Leisurely Occupations

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Get online, get fit, do nothing at all. And most important, find more time to do so. In June 2001, that's what Americans said they wanted from their leisure time.

In a poll conducted by Bear Stearns and Yesawich, Pepperdine & Brown, an Orlando, Fla-based market research firm, 1,050 Americans over age 18 were asked, via direct mail surveys, about past and future participation in leisure activities — a $535 billion a year industry. The results reveal favorite leisure activities at home and while on vacation. The survey is an effort to forecast the future of leisure-based industries such as fitness clubs, theme parks, marine and cruise industries, and motorcycle and motor sports businesses. The data released in a June 2001 preliminary report, is part of an 18-month long ongoing study; the full results will be available by the end of the year.

The study aims to get a sense of which leisure activities are on the rise (swimming and hiking), and which are on the decline (racquetball and surfing) by approximating the “net gain� and “net loss� of specific activities. The rates reflect the difference between the proportion of Americans who expect to participate more frequently minus the proportion of American adults who expect to participate less frequently, expressed in percentages. Thus, in the sporting leisure category, outdoor jogging is the winner, with an expected net gain of 24 percent, while the big loser is ice hockey, with an expected net loss of 3 percent.

Fitness appears to be a major growth area: 7 of the 11 top sporting gainers are activities that build brawn and trim fat — such as aerobic machines with a 22 percent net gain, and weight training with a 19 percent net gain. Other top gainers are social sports like golf, fishing, bowling and billiards. The losing categories include recreational activities that require expensive equipment or extensive training, such as archery, motorcycling, surfing and windsurfing. However, these results should be put into the context of these plain facts: 6 out of 10 Americans admit they do not exercise regularly, and doubtless, others who say they do, in fact, do not.

Overall, Americans emphasize that they want to have more leisure time, even if they plan to do little with it: Nearly half of Americans want to use their off time to relax and do nothing at all. Thirty percent say they'd rather have more vacation time than an increase in pay, and nearly 40 percent say they expect to take more vacation days over the next two years. A majority of Americans like to travel: 60 percent say they travel whenever they have the opportunity, and 74 percent claim they like to vacation in places they've never been to. But a significant portion of Americans don't really want to go anywhere: One-fourth say they plan to spend more of their vacation time over the next two years at home.

When they pursue fun at home, Americans often long to do so in a low-key way. The biggest net leisure gainers include passive activities such as reading, spending time with friends and family, and calling them on the phone. And with the vast majority of Americans eating out regularly as a favorite leisure activity, and planning to do so more often over the next two years (a net gain of 8 percent), intentions to exercise more frequently might best be heeded.

I'd Rather Go for a Run

The top “net gainers� and “net losers� in sporting leisure.

Outdoor jogging/running 24% Ice hockey -3%
Aerobic machines 22% Skateboarding -3%
Swimming 20% Archery -1%
Weight training 19% Soccer -1%
Fishing 18% Motorcycling/dirt track -1%
Hiking 17% Surfing -1%
Billiards 9% Snowboarding -1%
Bowling 9% Racquetball -1%
Biking/mountain biking 8% Windsurfing -1%
Golf 8%
Source: Bear, Stearns & Co., Inc.; Yesawich, Pepperdine & Brown
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