On the Road Again: RVing is one of the largest contributors to Arizona's outdoor economy

Jennifer Pullen, Senior Research Economist

We know that access to recreational opportunities is important for our well-being, but have you ever wondered how much economic value those opportunities add to the region? Recently released data by the Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA) shows that the impact is big. For example, in 2017 outdoor recreation accounted for 2.2% or $427.2 billion dollars of value added to the nation’s economy. 

In 2017, outdoor recreation in Arizona accounted for $8.7 billion dollars of value added to the state’s economy. This represented 2.7% of total value added and illustrates the relative size of the outdoor recreation economy for the state. When compared among other western states, Arizona’s share of total GDP that is comprised of outdoor recreation ranked in the middle (Figure 1). Utah and Colorado led the way with 3.3% of value added to their state economies by outdoor recreation. At the other end of the spectrum was California, where only 1.9% of value added was accounted for by outdoor recreation. 

Figure 1: Percent of Total Value Added by Outdoor Recreation (2017)

Arizona’s outdoor recreation economy grew by 6.0% in 2017, which was slightly higher than the 5.3% growth of the overall Arizona economy (before adjusting for inflation). When exploring the past five-years of data we find that the outdoor recreation economy grew at a faster rate than the state’s overall economy in 2015 and 2017, with a slight dip in 2016. Overall, the outdoor recreation economy really started to gather steam in 2015 (as shown in Figure 2).

Figure 2: Growth Rate of Value Added

The outdoor recreation economy is also a major source of jobs. It accounted for 3.8% of total Arizona employment in 2017 (Figure 3). That was slightly higher than the national share at 3.4%. Colorado’s outdoor recreation economy represented a whopping 5.3% of total employment, while Texas’s share was the lowest at 2.7%. 

Figure 3: Outdoor Recreation Employment as a Share of Total Employment (2017)

Outdoor recreation takes on many forms. The BEA reports three different categories: conventional core activities (such as camping, hiking, boating, and hunting); other core activities (such as gardening and outdoor concerts); and supporting activities (such as construction, travel and tourism, local trips, and government expenditures). We focus here on the types of activities that one would typically relate with the outdoors like camping, bicycling, or snow sports. 

In Arizona, the production of apparel and accessories for outdoor use contributed the largest value added to the state’s economy at $743.3 million in current-dollars, as Figure 4 shows. RVing, boating/fishing, and hunting type activities also contributed significantly to the economy. As we might expect given Arizona’s mild climate, bicycling contributed more value added to the state economy than snow sports. Bicycling is an indicator we track on the MAP. To learn more about bicycling in Tucson visit the Bicycling Capacity indicator.  

Figure 4: Nominal Value Added for Conventional Outdoor Recreation Activities in 2017 ($ millions)

The outdoor recreation economy contributes to several different industries and their overall contribution to the economy in value added, employment, and compensation. The arts, entertainment, recreation, accommodation, and food services industry was the largest contributor to Arizona’s outdoor recreation economy in 2017 followed closely by retail trade. Other significant value added to select industries by outdoor recreation include: transportation and warehousing; finance, insurance, real estate, rental, and leasing; and government.   

How is it measured?

The Bureau of Economic Analysis released prototype data in September of 2019 for the U.S. and states on the contribution of outdoor recreation to the economy. The statistics highlight data on value added, compensation, and employment. Important notes pertaining to the data include that outdoor recreation is measured by place of production, not residence of consumer. For example, the value of manufactured goods are assigned to the state where they are produced, even if that good is not ultimately used there. Also, all services are assigned to the location where they are consumed. To learn more visit the BEA at www.bea.gov

Gross domestic product (GDP), also referred to as “value added”, provides important information on the value of goods and services produced in a geographic area less the value of the goods and services used in production. Visit the GDP by Industry indicator for additional industry data.