Fundamentals of Bicycle Tourism
Because bicycle tourism is so quiet, widely dispersed and unobtrusive, it’s fair to call it a sleeper industry. You could be excused for thinking that it’s not that important economically, but you’d be wrong!
A report to the European Parliament in 2012 estimated that globally the annual cycling market was worth more than $100 billion per year. Whole towns and regions have seen their economic fortunes revived by embracing cycle tourism.
What is Bicycle Tourism?
There are many correct answers to this question. You might envisage the traditional image of a long-distance touring cyclist, laden with pannier bags, riding across a continent. But it could be a family visiting a city that take a guided tour of the city sights on bikes that are supplied by the tour operator.
It might involve a group of workmates flying to a mountain biking destination for a long weekend of trail riding. It could be a five-star supported group ride, where riders’ bags are carried in support vehicles, along with masseurs, mechanics, fine dining and deluxe accommodation. It could be taking part in a mass participation ride with thousands of others from far and wide.
These are just a few of the many different styles of bicycle tourism that are popular today.
New niches are emerging every few years with new styles of bikes built to support these markets. Fat bikes for beach or snow riding, gravel bikes for dirt back roads, bike-packing bags for those who want to travel light. There is hardly a destination on the planet that a cycle tourist can’t reach.
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Why Should I Enter the Bicycle Tourism Market?
Bicycle tourism allows you to make more money and keep the benefits within your business or region.
For example, think of fuel. When a tourist visits your area by motor vehicle and fills up with fuel, only a small proportion of that money is staying in your region – most is going to an oil company and perhaps ultimately an overseas oil producing nation.
But when a cycle tourist fills up with fuel, that means they’ll be dining at your café or restaurant. If you’re part of a wine producing region and offer ‘paddock to plate’ locally sourced produce, then all of their money is staying local. So that $80 meal and drinks for two is far more beneficial to your region than an $80 tank of fuel.
Bicycle tourists also tend to travel shorter distances each day and stay in a region for longer.
You don’t just have to be a food or accommodation provider to benefit from bicycle tourism. There are opportunities in bicycle hire, tour guiding, skills training, transport and logistics, trail design and construction and destination marketing to name a few.
Find out more here.
Bicycle tourism is low impact.
Bicycles are quiet. They take up very little space, both when being ridden and when parked or stored. They don’t pollute your local environment.
Bicycle tourists travel more slowly than motorists, so they’re not endangering other tourists or your local population. And because they’re not cocooned behind glass and steel, they’re also more likely to interact with locals, which can result in mutually beneficial social and economic interactions.
You can enhance your bicycle tourism offering at very low cost.
Cycle tourists are happiest on both sealed and gravel back roads, rail trails, canal towpaths and mountain trails. All of these are inexpensive to maintain, or in the case of new trails and paths, inexpensive to build.
For lunchtime cafés and other day time stops, all you need to do to encourage visitors is to provide a bike rack or even an accessible wall or fence for bike parking. Add free water bottle refills and a smile and you’re on your way to building your business through word of mouth. For overnight stops, a storage room or secure shed can hold 12 to 16 or more bikes in the space required by a single vehicle.
Bicycle tourism provides opportunity to invert this through a positive feedback loop and virtuous circle of demand and supply.
Here’s just two successful case studies:
Ovando, Montana is about as remote as towns come in the USA, with a population of just 50 and no large cities nearby. But a growing stream of bicycle tourists have revived the town’s fortunes. They’re part of a bicycle tourism industry estimated in 2014 to be worth $377 million per annum in Montana alone. You can read more about this story here.
In other cases, small ‘backwater’ towns have turned themselves into destinations by building mountain bike parks. A famous example in Tasmania, the island state south of the Australian mainland, is the Blue Derby Mountain Bike Trails. The previously struggling town of Derby is an old mining town, too far from any larger towns for the locals to seek work elsewhere.
Upon the closure of its local mining industry, it took advantage of its rugged, forested surroundings to build a mountain bike park. Positive foresight and economic investment from the Tasmanian Government has seen a significant return for the local community and the State as a whole.
A staggering 30,000 cyclists from across the world now visit the once sleepy backwater, causing economic benefits estimated by the Council CEO at $15 – $18 million dollars per year. Even the local real estate market has gone from dead to booming since the first trail opened in 2014.
Local entrepreneurs have established successful new businesses in the area, offering bike shuttle to the top of the trails, bike hire, food and accommodation.
You can read more about this incredible economic transformation here.
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We've developed a few other tricks and tools to get you started on your bicycle tourism journey, whether you're a destination (local tourism authority, local Government or other passionate community organisation) or business:
In our next blog, we’ll dig deeper into what makes a good cycling destination and give you some tips on evaluating your own business, town or region to see how you could best take advantage of the low impact but lucrative business of cycle tourism.