Bicycle tourism – the perfect antidote to COVID-19?

While not to sugar-coat anything a result of COVID-19, there are some things to be grateful for and positive about.

Among them, an opportunity to pause and hit reboot – as individuals, as communities, for the environment, for population health, for kindness, for urban planning and mobility.

The bicycle retail industry has been one to benefit with greater numbers of people than ever before getting out and about – dusting off old bikes, buying new bikes (low end and high end), spending family time on two wheels, commuting by bike rather than taking public transport… And we’ve seen myriad responses from across the globe where cities and towns are adapting to create enough space for everyone walking, riding and enjoying the outdoors, while maintaining social distancing requirements.

The hospitality and tourism industries have been less fortunate.

And tourism in particular is likely to suffer for a long time yet to come, with international borders to remain closed for an indefinite period, the cruise ship industry on the nose and airline futures and viability in question. Attracting local visitors and the domestic market will become more critical than ever before.

As individuals, this will encourage us to explore new horizons in our own backyards and, just as ‘stay at home’ measures have forced us to find new ways of being active, spending time with family, and new weekend activities, we’ll be forced to consider different holidays.

And this will likely be a good thing for the bicycle tourism industry.

I’m no mathematician, but I know that bicycle tourism is increasing year on year. I also know that bike sales in the first quarter of 2020 are significantly higher than ever before.

There’s a new audience which bicycle tourism destinations can market to; as well as an existing audience itching to get away once restrictions around the country begin to ease. Bike riding can be done solo, in groups of twos, families and – once restrictions start easing – by small or larger groups of friends and family.

For all the same reasons that bike sales are soaring, bicycle tourism has much to offer, and to gain. For destinations who market themselves well, it’s an opportunity for family and friends to reunite. It’s an opportunity to discover places near to home which might otherwise be overlooked in preference of far-away destinations that are perceived as more exotic.

Bicycle tourism is a great way to inject revenue into local economies, including those who have been affected not only by COVID-19, but also by Australia’s recent summer of bushfires.

Here are my key recommendations for bicycle tourism destinations and businesses, or those aspiring to be so, to capitalise on this opportunity:

  • Engage your local community in cycling opportunities – ensure the right infrastructure is in place; and ensure there’s ample information available about where to ride, in-print and online with accurate maps and descriptions. There may be opportunity to use COVID-19 related infrastructure spend and stimulus packages for bike paths and trails – and this will be both an immediate and lasting investment for your region;
  • Market to your immediate neighbours first – those who can visit for day trips or weekend visits;
  • Consider opportunities for cycling clubs and groups, whose members haven’t been able to ride together for many months. This cohort may revel in an opportunity for a weekend away with the riding buddies they’ve been missing, and some time away from those they’ve been in isolation with for many months!;
  • Work with local bike stores who have recently reaped the benefits of a boom in bicycle sales to engage with their customers and audience through special deals and package offers;
  • Work with your local cycling clubs to offer deals for their members’ visiting friends and family. Connections between loved ones will be important and – why not by bike!? By establishing partnerships, you’ll be able to quickly and effectively tap into new and existing cycling audiences;
  • Consider a local Ambassador or Champion program, where keen local cyclists can share their passion and knowledge with others – either online or in person. After so much time alone, there will be many people looking for new ways to connect with others;
  • Don’t let winter put you off – there are many great destinations around Australia to ride during winter and spring and many creative ways of marketing these opportunities for cycling get-aways;
  • Be mindful that many people will be looking for safe and comfortable opportunities – and particularly those who might be new to cycling;
  • Leverage the new cycling audience and find ways to encourage them to continue exploring by bike and venturing into new horizons to keep up their interest and retain a cycling habit as part of their ‘new normal’ once restrictions ease;
  • Oh, and market, market, market! Loud and proud. There will be many competing bicycle tourism destinations. You need to tell your story well.