This past spring, new road signs started popping up in Northumberland County.
The ‘Welcome Cyclists’ signs, which were installed at the outskirts of Port Hope, Cobourg, Colborne and Brighton, are the first of their kind in the province – and they signal the growing importance of cycling tourism to the region.
The signs offer more than just a welcome feeling. They include a quick response code that cyclists can access with a Smartphone. It takes them to welcomecyclists.ca, a site that has a wealth of information about local bike routes and services, tourist attractions and cyclist-friendly accommodations and restaurants.
“It’s a pilot project for an eventual province-wide application,” says Louisa Mursell, project manager for the Welcome Cyclists Network, a program that promotes cycle tourism in Ontario.
Adds Teresa Grant of Northumberland County Economic Development and Tourism: “The initial response has been overwhelmingly positive.”
Cycle tourism is growing quickly all across the province – helped in part by the bike/train initiative that provides cyclists with bike racks on a number of VIA, GO and Ontario Northland trains – and there’s no mystery to its popularity.
“Cycle tourists want to experience new and natural destinations and they want to combine it with physical activity,” says Mursell. “It’s part of a greater ‘green-shift’ in consumer’s mindsets.”
Municipalities from Niagara region to eastern Ontario are sitting up and taking notice of the trend, because the economic impact can be substantial.
Recent research shows that the cycle tourists tend to be middle to senior professionals with higher than average incomes – 45 per cent make +$75,000 a year. They also stay longer and spend more money than other tourists.
To help municipalities take advantage of the growing market, the Welcome Cyclists Network was created in 2008. The network developed a set of standards and criteria to certify bicycle-friendly businesses and to provide cycle tourism product knowledge training.
To date, it has held 19 workshops across the province, each tailored to the particular region, and has certified over 350 businesses.
“Cycle tourists have specific needs and businesses need to know how to service them properly,” says Mursell. “Cyclists want to know the best bike routes and trails, local cycling events, bike rental and repair shops and where they can find accommodations and restaurants with secure bike lock-up.”
It’s not just municipalities that are waking up to the potential of cycle tourism. Smart businesses are finding innovative ways to attract cyclists as well.
One example is Cycle and Stay Niagara [link to: www.cycleandstayniagara.com], a network of 10 “cycle friendly” bed-and-breakfast accommodations in Niagara.
“We’re on the Greater Niagara Circle Route, a system of 140 kilometres of paved, off-road trails that wind along the Niagara River,” says Jane Griffiths of the Duncan Quinn B&B in Niagara-on-the-Lake.
“We saw attracting cycle tourists as a way to build our business, so we got together with nine other B&Bs along the route, ones we knew offered the same level of service we do, and formed Cycle and Stay Niagara.”
That was three years ago and since then Griffiths says she’s seen a “definite increase in cycle tourists,” including more from Quebec.
“It’s been a smart business move for us.”
For more information about the Great Waterfront Trail Adventure visit http://www.waterfronttrail.org/