Wednesday, 8 July 2009

Rail-trails and cycle tourism
In Victoria’s northeast, around 94 kms of cycle path runs from Wangaratta to the delightful towns of Beechworth and Bright, the ‘Murray to Mountains Rail Trail’. A recent study has found that the way in which cycle tourism advocates go about presenting tourism-related opportunities to small businesses – such as bike hire, cafes, restaurants, winery tours and accommodation houses – can help in the economic development process.
Have you got what it takes to attract cycle tourists?

ARTRC researcher Matt Lamont is approaching the completion stage of his PhD thesis which examines independent cycle tourism in Australia – trips involving at least one night away from home where a bicycle is the main mode of travel at the destination. Matt’s research has taken a broad approach to studying cycle tourism. Areas studied included infrastructure requirements; transport systems to, from and within the destination; and services and facilities necessary to cater for cycle tourists’ needs.

Previous research has found that cycle tourists can generate significant economic benefits for host communities, particularly in regional areas. This is because cycle tourists generally work in professional fields, are relatively high income earners, and tend to have a longer length of stay than many other tourists. However, destination planners and managers need to be aware of these tourists’ specialised needs if cycle tourism is to be developed in their area. Significant implications for the planning and management of cycle tourism initiatives arising from Matt’s research included:

* That the key attractor for cycle tourists to a destination is the area’s cycling routes (e.g. scenic roads; rural roads with low traffic levels; or dedicated cycling paths/trails). Quality cycling experiences are top of the list for these tourists, which means that other tourist attractions play little role in cycle tourists’ decisions to visit a given area.

* Safety and appealing natural scenery are most sought after attributes of cycling routes. Much attention needs to be paid to managing interaction between cyclists and motor vehicles on public roads to reduce the possibility of personal injury to cyclists.

* Transport carriers servicing a destination should be empathetic to the needs of cyclists, and should adopt policies that do not unreasonably restrict the carriage of bicycles on coaches, trains or aircraft etc. For example, cyclists should be able to place advance bookings to guarantee carriage for their bike on coach services to the destination.

* Cycle tourists are mobile tourists, meaning that they do not stay in one place very long. Therefore, the construction of infrastructure (such as paths, improved road shoulders, or the provision of specific signage) should be undertaken using a regional approach. Collaboration with adjoining local government areas, avoiding fragmented provision of cycling infrastructure, is the best approach to the successful development of cycle tourism and may lead to enhanced benefits for the region as a whole.

At the time of writing, Matt’s thesis is at final draft stage and he is aiming to have the research completed by early January 2009.

Associate Professor Dr. Sue Beeton:
Rail Trails provide safe access to many areas in regional Australia, with few traffic or challenging gradient issues. However, they require significant support from government at all levels to establish and maintain.

Many trails have been funded during the development stage, but without ongoing maintenance, the standard of these trails will deteriorate. La Trobe University undertook an economic study of three Victorian rail trails in 2003 in order to ascertain the economic inputs into the communities the trails pass through. The study was conducted shortly after the 2003 Victorian bushfires, which will have affected the results, with fewer people using the trails at that time.

In an effort to understand the long-term benefits and issues of Rail Trails and study a trail during a peak time, a further study using a similar methodology, was undertaken in Easter 2006. The results are even stronger than the original survey, suggesting that not only have the trails increased in popularity, but that cyclists are spending more money in the local communities surrounding the trails.

The findings from this research will have relevance for those proposing or managing Rail Trails in Australia.

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