Drought Impacts on Recreation and Tourism
The outdoor recreation industry contributes 2.2% of the U.S. national gross domestic product, contributing—depending on how you define the scope—between $427 and $887 billion dollars annually to the U.S. economy.
Water resources are key to all forms of outdoor recreation. Drought directly affects snow sports, such as skiing and snowmobiling, and activities conducted on rivers and lakes, such as boating, rafting, canoeing, fishing, and swimming, due to reductions in snowpack and streamflows. In addition, activities such as biking, hiking, and camping also rely on sufficient water. Drought conditions can result in shortened or shifted seasons for these activities (Thomas et al. 2013).
Drought, as well as recreationists’ negative perceptions of drought, fire bans, or wildfires, may result in decreased visitations, cancellations in hotel stays, a reduction in booked holidays, or reduced merchandise sales. Reduced revenues in the sector can negatively impact the livelihood of communities and the many small outdoor recreation businesses that have limited resources to manage the financial burden of drought. This, in turn, impacts the mental health of small business owners, staff, and communities.
Lower water quality during drought conditions can increase risk for contracting waterborne disease, and lower water levels can result in increased risk for injury during recreational activities. Drought also affects wildlife, which can adversely impact wildlife viewing and hunting opportunities.
NIDIS is supporting multiple research projects with the ultimate goal of helping the recreation and tourism sector build resilience to drought. The completed project, Drought and Outdoor Recreation: Impacts, Adaptation Strategies, and Information Gaps in the Intermountain West, examines how drought impacts business operations for water-based outdoor recreation businesses, adaptation strategies of the businesses, current drought and weather information use, and drought information needs. A newly funded project, Improving Drought Indicators to Support Drought Impact Mitigation for Natural Resource Management, will investigate the relationships between indicators, thresholds, triggers, and impacts within economic sectors that fall under the purview of natural resource management, including recreation.