When is a ride not a ride?
When is a ride not a ride? - When it's a complete experience.
In today's blog - part 2 of a 3 part series - Anthony Burton explains that bicycle tourism is more than just the ride, or just the trail. It’s everything about the destination that comprises the overall time a visiting rider spends there; and a recognition that – for most people – the ride is just one part of the attraction to a destination; it’s also about the people met, the customer service received, the places visited, the character and authenticity of the place; the activities and attractions beyond cycling; the quality of the accommodation, and the food and beverages consumed...
How to get mountain biking tourists staying longer and coming back for more
This is the second of three blogs in which we talk to Dr Anthony Burton who has a PhD in Planning, Human Health and Climate Change and runs the consultancy Anthony Burton & Associates, based in Australia’s capital city, Canberra.
Although the details discussed below specifically refer to Australia, they are equally applicable in the USA and elsewhere.
What attracts mountain bike (MTB) tourists to visit a particular park or region? More importantly, how can you get them to stay longer, spend more and to come back again; all of which are vital features of any truly successful tourism business.
“You’ve got to have more than just trails,”
Anthony explains. “There’s tourism development that sits in behind that. We certainly plan for the local community, you have to cater for their needs, but much of the MTB investment that’s coming through is really about generating tourism and economic activity throughout the location.
“For example, when you look at some mountain bike destinations, all they do is cater for keen mountain bikers. That’s great if the whole family is into mountain biking. But if not, say one partner is into mountain biking and the other is into art, then a family trip to that destination is only ever going to suit one of them. So you have to look at the whole package. How can you get them to stay longer, and cater for a wider audience?
Perhaps one day the group or family goes mountain biking, the next day they go to an art gallery and the third day they go cycling to a food venue, or something like that.
“We often think of shuttle busses that take riders from the bottom of the mountain to the top, but they might also take you from the centre of town to a winery trail or gourmet food trail and bring people back. You might look at how you can get the local bus service to provide a shuttle that picks up and drops off across the whole location.
“One key thing that most areas tend to forget is data collection and analysis. It’s all well and good to build a mountain bike park, but you can’t have a set and forget mindset. You’ve got to see what works and continually improve and engage with both your current and potential future user group.
“You need to make sure you get return visitation. Too often people come to a location, ride the trails and they have a ‘Been there, done that!’ mindset. We need to encourage those return visitations.
“We need to find out where, what and how they’re riding.”
How Much Land and Elevation Do You Need?
This may sound daunting, but smaller destinations who don’t have much land or even any mountains can still build a surprisingly long and attractive trail network into a small area of rolling hills.
Anthony continued “If I look at Majura Pines as an example (near Canberra). It’s quite a small destination, about 80 hectares (198 acres), but has about 20 kilometres (12 miles) of single-track trails.
“Bruce Ridge (also near Canberra) also has a similar size. It’s about 100 hectares (247 acres) with 20 to 25 kilometres (12 to 15 miles) of trails.
“If one of those parks were by themselves in a single location, they would be destinations in their own right. For example, if they were in a small town in New South Wales that was relatively close to the highway, they would be a specific trip generator. But as a keen rider I could get through everything that town has to offer in a day.
“I’d be looking to set up a really successful mountain bike network that has the potential to keep people in a region for more than one day. Ideally you want people to arrive on a Friday afternoon, stay Friday and Saturday night and leave late on Sunday.
“Depending upon the nature of the area, you might fit in a 50 kilometre (30 mile) trail network into 200 hectares (496 acres) and never feel like you’re in a particularly dense trail environment.
“In terms of the vertical fall, it depends upon the style of riding you’re looking at. 100 metres (328 feet) elevation fall is generally ample. You don’t want something perfectly flat, it can just be undulations. But if you’ve got a site that has a 200 metre (656 feet) or more fall or more, then you can run a downhill trail, plus a ‘gravity flow trail’.
“Clearly the more fall that you have, the greater the opportunity for those gravity-based trails, which is a growing market. We’ve seen the change in mountain bikes from no suspension to front suspension to full suspension. That’s changed the kind of trails that people are riding.
“A gravity flow trail will have an average downhill gradient of about seven percent. If you have a four or five hundred metre drop across your site, you can run a flow trail more than seven kilometres long within your park. Those kinds of trails will become trip generators.
“If you look at the rolling bushwalker cross country market, those trails have an average gradient of 3% to 5% either up or down. That’s relatively easy to climb and you can ride with your family from eight to 70 years old. It’s a similar gradient to a rail trail.
“It never feels like you’re riding on the flat, but almost surfing a wave. You use a little bit of downhill to help you go up. You’re not having to touch the brakes at all. It’s just a rolling environment.
“For a downhill trail you’re looking at an average gradient of 10%. You can certainly go significantly higher than that. The downhill market is relatively small. Marketing people see it and think, ‘That’s what mountain biking is all about!’ but it’s probably only 3-7% of the total potential MTB market.”
Another key service that will attract more MTB tourists is onsite bicycle hire. Anthony gave a recent first hand example of how this can work.
“A short stay bicycle tourist will often take their own bike, but if people know that there are high quality bicycles available for hire, it allows for an opportunistic ride, which is equally important,” he said.
“I recently visited Crackenback ski resort (in the Australian Alps). I took my bike with me. But I knew that there were high quality bikes for hire including e-mountain bikes. I spent $500 on hiring high quality e-bikes for the rest of my family over the weekend.
“I think it’s a growing market that needs to be recognised. You can get people coming in who’ve not necessarily tried mountain biking before, but they have the opportunity to give it a go on a high-quality bike.
“After Crackenback, my daughter now has a brand new Specialized Camber, as a direct result of being able to try that bike out in a safe environment. At Crackenback they might have 100 high quality bikes for hire and they’re renting them all out just about every day, in particular to families wanting to ride the new Thredbo Valley Trail, which is gentler than the original mountain side trails in that area.
“That has changed the way they look at their business. They’ve gone from hiring out frisbees and golf clubs to being mainly about hiring out bicycles.”
In the next - and final - blog in this series, Anthony will turn his attention to competition from other destinations, the importance of trail maintenance and implications for MTB Tourism from the coming electric mountain bike boom.