping as well,” Bambei says. “We have all seen the positive impacts on health and wellness during this COVID pandemic. The growth in Americans getting outside to responsibly recreate has skyrocketed in the past 6 months with RVing and camping seeing significant growth.” 

Bambei supported this indirect impact data by citing consumer research recently completed by ARVC partner Kampgrounds of America (KOA) that showed more than a third of consumers chose camping as their first major trip once the country began to open up following the initial COVID restrictions. More than a quarter of those campers were new and were trying RV camping for the first time. 

Those initial numbers led to even more growth in Fall 2020 with a 19% year-over-year growth in reservations and a 32% increase in advance reservations for 2021, according to the KOA report. 

The BEA report showed an overall growth of $10 billion in the outdoor recreation industry from $778 billion in 2017 to $788 billion in 2019, but a slight decrease in GDP from 2.2% to 2.1% in the same time period. Here are the topline results on the impact of the overall outdoor recreation industry from the latest report: 

  • $788 billion in gross economic output (2019)compared to $778 billion in 2017 

  • Percentage of GDP: 2.1% (2019)compared to 2.2% (2017) 

  • Total Value Added: $459.8 billion (2019), compared to $427.2 billion (2017) 

  • Jobs: 5.2 million (2019), equal to 2017 

  • States with largest percentage of state GDP: Hawaii, Vermont, Montana, Florida, Tied (Maine, Wyoming) (2019) vs. Hawaii, Montana, Maine, Vermont and Wyoming (2017) 

Due to exceptional growth of outdoor activities, including RVing and camping, during the COVID pandemic, these numbers are expected to rise when the BEA releases its 2020 data in November 2021. 

The Outdoor Recreation Roundtable (ORR), of which ARVC is a member, has created website featuring the report details and the full BEA report can be read here.