Outdoor recreation leaders report good sales and activities for 2014 and expectations of still stronger activity in 2015, according to a new report from the American Recreation Coalition (ARC), Outdoor Recreation Outlook 2015.
The study showed that Americans spend more than $650 billion annually on equipment ranging from skis and tents to RVs and boats, and on services ranging from fishing licenses to whitewater outings, supporting millions of jobs in manufacturing, sales and service. Though the 2008 recession hurt, especially in sales of new equipment, 2014 brought strong recovery. And technology in the outdoors is blossoming, bringing lighter and stronger skis and bikes and new electronic devices, like hand-held GPS units and digital cameras, adding to outdoor fun.
A core strength of outdoor recreation in America is the lure of America’s public lands and waters covering nearly one in three acres of the nation’s surface. Best known is America’s National Park System with 401 units, ranging from world-renowned destinations to small historic sites. Many park sites suffered from recent events including hurricanes and fires and from the turmoil of government budgets in 2013, together causing a significant drop in visitation.
Visitation is now up by more than 2% from 2013 levels, up some 5 million visits for the year to date, and the National Park Service is preparing to launch a major promotion effort – “Find Your Park” – in 2015 in conjunction with its 100th anniversary.
Collectively, America’s state parks have a $20 billion impact on state and local economies. A number of state park systems also report increased visitation, perhaps as American families look for value in their leisure spending. At the same time, state parks in some areas of the country continue to be squeezed by budget concerns and innovative solutions are being pursued.
Camping at both public and private sites is also rising. Peak season business for 2014 was up substantially from 2013 levels according to Kampgrounds of America Inc. (KOA), the largest network of private campgrounds in America. Camper nights across the country were up 3.7%, contributing to strong overall revenue growth of 8.6%.
State campgrounds experienced heavy demand in 2014 as well. Camping was also aided by media attention to five Capital Campouts – governors hosting youth and urban families for widely reported overnight stays at sites in state capitals which highlighted nearby fun opportunities. For 2015, Capital Campouts and other promotional efforts by governors will reach an estimated 30 states.
Overnight stays in national park campgrounds, though, continue to decline. In some cases campgrounds are full during peak seasons – but sites are occupied by smaller numbers of people. In other cases, a lack of promotion and needed upgrading is deterring campers.
According to the Recreational Vehicle Industry Association (RVIA), the RV market strengthened during the first half of 2014, with wholesale shipments during the first six months of the year increasing 9.8% over the same time period last year. Towable RV shipments, representing 87.8% of all RVs manufactured, led the way with an increase of 8.6% during the first six months of 2014 compared to the same time period in 2013.