Europe’s cycling tourism destinations are increasingly investing in innovative ways to stand out in a large market. It is a sign of the growing maturity of the sector, but it was not always that way.
15 years ago, the whole cycling tourism sector could have been considered an innovation in itself. The general perception was that cycling tourism was a low-budget form of tourism primarily driven by independent travellers, and it was pretty niche outside of its traditional heartland of Germany.
Few national, regional or city tourist boards promoted themselves as cycling tourism destinations – and the few businesses working in the sector catered for a relatively small group of clients who were either committed cyclists or people looking for unusual experiences during their precious time off.
Fast-forward to the present day and cycle tourism has well and truly moved into the mainstream. Defining the typical cycle tourist is no longer easy, as millions of Europeans today choose to include cycling during their vacations. Astonishingly, last year, 42 million people in Germany alone took at least one day trip by bike.
Germany remains the largest market in Europe for cycling tourism for now, but it has company. At the end of 2021, French Prime Minister Jean Castex launched a new French tourism strategy, Plan Destination France, which includes the objective of making France the number one cycling destination in the world by 2030!
1. The rise of cycling tourism
France is not alone in having woken up to the potential of cycling tourism; pictures of cyclists feature prominently in the booths of the tourism fairs that are starting to return to Europe’s conference centres.
But this has not been an overnight change. Developments like the emergence of e-bikes, improved cycling infrastructure and growing interest in the environmental impact of our travel choices over the past decade have all played a role – with the COVID-19 pandemic acting as an accelerator.
Cycling tourism also fits neatly with the three most popular tourism travel trends of recent years, identified by the UN World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) as domestic tourism, rural tourism and ecotourism. In all three trends, cycling tourism can play a key role.
With more cycling tourism products and new audiences coming onto the market, being able to stand out from the crowd is becoming increasingly important.
2. Exploring European innovations in cycling tourism
In June 2022, an entire panel discussion at Velo-city 2022 Ljubljana, the annual world cycling summit organised by the European Cyclists’ Federation (ECF), will focus specifically on innovation in cycling tourism, with speakers exploring examples of new products, services and trends in the sector.
On a city level, Jan Vanhee of the Cycling Embassy of Ghent will be explaining why and how this Belgian city decided to focus on getting more tourists cycling following the restart of the tourism sector in the summer of 2021. Ghent’s new tourism strategy included the introduction of a new type of bike rental service (dubbed Bike Rental 2.0), where there is a bike model for every type of tourist. In total, 18 different bike types are available, from electric family cargo bikes and tandems to kids bikes and rikshaws for elderly disabled people.
Other related initiatives in Ghent include getting hotels to include bike rental in certain packages, implementing new communication and marketing tools, and providing bike rental at the two main railway stations to encourage tourists to travel to Ghent by train instead of by car. These measures have already resulted in 25% more bike rentals compared to 2019, despite an overall decrease since COVID-19 of the number of stay-over visitors and foreign tourists.
On a national level, panellist Marco Berends from Danish Cycling Tourism will present a pilot project funded by the Danish Outdoor Council to develop a multimodal recreational network in Denmark. Alongside cycling, the network will integrate multiple recreational activities, including hiking, horse riding and water sports, as well as other transport modes, such as public transport, car parking and shared bike schemes. Key to its success will be the introduction of an integrated information and wayfinding system for the multiple networks.
The project is based on the evidence that people increasingly undertake multiple – and multimodal – forms of leisure and transport, which is why the proposed multimodal recreational hubs aim to provide a seamless user experience that offers more flexibility for the user.
3. More cycling tourism through stronger branding
On a European level, ECF’s Omer Malak will provide an overview of how we have been working on modernising and maximising the brand of EuroVelo, the European cycle route network, one of ECF’s flagship initiatives. Since its founding in the 1990s, EuroVelo has become one of the leading cycling tourism brands in the world and, in recent years, we have revamped the EuroVelo corporate identity and made the brand more accessible to our network of partners across Europe.
At ECF, we recognise that a strong corporate design is a mark of quality, and this has helped our stakeholders promote EuroVelo with greater impact across all channels in their markets. We are now exploring how to help our stakeholders further capitalise on EuroVelo’s potential as an attractive cycling tourism product, hoping our experiences can inspire other actors in the sector to take a similar approach to their marketing and branding.
While it is no doubt an exciting time for cycling tourism, with success comes new challenges. Fortunately, the friendly competition that is emerging between cycling tourism destinations across Europe is inspiring new services and innovations. Ultimately, these all help introduce even more people to the joys of spending time off in the saddle – a way of travelling that is good for our businesses, our environment, our personal health and our wider society.