Cycle tourism is growing - from mountain bikes to road warriors all you need is a quick search on the internet and you’ll find an increasing number of articles on the economic impacts of cycling.
Many destinations are working to tap into this trend. Cycle tourists - both mountain bikers and road cyclists - are attractive, high-yield visitors who travel frequently to pursue their passion. A recent cycling vacation to Tuscon, Arizona provided an opportunity to reflect on some of the essentials for a great cycling visitor experience. This series of blog posts will focus on various aspects of the road and mountain bike visitor experience, with observations and tips on how to improve the destination cycling experience across the visitor lifecycle.
Getting the cycling destination basics right: infrastructure & place
A scenic destination and well-maintained, built infrastructure for cyclists are the basic essentials for a road cycling destination. Sunny, warm weather, an incredible bucket list hill climb (Mt. Lemmon) and the advocacy of my fellow cyclists as a must-visit destination all contributed to Tuscon hitting my radar. But destination marketers can’t rest on their laurels with just the basics in hand - many other destinations offer the same and were on my consideration set competing for my share of wallet.
Good cycling maps are one of the best tools available for a visitor when planning a vacation - but a tool is not of help unless it can be found. The biggest surprise upon arrival was finding the Tuscon Metro bike map - this city has an extensive network of dedicated bike trails and lanes that deliver an amazing road cycling experience. Unfortunately the Visit Tuscon website does not have links to these maps, nor does it provide the depth of information needed to help a visitor plan their first cycling vacation to the area. Destinations can facilitate trip planning by helping new visitors understand where the best riding is found, and providing suggestions on where to stay for a great cycling experience.
Most cycling destinations have a selection of iconic routes that represent the ‘must do’ rides in the area (Travel Oregon is a leader in the development of iconic routes with its scenic bikeways program). There are several iconic rides in Tuscon, including Gates Pass. I was disappointed, however, to find that the road had no shoulder and was in terrible condition with extensive ribbing, cracks and holes in the pavement that make for an uncomfortable ride. Developing a successful cycling destination requires maintaining your built infrastructure properly, and working with government bodies to align investment in road maintenance to ensure that a destination’s iconic routes are safe for riders and properly maintained.
Mt. Lemmon is ‘THE’ iconic road ride in Tuscon and named as one of the top climbs in the US. The scenery is stupendous and the climb is worthy of its reputation. But ask anyone what the biggest issue is with this ride - water. This is one of the hottest, driest destinations for cycling and Mt. Lemmon has almost no water on the 28 mile climb to the top. The availability of water is clearly a challenge in the middle of a desert and fixing this issue is potentially a significant and costly challenge. It may not be a problem that can be fixed on Mt. Lemmon, but this example and Gates Pass clearly illustrate how destination infrastructure investments can be aligned to enhance the visitor experience in a way that directly impacts the overall enjoyment of the destination and word-of-mouth advocacy.