Bicycle Tourism: What it is and why it matters

More visitors, staying longer and spending more

At over $100 billion per year, the bicycle tourism industry is transforming the economic health of communities across the globe.

The bicycle tourism industry already turns over four times the sale of bicycles and accessories every year. It is transforming communities worldwide – more visitors, staying longer and spending more.

This guide has been developed to help destinations and marketing organizations better understand what bicycle tourism can mean for them:

  • how to get more visitors, staying longer and spending more;
  • what you need to do to develop and support your local industry and businesses; and
  • how to build brands as powerful as Trek, Specialized and Giant.

The path to success

For bicycle companies that want to sell more bikes the solution is clear: Focus your investment in helping communities broaden the appeal of bicycling. The path to bicycle tourism success is less clear.

Collaboration and engagement is key. You will need to work with your local stakeholders, organizations, businesses and individuals to understand the economic and community benefits of cycling, and to establish and expand cycling opportunities for a broader range of segments – including the 100 million people that will be looking for unique holiday experiences by 2022.

Why you might want to consider cycling as your next tourism segment

At this very moment, a group of grey-haired road cyclists is enjoying a hard-earned break in a back-alley café in a city that isn’t their own. Two university graduates at the opposite table are researching holiday destinations that combine their love of cycling, food and the great outdoors. Across the street, an accountant on his lunch break books three nights’ accommodation in an obscure town so he can explore nearby mountain bike trails he read about on the CycleLifeHQ platform.

This is bicycle tourism in action. And it’s transforming countless cities and towns across the world: one adventure-seeking tourist at a time.

At CycleLifeHQ, we believe that many communities have what it takes to build a thriving, sustainable bicycle tourism industry that provides powerful social, economic and environmental benefits. Read on to see if your community might be one of them, and why we think it’s worth the effort…

Bicycle tourism

There are many definitions for bicycle tourism. However, a commonly accepted approach is that bicycle tourism is:

“experiencing a place that is not a person’s usual place of residence, by bike or for cycling purposes (active participation or passive observation)”. 

This definition incorporates those riding bikes, and travelling to destinations to watch events, competitions or races. Think of the crowds – and money – the Tour de France draws in each July.

It’s a broad definition – and purposefully so. Bicycle tourism covers everything from self-guided rides and bike-friendly cafes to bike rentals and organized rides. It caters to road cyclists, mountain bike riders, sightseeing enthusiasts on cruiser bikes and professional athletes.

What’s great about bicycle tourism is that it goes beyond focusing on the economic value of bike riding alone. Instead, it views cycling as an immersive and holistic experience. There’s more to bicycle tourism than building bike paths and stocking tourist information centers with maps of cycling routes. Bicycle tourism also encompasses the culture, nature, food and produce, narrative and unique qualities of the destination. It’s the sum of whole parts, not just the time spent on the saddle.

There’s something for everyone, and for most destinations.

By positioning cycling in this way, bicycle tourism encourages local agencies and organizations to ask questions like:

  • Do we have quality infrastructure for ride experiences?
  • Do we have sufficient support services and facilities for cyclists – pre, during and post ride?
  • Do we make it easy for cyclists to find information – pre, during and post-ride?
  • How can we make our town a go-to destination for cycling enthusiasts?

Bicycle tourists

Bicycle tourists don’t always look like typical tourists.

Bicycle tourists come in all shapes and sizes and from all walks of life. They choose to experience a destination by bike in many different ways: from hard-core purpose-defined mountain biking trips; to leisurely sight-seeing rides of your major attractions; to multi-day guided road cycling packages. They may be visiting from your closest neighboring town an hour or two away; or they might be travelling from overseas.

And with these different types of cyclists comes many different opportunities for you to position and market your destination.

The impact of bicycle tourism on local and global economies is real – and growing. 

Tapping into a $100 billion global market

It’s fair to assume most cities and towns would like a slice of that pie. Wouldn’t you? Here are some key facts that might further convince you:

  • The global bicycle tourism industry is worth around US$100 billion;
  • Mobile searches for cycling and biking destinations increased by over 40 percent in 2017;
  • The world’s top bicycle tourism destinations generate millions of dollars annually; and
  • Touring cyclists stay three days longer and spend US$240 more per trip than the average tourist.

Think your destination is too small to benefit from bicycle tourism?

The small township of Derby in northern Tasmania, Australia has a population of around 170 people. Yet it welcomes over 30,000 bicycle tourists each year. The town’s economy completely transformed in the space of just a few years, from a declining mining industry, through the development of world-class mountain bike trails.

While significant Government investment helped Derby achieve its path to success, there are many other destinations globally cashing in on this booming sector by starting small and working with what they’ve already got.

We’ve assembled a range of success stories and case studies from the world’s best practice bicycle tourism destinations and our client partners. You can read more about their paths to success over on our Success Stories page by clicking the image to the right.

Bicycle tourists are ideal tourists

Cyclists are the kind of tourist you want to attract: They’re educated, affluent and looking for a meaningful travel experience. According to America’s Adventure Cycling Association:

  • 82% of bicycle tourists have a university education;
  • More than half make over US$75,000 per year; and
  • 8% are international tourists

“Bicycle travelers tend to be geo-tourists – interested in experiencing the distinctive characteristics of a place, including its culture, landscape, history, and the well-being of its residents… They tend to prefer to spend locally, make meaningful connections with locals, and explore off the beaten path.” – Adventure Cycling Association

Bicycle tourism in action

When it comes to building a successful bicycle tourism destination, there is no one-size-fits-all approach. A sprawling capital city will have different ideas about bicycle tourism than a regional wine-producing area, or a destination that attracts younger thrill-seekers.

Take a closer look at world-famous bicycle tourism practices and destinations through our range of online resources.