Rec Industry Reports Strong 2017, Strong Outlook

Recreation Industry Reports Strong 2017, Strong Outlook

Recreational activities continue to be a mainstay of the American lifestyle and economy according to the American Recreation Coalition’s new report Outdoor Recreation Outlook 2018. Outdoor recreation industry leaders report good sales and increased activity for 2017 and project still stronger activity in 2018. According to the Outdoor Industry Association's 2017 report: The Outdoor Recreation Economy, Americans spend more than $887 billion annually on equipment ranging from skis and tents to RVs and boats and on services ranging from fishing licenses to zip lines, supporting millions of jobs in manufacturing, sales and service.

Public Lands and Waters

A core strength of outdoor recreation in America is the lure of America’s public lands and waters covering nearly one third of the nation’s surface. Best known is America’s National Park System with 400+ units, ranging from world-renowned destinations to small historic sites. Visitation is on the rise, up 7.7% from 2016 levels, with 23.7 million more visits for the year to date. Many of the 330+ million visits to national parks rely upon services of national park concessioners, including lodging, food, retail, transportation and guide services. – the unified means for making reservations on all federal lands – reports 19 million users and 37 million sessions in 2017, up 26% and 22% respectively. The inventory of federal reservable facilities also increased to 3,367 sites. The steady growth in use of leads its operators to anticipate a continued climb in visits due to increased inventory, support of high-profile events and locations, and targeted marketing strategies. A second-generation website is in development, which will greatly expand’s ability to ease outdoor trip planning – offering entry passes and license sales and linking campsites to more recreation opportunity information.

Adding to this positive outlook for public lands and waters are recent initiatives announced by U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke. He is harnessing the experience and know-how of the recreation industry by forming the Recreation Advisory Committee and engaging with industry groups like the Outdoor Recreation Industry Roundtable to examine how public-private partnerships can expand access, inspire innovation, improve infrastructure and more. This renewed emphasis on outdoor recreation is creating new opportunities for Americans everywhere to enjoy their great outdoors.

State park visitation trends also continue to reach record levels. Collectively, America’s State Parks hosted more than 790 million visitors in 2016, 373 million of which were to fee-collecting areas. State parks now report an inventory of more than 240,000 campsites, of which about one-third are seasonal. Of the nearly 66 million overnight visitors to state parks in the past year, over 61.4 million were by campers.

Vehicle Sales

Vehicle sales remain strong. According to the Recreation Vehicle Industry Association, the market for RVs has maintained its strength and sales of new units are expected to reach 419,500 units in 2017 and 429,300 units in 2018. Looking further out, forecasts for 2019 RV sales remain favorable with total shipments expected to finish at more than 490,000 units, marking a ninth consecutive year of gains, the longest ever recorded.

Recreational use of on- and off-highway motorcycles, ATVs, and ROVs is also growing. Nearly 30 million Americans ride motorcycles on and off roads, and ATV ridership is some 35 million annually according to the Motorcycle Industry Council. The industry contributes nearly $109 billion in direct spending to the U.S. economy annually and over 1.5 million jobs.

Sales of new snowmobiles in 2017 declined slightly due to poor snow cover and higher than normal temperatures in the Northeast region of the United States, according to the International Snowmobile Manufacturers Association. However, average use of snowmobiles remained steady with a slight increase in the Western snowmobile states. Fall shows for the 2018 sales year are reporting large, enthusiastic crowds with sales increasing 10% compared to last year’s shows.


KOA – the nation’s largest private campground system – reports a very strong year across the board. According to KOA’s 2017 North American Camping Report (available here), camping remains one of the most popular, affordable and accessible pastimes in North America. An estimated 13 million U.S. households planned to camp more in 2017 than they did in 2016, and more than one million new households have started camping each year since 2014.

Fishing and Boating

Fishing participation increased by 1.5 million in 2016, according to the Recreational Boating & Fishing Foundation and the Outdoor Foundation’s 2017 Special Report on Fishing. Youth participation rose 3% while Hispanic participation increased by 11%. Newcomers to fishing accounted for 5.3% of total participants and tended to be young and female. The industry’s efforts to reach new audiences are paying off. Initiatives like 60 in 60 – which aims to grow participation to 60 million U.S. anglers within 60 months – and effective recruitment, retention and reactivation programs are succeeding in growing the participant base and also securing funding for conservation programs.

The $36 billion U.S. boating industry is seeing some of its highest sales in nearly a decade. Unit sales of new powerboats increased 6% in 2016, reaching 247,800 boats sold, and are expected to increase an additional 6% in 2017 – a trajectory the National Marine Manufacturers Association anticipates to continue through 2018. Economic factors, including an improving housing market, higher employment, strong consumer confidence, and growing disposable income, are all cited as positive factors contributing to the growth of boating.


Archery participation in America climbed over 20% from 2012 to 2015, boosting the number of archers to 23.8 million, an increase that can partially be attributed to the prominence of archery in pop culture. According to a study from the Archery Trade Association, 9.9% of Americans age 18 and older shot archery sports in 2015.

Equine Activities

Recent data indicates that the horse industry is beginning to trend upwards, with more spectators and equine enthusiasts becoming involved in the industry by either going to equine events such as horse shows or races, or taking their first riding lesson. Recreational riding remains the largest segment of the equine industry overall – generating an economic impact of $32 million and involving more than 3.9 million horses.

Active and Adventure Travel

Active and adventure travel outfitters experienced a very strong year in 2017 as industry diversification continues to offer new experiences in the outdoors according to the America Outdoors Association. Demand for lodging, particularly cabins packaged with outdoor recreation activities, continues to outpace other services. That trend is expected to continue through 2018. Other strong activity segments include water-based day trips near urban areas or near destination attractions. Guided hiking, jeep tours, horseback riding and iconic multi-day trips, such as rafting the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon, continue to experience strong demand, trends which should prevail through 2018.

Winter Sports

U.S. ski areas tallied an estimated 54.8 million skier and snowboarder visits during the 2016-17 season – up 3.7% from the previous season’s total according to the National Ski Areas Association. This past season, ski areas in the Northeast region experienced an impressive rebound, as skier visits grew by 28% to 11.9 million visits. In addition, the Rocky Mountain region had its second-best winter in terms of skier visits (21.7 million). The number of open and operating U.S. ski areas rose to 481 in the 2016-17 season, up from 463 the prior year. The Northeast region has witnessed a rebirth of several formerly defunct ski areas in the past few seasons. Ski areas on national forests are adding major new activities for warm weather fun.

ARC’s full report is available for download as a PDF here.