Economic Development and Travel & Tourism

Outdoor rec economy benefits Michigan, West Michigan

October 8, 2012
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The national economy benefits from the outdoor recreation economy to the tune of $646 billion dollars per year and 6.1 million American jobs, according to an economic analysis study conducted by Southwick Associates Inc. on behalf of the Outdoor Industry Association.

The outdoor recreation economy consists of products and services sold, as well as trips and travel revenue gained specifically from travel based around outdoor recreation activities.

Federal, state and local tax revenue from outdoor recreation reaches approximately $80 billion per year according to the report, The Outdoor Recreation Economy 2012.

The recent recession may have proven outdoor recreation is a somewhat recession-proof industry for many areas. Between 2005-2011, the national outdoor recreation economy grew by 5 percent, according to the report.

Michigan has a robust outdoor recreation economy, thanks to the state’s miles of coastline, many campgrounds and parks, extensive fishing and hunting opportunities, and sports such as kayaking, biking, snowmobiling, skiing and trail sports. The state also benefits from being a four-season state, meaning it offers outdoor recreation opportunities in the spring, summer, fall and winter.

In 2000, Michigan had 81.2 million visitors in total tourism volume. By the end of 2011, that number had grown by 19.78 million to a total tourism volume of 100.98 million. Southwest Michigan, which is where the report included Grand Rapids, experienced a growth of 8.36 million during that same time period, growing from 15.29 million to 23.65 million in total tourism volume.

Much of that growth likely can be linked to outdoor recreation.

“In surveys that we have done over the years, outdoor recreation ranks number one or number two pretty much across the state and in West Michigan, as well, as an attribute of the state that both in-state and out-of-state visitors rank most highly,” said Donald Holecek, professor in the Department of Park, Recreation and Tourism Resources at Michigan State University. “I think we’ve had about 15 items on our scale, and outdoor recreation is consistently ranked at the top of those attributes. So it’s clear that it’s a major driving force. If you look at what is featured in Pure Michigan, a very high percentage of the content of the Pure Michigan campaign is linked to outdoor recreation, especially.”

Michelle Begnoche, senior communications specialist at the Michigan Economic Development Corp., said that although the numbers for spring and summer travel and tourism are not in yet, anecdotally she is hearing that it is shaping up to be a really big year for the travel and tourism industry.

These comments are supported by early data that shows the 2012 Michigan hotel occupancy rates reached an all time high.

“According to Smith Travel Research, the statewide average hotel occupancy rate for the year to date as of July was at 56 percent — the highest July YTD average since Travel Michigan began tracking the data in 2004,” reads the press release issued by Michigan.org. “The statewide hotel occupancy rate in July was at 70.9 percent. This was above the national average of 70 percent and was the single highest occupancy month for Michigan since 2004.”

Survey respondents previously have ranked beach/waterfront, touring/sightseeing, hiking and biking, national and state parks among their top 10 reasons for visiting the state in the summer months, as well as overall.

These activities are in line with national rankings that show the top five outdoor recreation revenue generators are: camping, $143 billion; water sports, $86 billion; bicycling, $81 billion; trail sports, $81 billion; and off-roading, $6.6 billion.

Currently, the Grand Rapids Whitewater project is exploring the possibility of returning the rapids to the Grand River, which the group hopes will increase outdoor recreation travel to the area, specifically in the form of kayakers and rowers, and therefore benefit the region’s economy.

“I think it has the potential to be an economic generator, as well as a catalyst for bringing different areas and populations together,” said Chris Muller, co-founder of Grand Rapids Whitewater.

The group has yet to estimate the possible economic benefits of the project, which has a price tag of $27.5 million.

“We are working on gaining a specific economic impact report for Grand Rapids,” Muller said. “What we have been able to do is compare it to other projects around the country. It’s hard to compare, but other projects have had a $5-million-per-year-plus type of impact. Our project is much larger in scope and more specific toward restoration overall, so we think it will actually be larger than that. But we don’t have a specific number because the study is not completed.”

One of the greatest concerns is how the rapids might impact the local sport fishing community.

Muller said one of the goals of the project is to preserve the outdoor recreation the river already draws and to ensure that it is a positive project for many different user groups. To help in achieving that, the organization has hired an engineer with a background in fishery restoration.

“There is a project that our engineer was involved with out in Ogden, Utah, and I believe it is starting to be recognized as a fishing restoration project — meaning that the fishing habitat has dramatically increased since the project was completed,” Muller said.

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