It’s become a pretty familiar refrain that the future of our region is closely tied to outdoor recreation.
The state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, citing federal data, reports that outdoor recreation contributed $13.64 billion to Pennsylvania’s economy, accounted for 152,000 jobs and was 1.6 percent of the state’s GDP.
The most recent county-level data from the state’s Economic Impact of Travel Report shows $124.6 in tourism-related spending in Warren County.
But that number doesn’t tell the whole story.
In 2009, that number totaled $137.7 million and peaked at $194.1 million in 2019. The decline in 2020 is almost assuredly a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“This tells me that the statistics and surveys gathered by the Warren County Visitors Bureau are right on target,” WCVB Executive Director Casey Ferry said.
“Our most recent findings tell us that outdoor recreation accounts for over 60% of our tourists,” she explained. “It makes me happy to hear that we are on the right path and encourages us to keep forging ahead in putting emphasis on outdoor recreation as a viable and successful draw to the area.
State official say the $13.6 billion number marks a 22 percent increase from 2020 and means that Pennsylvania has the sixth largest outdoor recreation economy in the country.
Digging deeper into the numbers, RV camping is in excess of $700 million of the total and was up 17 percent from 2020. Boating and fishing account for $555 million and hunting/shooting/trapping nets $354 million.
So what is bringing people here?
“The biggest draw is probably the Allegheny National Forest, and what’s really great about that is that the ANF has such a wide array of outdoor rec opportunities that it brings a variety of people for a variety of reasons,” Ferry said.
“Be it boating, fishing, hiking, mountain-biking, hunting, camping, etc. that draws people here, when they come here for the ANF, it’s an easy transition for them to branch out, so to speak, and take advantage of Warren County’s other outdoor recreational activities and locations, of which there are plenty. The Kinzua Dam, the nearby Kinzua Bridge, and the Allegheny River rank high on the list.”
The WCVB is funded largely by hotel bed tax dollars and the lion share of that total comes from hotels and airbnbs.
“Camping can be hard to statistically determine on our end because, unless they are camping in a permanent cabin or structure, we don’t get those numbers,” Ferry said.
“I can tell you that camping is a huge boon to our local economy just by chatting with campers, campground hosts and owners, and the ANF.”
With the data to back up the perception that outdoor recreation is a significant economic driver for our area, the next piece is promoting those resources.
“A large bulk of our advertising is and has been focused on our outdoor recreational opportunities,” Ferry said. “We use surveys and data to try to get a finger on where people are coming from and why they come here. Our current research shows us that, while we get people from literally all around the world, prime ‘hot spots’ tend to be near cities within a few hours such as Pittsburgh, Buffalo, and Cleveland.”
As a result, advertising efforts focus on those areas.
“We can also use that data to find comparable markets that we haven’t totally cracked yet and send promotions those directions,” she explained. “Another strategy of ours is using numbers that reveal a trend as a point of focus. A good example of that would be motorcyclists. Data shows that Route 6 is a huge draw for motorcyclists, so we have put promotions touting the scenic drive into media that is popular within the group.
“We, as an organization, realize that trends ebb and flow, so we work daily to keep on top of them so that Warren County can ride that wave and benefit from it economically. “