Analysts do not pay enough attention to the increasing relevance of the outdoor recreation industry for “hard-core” economic growth.  The reason may be this: when it comes to such a service (if we pay for it, like hiring a guide) or experience (if we don’t pay for it), measuring the increased value to consumers is immensely more difficult than it is with physical goods.

Economists always seek to attach numerical values to specific improvements, whether it’s faster broadband connection, less air pollution or a better medical treatment, but this is hard to do. As far as engaging in outdoor recreation is concerned, we can only conjecture that if doing them regularly leaves us in better health that would otherwise be the case, this will positively contribute to economic growth. If, instead of being stuck in bed at home or in a hospital with a bad back, we are able travel to the mountains to ski or to trek in a distant location, we’ll generate GDP growth by traveling, hiring skis, paying a ski instructor or a guide, buying a ski pass or a plane ticket and also contributing indirectly to all the underlying investment activities (building a resort, renovating an airport or a road, etc.)

In a similar vein, a great walking or surfing spot or a national park can become a focus for investment and then grow to support a broader tourism industry. Outdoor recreational activities may seem like an immaterial form of growth, but a rapidly growing business is currently being built around it, as shown by the booming US outdoor recreation industry, which now amounts to USD 887 billion per year (in 2016: USD 184.5 billion in products and USD 702 in trip and travel spending). This contributes to GDP growth in a “clean” and non-divisive way, without inflicting damage to any human being, the environment or anything else. As such, it is the best personal and societal investment we can make: it costs nothing, is readily available, and improves our productivity (health and cognitive functioning) at zero cost and with no known undesirable side effects. 

Author, Thierry Malleret