Key Findings: 1996 Roper Research

KEY FINDINGS OF THE 1996 RECREATION ROUNDTABLE SURVEY: OUTDOOR RECREATION IN AMERICA 1996

Performed by Roper Starch Worldwide

  • The Roundtable’s 1996 Recreation Quality Index (RQI) reflects a continued, though modest, gain in the public’s perception of overall quality of outdoor recreation in America. The 1996 RQI stands at 109 versus 100 in 1994 and 107 in 1995. The public perceives recreation opportunities locally and at vacation destinations to be essentially flat, with no measurable change since the Roundtable’s initial 1994 survey.

  • In 1995, we saw a significant climb in recreation participation at the highest levels -- those who participate once per month or even more frequently. In 1996, more than half of all Americans again reported engaging in recreation at least monthly -- but the percentage did not grow further.

  • While the ranking of favorite recreation opportunities remained nearly unchanged in 1996, we saw declines in participation in 27 of 34 activities we track. A possible explanation for the drop is that people appear to be "streamlining" their recreation menus, participating more in fewer activities. Americans reported engaging in 4.0 recreational activities, on average, in 1995 but just 3.3 in 1996.

  • One in three Americans took an outdoor recreation vacation over the past year -- identical to the percentage in 1995.

  • Satisfaction levels with recreation experiences tell an interesting tale. In general, satisfaction with recreation experiences locally is declining, including perceptions of availability of activities and instruction, quality of service provided by park staff and the value for fees paid. In contrast, satisfaction with vacation experiences has climbed. For the first time, more than half of the survey respondents rated the amount of activities and instruction available as either excellent or very good, and quality and value assessments rose even more sharply. We do not ask about who provides the services at these sites -- public agency or private company. This may be an area of inquiry for 1997.

  • RQI is comprised of three component measurements: opportunity, participation and satisfaction. The highest opportunity score is for RV camping followed by off road bicycling and motorboating. The highest participation scores are for off-road bicycling, downhill skiing, horseback riding and canoeing/kayaking. The top satisfaction scores come from wildlife watchers, RV’ers and hikers. Overall, the top RQI ratings come from off-road bicyclists, horseback riders and canoeists/kayakers.

  • Outdoor recreation experiences are meeting the public’s motivations for engaging in recreation. As in the past, fun, fitness, family and familiarity with the environment are key motivators for participation.

  • Less than 1 in 3 of those earning less than $15,000 participate at least monthly in outdoor recreation, versus 2 in 3 of those with earnings of $50,000 and above. This is important because the key finding of the benchmark 1994 research was that Americans who regularly engage in recreation are substantially more content with their lives than other Americans. The main challenge for those involved in recreation -- whether in industry, government or simply as recreationists -- is to broaden participation among relatively disadvantaged segments of the American public since we know that participation brings with it prospects for a more happy and contented society.

  • For the first time in 1996, we asked questions regarding awareness and use of recreational facilities managed by federal agencies. 72% of all respondents know of National Park Service-managed areas while 62% know of specific U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service area and 59% know of Forest Service sites. When asked about visits to these lands, 21% report visits to National Park Service sites and an equal 9% report visits to Forest Service and Fish and Wildlife Service sites. Seven in ten Americans report no visits to federal recreation areas in the past year. Thus, the large number of estimated visits to federal sites -- some two billion in 1995, according to agency counts, represents a large number of visits by a relatively small group of Americans.

  • The RQI for Generation X’ers climbed substantially in 1996 to 116 from 103, nearly catching the RQI for the core "Boomer" group of 30 to 44 year-olds (120). X’ers lag in perceptions of opportunity and satisfaction but report the highest participation levels.

  • Americans in and around mid-sized cities continue to report the highest RQI -- 116 -- but substantial gains have occurred since 1994 in both our largest cities and in rural communities (102 and 108, respectively, for 1996 versus 84 and 89 in 1994).

  • Outdoor Recreation in America: 1996 is based upon a national sampling of 2,000 adult Americans in Late March/early April. All questions were asked in-person, the same methodology employed in the Roundtable’s 1994 and 1995 surveys. The 1996 survey was funded in part by the Bureau of Land Management.

  • Americans spend heavily on recreation -- more than $300 billion annually according to industry sources. Part of this spending is by federal agencies like the Bureau of Land Management, the National Park Service and the Forest Service. In fact, federal agencies have direct recreation and visitor services budgets exceeding $1 billion annually. This funding allows them to serve an estimated 2 billion visits each year. Currently, only a small portion of federal recreation program costs are paid directly by visitors -- less than 10%, according to recent Congressional testimony.

  • The 1996 survey included a question which is designed to help the recreation industry and government officials understand public attitudes toward higher costs for recreation. The question asked how much more recreationists would have been willing to pay on their last visit to a federal recreation site. One in five reported an unwillingness to pay any more. The mean of all respondents, though, was slightly over $12. Not surprisingly, those who were extremely satisfied with their most recent experiences at federal sites were far more likely to be willing to pay more ($14.50) than those who were only somewhat satisfied ($9.80) or those who were dissatisfied ($6.40).

  • Recreationists who were least willing to pay more included fishermen, RV’ers and motorcyclists/snowmobilers -- perhaps because those who participate in these activities are already required to pay fees ranging from campground charges to vehicle registration and license fees. In all three activities, 27% of the participants reported no willingness to pay more, versus 21% of all recreationists. Campground users and off-road bicyclists reported the highest willingness to pay more -- with off-road bicyclists reporting a mean of $20, nearly double the figure for all recreationists.

  • Just over one in four Americans (28%) reported that they had visited a federal recreation site over the past twelve months. Recreationists most likely to have used a federal recreation site over the past twelve months were: wilderness campers (72%); hikers (66%); equestrians, kayakers and canoeists (each 64%); wildlife watchers (62%) and off road bicyclists (60%). Data from the Forest Service shows that the top recreational activity on the lands it manages is pleasure driving: viewing the scenic beauty of mountains and rivers, wildlife and other features from cars, RV’s, motorcycles and more. Our study confirms this link between national forests and pleasure driving. More than 62% of those who reported visiting a Forest Service site also report that they went pleasure driving -- a higher level than for visitors to any other federal land system.

    The Recreation Roundtable
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