How will cycle tourism rebound from the pandemic?


By Bruce Robertson


As we all know tourism is one of the sectors worst hit by the fallout from the global Covid-19 crisis. It will also be slow to recover to what existed before March 2020, if indeed it does - or should. However the cycle tourism niche is well positioned to be one of the first to recover, and indeed thrive, in this “new normal”.
Travel restrictions are likely to be with us for quite some time. However cycle tours have already resumed in 2020 – particularly focussed on travellers in the same country or, in some parts of the world, near neighbours. This isn’t an easy process for many operators but the cycling sector is far more flexible and resilient than others. 2021 is already looking like it will be a full and busy season for most cycle tour operators!

Cycling for transport and exercise will lead to increased cycle tourism

We only have to look at media or news feeds over the last few months to know that cycling has boomed, and using bikes on holiday is a natural progression.

  • Sales of bicycles and accessories has taken off so much that shortages are commonplace and bike shops have become some of the busiest retail outlets around.
  • New infrastructure, both temporary and permanent, has quickly been added and is well used, and in turn attracts even more people out on bikes.
  • Existing established routes such as greenways and rail trails, particularly close to population centres, are experiencing greater patronage than they ever have before.
  • More people using bikes to get around and exercise will lead to many including cycling as part of their holidays – or becoming their holiday.

Cycle tourism is well adapted for the new normal – without too much change

  • Social distancing and small groups are already commonplace in cycling.
  • Avoiding crowds and busy places makes bike tours more enjoyable and interesting.
  • Mobility: cycle tours and routes help the dispersal of economic benefits and avoid overreliance on large concentrations of tourists.
  • Health: cycling is an activity and exercise for which all age or socio-economic groups can benefit. Society at large benefits with fewer health problems, hospital admissions etc.
  • Environmental: cyclists have a much lower environmental and carbon footprint than most tourists.
  • Sustainability: cycle tourism is less concentrated on any particular resource, with lower overall demand on resources, infrastructure and investment.
  • Affordability: all you need is a bike and it doesn’t need to be an expensive model.


Why cycle tourism should be more actively promoted

  • See health, environmental and sustainability benefits above!
  • Accessibility to all: many people who use a bike to explore, discover or just enjoy somewhere, may not even think of themselves as cyclists. They don’t need to be on a popular cycle route or organised bike tour.
  • Economic benefits are widely spread – particularly in regional or less populated areas. Local business can quite easily become more cycle friendly with small changes such as bike storage or parking, laundry facilities and plenty of drinking water (and coffee!) available. Studies have consistently shown that cyclists spend more per head than other tourists.
  • Locations and regions can rejuvenate or grow with far less investment and infrastructure than other forms of tourism – greenway, rail trail and mountain bike projects around the world have consistently shown this. More often than not the challenge in these projects is far more attitudinal than economic.
  • Lengthening the tourism season: cycling is often best in off-peak times such as spring and autumn  - or even winter in many places.

Why go an organised bike tour?

Cycle tourism is just getting on a bike to go somewhere for pleasure. Many people do this independently and adventure touring or bike-packing is very popular for long or short trips. These cyclists are still part of the cycle tourism community - as are people who use or hire a bike while on their beach or city vacation. But on an organised bike tour you benefit from:

  • The planning being done for you – accommodation, route, sights, food stops, timing etc. Or not - if you want to do some of this yourself e.g. a self-guided tour.
  • Expert and local insights – particularly on a guided tour.
  • Time constraints – you can get the best return from your limited holiday or vacation time.
  • The best parts of a region are cherry-picked for you.

So not only will cycle tourism recover quite quickly but there is the very real potential for increased growth into the future.

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