Saturday, June 1, 2013

Bicycle Tourism as Economic Stimulus: Seriously?! Yes, Seriously.

$400 million. That’s how much bicycle tourism, in Oregon, generated in 2012.

Travel Oregon Tweet
Travel Oregon announces bicycle tourism success on Twitter. Source: Author

Travel Oregon, a statewide nonprofit tourism development agency, recently released a report that has raised some eyebrows around the state of Oregon. The report uses a sample of 5,000 individuals, from cruiser bicycle riders to out-of-state, multiday tours transpiring from Ashland to Zigzag.

There were numerous noteworthy highlights in the report that surprised many and were even considerable enough to garnish media attention. The study discovered that in 2012, “travelers took nearly 1.2 million travel party trips in Oregon on which some type of bicycle recreation activity occurred as a planned activity—either as the primary reason, or one of-several reasons for the trip.”[1] This number equated to a substantial generation of economic impacts for Oregon. Another way to think about that is an equivalent of approximately $1.2 million per day in spending.[1] With figures like these, it is easy to see why bicycle infrastructure and bicycle tourism campaigns should be a top priority investment for Oregon.

“Spending, earnings, employment, and tax receipts—all of which supports local communities throughout the state”[1] —increased because of bicycle tourism. This is big business, folks. Nobody in their right mind could say that $400 million in economic revenue is not significant and a well-needed injection into the Oregon economy (although there is always the possibility of a rant-laden follow-up blog post in response to this op-ed).

Other states are also discovering how valuable basing tourism around bicycle is from an economic standpoint. In 2005, a report was released based on a study commission by the North Carolina Department of Transportation (NCDOT) to study the value of a $6.7 million dollar public investment in bicycle facilities that were constructed over a 10-year period to draw and promote bicycle tourism. The results of those findings were similar to Travel Oregon’s showing “bicycling tourists provide a conservatively estimated annual economic impact to the northern Outer Banks of $60 million, with 1,407 jobs created or supported each year.”[2] That’s an 89 percent return on an investment on $6.7 million. Not too shabby.

Through NCDOT’s study, there was also “a job multiplier effect that estimates that 31.1 jobs result from every $1 million spent.”[2] That’s roughly 1,860 jobs created. Impressive, right?! Oregon easily doubled and nearly tripled that figure by supporting “about 4,600 jobs with earnings of approximately $102 million” through direct, bicycle-related economic growth.

What kind of person travels by bicycle in Oregon to help bolster such impressive financially lucrative figures? The study showed demographics of bicycle-related travelers are 64 percent male, over 50 percent range in age of 45–65 and have an average household income of $100,000-$199,999. The riders are here because we have “good coffee, good food, good beer, we’re bike friendly and because Oregon is gorgeous.”[3] Also, surprisingly enough, “people who come to Oregon for bicycle travel spend more than the average traveler, in fact, 20 percent more,” says Judy Ann Woo of Travel Oregon.[3]

Other than the hard-to-ignore figures regarding economic revenue and job growth, how else can bicycle-related tourism benefit Oregon? One area of importance is the vitalization of small towns throughout Oregon. The study broke Oregon apart by region with Portland Metro and the Willamette Valley receiving the most bicycle tourism. However, travel in more rural areas of the state, such as eastern and southern Oregon, received over 120,000 trips specifically targeting those regions. These figures are nothing to scoff at. “In the last two years we have seen something close to a 50 percent increase in the number of cyclists on our roads,” says Alice Trindle, executive director of the Eastern Oregon Visitors Association.[4]

Other benefits include the amount of local money that is staying local: 73 percent of the participants in the survey called Oregon their origin of residence.[1] Local money, going to local business for local goods and services keeps this a nearly close-looped system. This is great for Oregon and a positive experience for those cyclists receiving the goods and services.

What else can be done to keep to growing the budding industry?  First, continued investment in new bicycle facilities can increase the cycling experience, which, in turn increases the economic impact and benefits. We need to think beyond bike lanes and consider separate, multiuse paths and other protected trails to keep cyclists and automobiles isolated. We also need to maintain and upgrade the existing facilities we have that are in need of improvements.

These enhancements won’t happen without funding. Oregon needs to tie financial support to these types of capital improvement projects to keep the tourism industry strong. More political respect is needed from lawmakers for future bicycle-related travel. Tourism of this nature can help growth of smaller communities that bicycle tourism passes through in Oregon but only with the might of lawmakers.

Last, more support to increase efforts to promote bicycle tourism is essential. Travel Oregon continues to invest in innovative and effective campaigns, including their newest brainchild, the Bike Friendly Business program. If you are a business, enroll, learn and show competency for the program, then display the signage for bicycle patrons to easily identify you as a bike friendly business.[5]

Bike Friendly Business
Bicycle friendly business signage. Source:

In 2012 and again in 2013, the Oregon Active Transportation Summit had specific targeting on the theme that “Bikes Mean Business.” Now, after a study of such magnitude, it is not just the wonky active transportation advocates listening, it is all of Oregon.

[1] The Economic Significance of Bicycle-Related Travel in Oregon: 2012, Dean Runyan Associates
[2] Meletiou, M. P., Lawrie, J. J., Cook, T. J., O'Brien, S. W., & Guenther, J. (2005). Economic impact of investments in bicycle facilities: Case study of North Carolina's northern Outer Banks. Transportation Research Record: Journal of the Transportation Research Board, 1939(1), 15-21.
[3] Talk Box: Bike Tourism in Oregon
[4] Survey: Cyclists Contribute $400 Million To Oregon Economy
[5] First look at Travel Oregon's new 'Bike Friendly' business program

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