Camping and outdoor recreation may not be the first thing you think of when considering economic benefit, but its value is truly underrated. Would you ever guess that the industry employs roughly 6.1 million Americans? That’s more than the construction, education or finance industries. Recent findings uncovered that the multibillion-dollar business is booming, but suggest that the camping industry, both in the United States and in Michigan, is still on the rise.
According to a report published by Tourism Economics, the number of visitors and traveler-spending has been rising in Michigan since 2010. Tourism makes up about 3.9 percent of Michigan’s economy, or a GDP of about $17 billion — with the success of campaigns like Pure Michigan, it’s no surprise. Michigan is getting more and more attention, especially our scenery and outdoor recreation.
A study by Michigan State University (MSU) shows that about 10 percent of Michigan-bound travelers are campers, including tent-only campers and owners of recreational vehicles. And while the use of RVs has increased across the country, people are still taking advantage of “rustic” campsites. This would include sites that lack any hookups like electrical or water and are favored among a younger crowd, as they tend to be less expensive for the overall trip.
But the Outdoor Industry Association has found that activities like camping are benefitting us beyond just a nice weekend getaway. As a $646 billion industry, this makes it almost as big as pharmaceuticals and motor vehicles combined. Of that spending, $120.7 billion is on products such as equipment, apparel and accessories. The other $524.8 billion is spent on travel-related expenses. This means that the majority is spent within local economies. It’s also worth noting that $646 billion only includes direct sales and doesn’t factor in the indirect spending that comes with being a camper. In Michigan, tourism generates $8.8 billion directly, and $17.1 billion when including induced and indirect impacts.
Of the 75 million camping households in the U.S., 38 percent of them are millennials. Dan McCole, an associate professor in MSU’s Department of Community Sustainability, says this generation is shaping the way we travel. In a report published by MSU Today, McCole says, “Because of their size, increasing spending ability and preference for experiences over ‘stuff,’ is having a meaningful impact on the tourism industry.”
Camping trips cost less, which makes them ideal for a younger audience not yet in higher-paying careers. As millennials age, they continue to camp long after their career paths enable them to afford luxurious trips. With the rise of social media, this up-and-coming generation has a focus on experiences they can share via outlets like Instagram and Facebook; making visual experience such as camping a a huge win for the outdoor industry. Here, we benefit from these improved media marketing methods that make the idea of camping an easy way to experience Michigan.
Besides cost efficiency and good memories, people who camp see a physical and emotional benefit. The results of the “2017 North American Camping Report” by Kampgrounds of America Inc. reveal that the number of campers is increasing as they discover these benefits, as 81 percent of millennials surveyed plan to camp more to spend more time with friends and family; overall, key reasons include spending more time with friends and family (43 percent strongly agree), being physically active (33 percent) and blowing off steam (33 percent).
McCole attributes the likely increase in camping trips to technology that makes it easier to have more time for activities like a weekend trip. Even booking a campsite is easier with technology, as you can simply visit a website and search based on your needs.
“This is likely a wider reflection of workplace changes,” according to McCole. “In 2017, we tend to have more flexible work schedules that allow for activities like camping.”
Camping has always boasted a chance to be more physically active and in touch with nature, but it has taken on a huge social quality as of late, and many campgrounds offer group rates to accommodate this change. The average group size for millennials is 10.7 people, while Gen Xers are typically 8.5 and baby boomers 7.9, respectively. All those factors drive local economies, especially vacation towns with lots of campgrounds and during summer months.
In the Greater Lansing area, camping costs an average of $25 per night for two people. This does not include any water or electrical hook-ups. To get these amenities, it averages $35 per night. At campgrounds like Lansing Cottonwood, the cost goes down the longer you stay, which encourages visitors to go on extended vacations. Urban residents in particular take a lot of Michigan vacations. Lansing just happens to be a city where you can easily go from urban to rural spaces in a reasonable time.
Camping isn’t going out of style anytime soon. Although, during the off-months, lodging occupation goes below 50 percent, there are spots all around Michigan, available for the whole year. Fall is a particularly good time to plan a trip, since the number of travelers tends to decrease with the school year starting and the temperature dropping. To find a site for you and your group, head to midnrreservations.com.