Welcome to Tourism Upgrade, the podcast unpacking marketing trends from travel, tourism, and marketing leaders. I’m your host Holly G. Today we welcome Russ Roca from Path Less Pedaled. We’ll be chatting about bike tourism.
Welcome to the podcast, Russ.
Russ Roca: Thank you so much for having me. I’m so excited to be on the show.
HollyG: Now you’ve done a bit of bike riding in your time by the sounds of it. Can you share a little bit about your pedaling adventures and where it all started for you in terms of having an interest in bike tourism?
Russ Roca: Yeah. It started in 2009. A girlfriend and I decided to sell everything and travel by bike. That’s what we did. We got rid of everything and were kind of nomadic bike travellers for a span of about three years. It was largely in the US but then we spent some time in New Zealand. We actually were booked to go to Australia but by the end of that three period we were just really tired.
Russ Roca: We landed in Portland, Oregon. At the time we still wanted to do things on bikes and in travel. It just worked out well because the state of Oregon was launching a big bicycle tourism initiative. We happened to meet the people near a development department. They asked us to start creating some marketing for that programme. It’s kind of how it all started from our own personal journey. Then transforming it into working in the tourism world.
HollyG: Wow. When you say you were biking around for three years is that really how it went? How much would you ride every day and sort of stop off and sleep and that sort of thing? Were you camping?
Russ Roca: Yeah. I think our mileage was about 30 to 50 miles a day. Initially, we were moving every single day but then it got to a point after three months that we realised that we were still missing out on so much because even though we were moving slowly and not covering as much distance we weren’t really getting to explore small towns and destinations.
About three months in we decided, “Okay, we’ll pick an interesting destination and then base camp there for about two weeks.” Sometimes it was a couple of weeks. Yeah. It shifted over time from constantly moving to picking places to base camp out of.
HollyG: When you were on these journeys did you meet other people doing a similar thing?
Russ Roca: Yeah. 2009 was a popular year to do that. It was a big economic downturn in the US so we met just scores of people. All sorts of different stories. Programmers that had been laid off and got a severance and were pedalling from Alaska to Argentina. It was kind of a fascinating time to get into it then.
Definition of bike tourism?
We’ve kind of tried to push our own definition, which kind of borrows from the definition of a trip. That would be any kind of trip for the purpose of leisure that includes a bicycle. I know some tourism definitions define a trip as something that’s over 50 miles but because you’re on the bike and sometimes 50 miles is a lot we decided to focus on the fact that there’s a bicycle rather than a mileage parameter.
Bike Tourism: any kind of trip for the purpose of leisure that includes a bicycle.
What’s nice about this definition is it keeps it pretty broad. It covers everything from self-supported bike travel, which is what we did, to things like event rides. You guys had Tour Down Under recently. All the pro cyclists coming, all the people that follow the race and stay overnight. To things like destination cycling, if a place is a mountain bike hub those guests would come and stay the long weekend to ride a trail system. Under bike tourism it’s a big umbrella and has lots of specific forms of travel within it.
HollyG: Yeah. This is my experience with bike tourism. Both times have involved wineries. I’ve gone to a wine region and they have a bike trail so you can hire a bike for the day and stop off at different wineries along the way. Is that classed as it as well?
Russ Roca: Oh, yeah. That’s definitely part of it. Actually, Oregon did a state study and for the state of Oregon they calculated that bicycle tourism generated $400 million for the state annually. What’s interesting about that study is it got really granular into road cyclists, mountain bikers, casual and family cycling. So people that would go to a destination and maybe cycling wasn’t their primary activity but because they could rent a bike they would rent one and actually that section of cyclists actually spent the most. You’re thinking families or people that are staying to do wine tasting or other activities.
HollyG: Yeah. I recently went to South Australia and they have a rail trail. They’ve converted the railway into a biking trail, which connects a lot of the wineries. Doing that experience or part of it it definitely made us stay in that region for longer. I guess that is very much a part of it as well.
Russ Roca: Yeah. Definitely. Rail trails are great examples because they really make the bike travel experience really accessible to a wider range of people because it’s safer, it’s more casual, you’re not competing with cars. I think they’re some of the best return on investment in terms of infrastructure.
When we were travelling we went to New Zealand and rode the Otago Central Rail Trail, which is about 100 miles. It’s unpaved. We chatted with businesses along the way and we asked them, “How do people usually interact with this rail trail?” They found that people were spending three to five days on a 100 mile stretch, which is pretty good.
I hope to see you all at Destination Food, Australia’s first culinary tourism conference. It will be held at the Museum of Sydney on Monday, the 21st of May, 2018. This event will bring together key people working in food tourism to share ideas, stories, network, and learn. It’s aimed at destinations as well as food tourism operators, hotels, marketers, and food PRs, media, and content creators. I really hope to see you there. For more details and tickets head to Destination dash Food dot com dot AU.
Are there statistics about the growth and interest of biking or bike tourism?
Russ Roca: Yeah. From my perspective the interest is definitely growing. We kind of measure this by the number of various economic development studies that have come out specifically on cycling.
I alluded to that Oregon one. That was in 2012. In 2016, Sierra, Colorado did their own economic impact study and they found that $448 million were brought in by non-residents that were doing cycling-related activities. Let’s see what we have here. In 2016 New Zealand did a study on their Great Ride system and they calculated 1.3 million people travelled to New Zealand to experience the great rides and that generated about $37.4 million for the local communities.
We definitely see it in the States but we’re also seeing it around the world. I kind of keep my finger on the pulse of these things and all the time I’m seeing destinations create marketing specifically targeting cyclists or brand videos, destination videos, with cycling in it or different use cycling events that are popping up everywhere.
HollyG: You mentioned I guess New Zealand and Oregon. What destinations are doing Bike Tourism well that you have observed?
Russ Roca: I’d say New Zealand and Oregon.
Russ Roca: In the United States, Oregon has definitely been a leader. A couple of years ago they just really grasped onto the idea of bicycle tourism. A lot of different state agencies created this whole system called the Scenic Bikeway Programme. The whole idea is that they’re iconic great rides within the state. This was a huge partnership between not only the tourism folks but the Department of Transportation, the state parks, all these different land managers, all these different CBBs and regional DMOs. They really led the way in the United States.
I think internationally there are tonnes of examples but another one that we’ve seen … I think the Otago Central Rail Trail does it really well. That’s kind of a fascinating story because, again, 100 mile gravel stretch. Initially when they first were starting to develop around the rail trail they envisioned that the type of rider would be a young, male mountain biker that would ride the thing in one day or two days. It’s not very long.
Then what they found was the actual user that was using it were more women in their fifties and their families. Instead of doing it in one day they were doing it in four to five days. That’s an awesome example where they initially thought it was going to be one thing but then adjusted to accommodate another kind of guest.
Since then you go every 10K or 15K there’s a pub, there’s a B&B, there’s a place to camp if you want. There are all these food options. It’s just become this really cool experience.
HollyG: Diversifying that market that the destination attracts as well, which is something that destinations try so hard to do.
Russ Roca: At the corner of each bicycle tourism experience is some kind of great riding option. If you’re fortunate to be in a destination with a rail trail then that would be an obvious asset.
What’s interesting these days is there’s a whole trend in cycling where people want to ride on dirt and gravel roads. This is pretty unique because now a destination doesn’t have to have these perfectly paved roads with wide shoulders to attract cyclists. If they’re dirt roads that’s a new latent asset.
I know cyclists are gravitating towards this because there’s generally less traffic on dirt roads and it brings you to more remote-feeling places. If a destination has dirt roads they may see it as just dirt roads but now it could be reframed into a great cycling asset that’s actually really popular.
HollyG: Yeah. That is really interesting because I think as you say destinations might feel like they don’t have the level of investment that they need but possibly they don’t need that.
Russ Roca: Yeah. In my work specifically we’ve done a lot of outreach and speaking and presenting to small rural communities where their only asset is dirt roads or roads where no one drives on. That’s kind of the beauty of bicycle tourism. It’s not like you have to build a water park, a theme park, an area or invest in a golf course or something to attract visitors. It’s already infrastructure that you have that you can reframe for the cyclists. I guess the biggest shift would be in terms of the hospitality and the marketing and trying to reach the cycling visitor.
HollyG: Yeah. Sometimes we think we have to … I don’t know, be competing on all these other levels. It’s like looking at what the destination has to offer realistically and then seeing what we can match to that. I think that’s really interesting with bike tourism.
Are there other things that bike tourists, in general, are looking for when they are going to a destination? I guess it’s different when there’s events or things like that. Long-term or short-term stays.
Russ Roca: Yeah. I think the biggest thing would be a sense of welcoming hospitality towards cyclists. I think as a group we tend to always be on the defensive because we’re sharing space with cars and we don’t always feel welcome. When the destination really reaches out and promotes cycling and promotes the idea of cycling-friendly hotels or maybe the town general store has a pump that you can use if you’re a cyclist or maybe the hotel does where you’re staying then those really small touches go a long way in terms of attracting cycling guests.
We’ve seen some really unlikely examples of this happening. One of my favourite stories is this hunting lodge out in eastern Oregon. Very rural, very remote. This guy Phil has this lodge called TREO Ranches. He does a lot of good hunting business but when hunting season is over he was looking for another activity to fill in that gap.
For some reason he stumbled upon cycling. He’s got tonnes of gravel roads. He’s done the legwork. He went to bike mechanic school and bought a shuttle to bring cyclists from Portland out to eastern Oregon to enjoy that area. That’s a great example of he realised his main asset was the emptiness. He already had the lodge facility. He just had to reframe it for a different customer.
HollyG: I love that.
Russ Roca: Yeah. He does some really interesting touches. When the hunters are there he’s got really light beer but when the cyclists come he switches it to IPAs and stouts. He knows the market really well.
HollyG: Very clever. We’re seeing that with ski destinations as well. That’s been something for a long time. In their summer and spring putting in a lot of bike facilities and things like that to attract the mountain biker during that other season. I know that’s working very successfully in the main ski regions in Australia, which, yes, there are ski regions in Australia. Only a couple but they’re there.
Did you want to talk a little bit more about Travel Oregon and what you’ve done there? I was thinking specifically just talking about some of the videos and that sort of thing.
Russ Roca: Yeah. I work with Travel Oregon. It’s really interesting. We met their development person and she knew that we had done a lot of bike travel and could really relate the bike travel experience. They asked us to create videos and photography for each of these iconic rides.
I think what was unique about the process was they really left it up to us to discover the narrative of each bike ride. We would contact the local community and say, “What do you want to show off? What’s the essence of this region?” We didn’t want each of the videos to be this bland vanilla, “Come bike here” but we wanted to really sink our teeth into what’s the value proposition of the area.
In some places there’s a [inaudible 00:17:06] Oregon. There’s lots of good shopping, retail, beer. It was kind of focused on those activities. In other ones we would run along the river that had awesome fly fishing. We showed the bike travellers carrying fly rods on their bikes and stopping and fishing.
I feel like our biggest contribution to that project was we interfaced with the people in the region, really respected their area, tried to tease out what the narrative element of the marketing pieces would be. I think that’s really important. We’ve seen a lot more bicycling destination videos and they tend to be a little bit too vanilla.
In bike tourism the promise is good riding. If everyone promises good riding what’s that extra hook that’s going to bring that cycling visitor? That’s where we really keyed in on the network with Travel Oregon.
HollyG: I love that. Yeah. That’s fantastic. Actually a long time ago one of my early podcasts, episode 28, is I talked to Travel Oregon. It was when they were first going down the path and talking about the Seven Wonders of Oregon. Yeah, that was about a specific campaign. I know it had a little bit of cycling stuff in there as well. Yeah. They consistently do some fantastic work, don’t they?
Russ Roca: Yeah. Yeah. Right after that campaign I think the following year they extended it and they extended it to the Seven Bikes of the Seven Wonders. They actually asked seven different bike builders in the state of Oregon to create a bike that fits thematically with the seven wonders of Oregon. It was a really cleverly executed campaign.
HollyG: Is there any other final thoughts or comments you wanted to make if we’re … The people listening work in the tourism industry, a lot of destinations or tour operators, that sort of thing. Is there any other final thoughts or comments you wanted to make? Also, if people want to get in touch with you can you tell us a little bit about the best way to do that as well?
GREAT INFO AHEAD ⬇️
- I think my initial suggestions for any destination is to reach out to the local cycling group and local bike shop and have a discussion with them to see what they think are the best of the best rides in the area. That would be a real obvious first place to go to.
- In terms of actually marketing a route there are lots of tools out there that are free. There’s a website called Strava where cyclists will post their rides and it’s got real social component.
- There’s another website called Ride With GPS. As a destination you can set up an account and once you tease out what the best routes are for an area, put it up on Strava, put it up on Ride With GPS. I know when I travel to a new location the first thing I’ll do is I’ll bring up those apps and see, “Oh, are people riding here? What’s the most popular look?” That’s how I’ll discover new rides in the destination. Those would be some easy inexpensive steps.
- In terms of if you’re going to favour a platform I definitely use Instagram. There’s lots of cyclists are on Instagram.
- There’s a couple of key hashtags to use to get discovered. I’d say #roadslikethese and #outsideisfree. Those two hashtags if you incorporate it into any brand marketing on Instagram around cycling then you’ll definitely get a couple looks and maybe new followers.
In terms of contacting me we’ve got a website. There’s a contact form there. You can email me directly at Path Less Pedaled at Gmail dot com. We’ve got a YouTube channel that’s about to click over 19,000 viewers. It’s a mix of community content targeted towards cyclists but it also has some sponsored destination videos that we’ve done with destinations. If you want to see some of that side of the work that we do it’s there. We’re on Twitter and Instagram as well under Path Less Pedaled.
HollyG: Awesome. I’ll put those links in the show notes as well. Yeah, that was so, so great. You’re obviously very immersed in this space. Yeah. I look forward to following along. You guys have got some podcasts happening as well. Worth checking that out too.
Russ Roca: Yeah. We’re going to launch a bicycle tourism-specific podcast. It’s not yet up but I’m still conducting interviews. We’re going to interview destinations that we’ve worked with, destinations that are doing it well, success stories, failure stories, what are the best steps if your destination wants to tackle bike tourism? It’s going to be a good resource. Hopefully in the next couple of months. The first episode is going to be on Oregon.
HollyG: Ah, perfect. Great. Excellent. Now are you up for the bonus question?
$1000 bonus question
Russ Roca: Sure.
HollyG: Now it’s time for our $1000 Bonus Question. Awesome. I ask all my guests the same question. That is if you only had a $1000 marketing budget what would you spend it on?
Russ Roca: I’ve thought long and hard about that. I would suggest finding a cyclist … It would be photography and using that … Either finding a local cyclist that’s also a savvy photographer and buying some assets so you can have it on your Instagram feed using the good hashtags or on your Strava page, which is free, or your Ride With GPS page, which is also free.
Cyclists are very visual. We want to see a place, we want to know what the experience is like to get us out there. I’d say a lot of destinations that we’ve worked with have awesome riding but terrible photography. That’s one of the big stumbling blocks.
HollyG: Awesome. Great answer. Fantastic. When you get your bike tourism podcast up and happening I’ll definitely be listening so I can learn a little bit more about this particular niche, if you call it a niche. Yeah, thank you very much.
Russ Roca: Yeah. Thanks for having me on the show.
HollyG: For the show notes for this episode head to Holly G dot com dot AU. You can subscribe to this podcast on iTunes, Stitcher, or your preferred podcast service.