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Bicycle Tourism Is Slowly Changing Small Communities All Over the World

By Bonnie Friend

There are two types of people in this world – those who embrace change, and those who don’t, and few areas are as divisive, when it comes to community opinions, as tourism.

That said, bicycling tourism is on the rise, and with it a plethora of positive benefits. We hear a lot about the benefits of cycling in big cities – London’s Santander cycles have been taken up with alacrity, and in Barcelona the city’s very landscape is being transformed by two-wheeled travellers.

In small communities, however, the effects of bicycling tourism are less talked about, but they are making a big impact. Bicycle tourism is a booming sector. For those who aren’t familiar with it, it’s either independent or organised cycling trails and adventures, events such as races or tours, day rides and tours of local attractions, or destination riding such as Utah’s slick rock mountain biking or touring California’s wine country.

From long-distance cyclists to short-distance pleasure seekers, bicycle tourists are often affluent travellers mistaken for budget travellers, spending in the community without adding to pollution, keeping attractions alive and contributing to growth and prosperity. In short, what they take is minimal and what they give is extensive.

Twin Bridges Bike Campsite

One beautiful example reported by Bicycle Times Magazine is that of Bill White of Twin Bridges, Montana, who noticed the cycling trend in the area and developed an overnight stopping point for cycle travellers. As a result of White’s entrepreneurial spirit, the town saw a huge influx in economic growth from cyclists and by the end of the first season, more than 300 cyclists took advantage of the facilities in Twin Bridges, leaving more than enough donation money to pay off the $9,000 cost for the shelter building.

This of course is illustrative of the wider benefits of bicycle tourism in small communities, because not only is there an opportunity for business growth with more people passing through the area, but the infrastructure developed for cycle tourists can sometimes be used by local communities as well.

In 2012, a Travel Oregon study showed that bicycle tourism generated $400 million in economic benefits for the state, creating booms in employment, retail, food services, and accommodation. In Germany, 10% of all tourism revenues are generated by bicycle tourism, and a 2007 study by Sustainable Tourism CRC showed that cycle travellers make up 9% of all foreign visits in both Denmark and Ireland.

The wonderful thing is that these benefits are being seen across the world. The Adventure Cycling Association quoted a number of studies showing the positive impact of bicycling tourism on small communities. For example, they said that “a 2014 study by UQAM’s Transat Chair in Tourism in Quebec Province shows cycle tourists spend an average $214 per day, 6% more than other types of tourists while cycling the La Route Verte network.” In Europe, meanwhile, an economic impact study conducted in 2012 and funded by the European Parliament shows an impact of 44 billion euros ($48 billion) from 2.3 billion bicycle tourism trips in Europe.

People enjoying a spring evening in the Parc La Fontaine, Quebec.

If you step away from the figures, the tangible benefits of all this two-wheeled tourism is a healthier community, a boost to local business and an incentive to improve infrastructure, which benefits both residents and tourists. It can result in decreased congestion where bicycle tourism replaces some more traditional tourism, and in the longer term it can create job roles and improve marketing for local areas to perpetuate the benefits.

Unlike other tourists, bicycle tourists will use not only restaurants but also shops for supplies en route, and there’s also the unmeasurable advantage of feel-good factor – there’s a goodwill generated by the camaraderie of cycling that has a knock-on, positive effect on the communities it touches, and crucially for the individuals within them as well.