Impacts of Mountain Bike Tourism on Communities

In his blog post “Economic Impacts of Mountain Biking Tourism”, Lee Lau of Pinkbike.com has done an excellent job of synthesizing the economic impacts of developing mountain biking as a tourism attraction for our communities.  Like cycling in general, mountain biking may be viewed primarily as a recreational activity, without much thought on how this phenomenon contributes to investment in supporting infrastructure and services, as well as some of the other less-tangible outcomes of mountain biking for communities.

At a series of town-hall sessions hosted by the Tourism Industry Association of Canada and the Canadian Tourism Commission this spring, it was suggested that if we remove tourism inputs from our communities, our residential taxes would increase by 20 to 30%.  Economic Impact Studies (EIS) provide a tangible vehicle for people to readily understand the affects of an activity described by the scientific method, particularly when defined in the language of ‘jobs’ and ‘economy’.  However, quantitative analysis only provides a part of the story.  Mountain bike tourism also has the potential to provide a wider range of impacts and benefits beyond the economics. This is a more difficult story to tell which may be best described through qualitative methods. To Lee’s credit, in his blog he inferred that benefits can extend beyond economic impacts.

Some of the less tangible impacts of mountain bike tourism may include: increased opportunities for recreational mountain biking for diverse participant populations, increased destination awareness and tourism visitation, development and improvements of community infrastructure, spin-off benefits to indirect community players, support for youth recreation and community social development, programming opportunities for school districts and special populations, promotion of cluster and networking development, creation of community social capital, nurturing of innovation, knowledge transfer, improved competitiveness, promotion of local cultural, historical, ethnic, and geographic characteristics.

Looking at a case-study from my research on mountain biking tourism in BC, the North Cowichan community focus on cycling development is showing the realization of their community planning process with potential benefits embracing community health, recreation and environmental sustainability.  However, cycling infrastructure development of sufficient magnitude also provides a strong attraction for potential visitors from outside the region, including tourists originating from other domestic and International markets (as Lee said: “a thriving local scene with good trails and outstanding local community then tends to attract visitors from elsewhere”).  Furthermore, a diversity of cycling product and experiences has been shown to draw a broader range of tourists to a region.  In addition to the activity of cycling and mountain biking itself, many tourists who are attracted to these disciplines are also interested in experiencing any unique cultural, historical, physical, or social attributes which may be associated with or in proximity to a cycling and mountain biking experience in a destination region.

In order to facilitate development of a tangible mountain bike tourism strategy, key community champions and stakeholders need to be identified. These may include:

Mountain Bike Resorts
Commercial Tour Operators
Destination Marketing Organizations
First Nations
Industry Groups (Mountain Bike Clubs)
Mountain Bike Tourism Services (Accommodation, food, rental, transport)
Provincial (or State) Government Agencies
Regional & Municipal Governments
Trail Stewardship Groups
Private & Public-Sector Landowners
Event Organizers (Festivals/Races)
Educational Institutions
Consultants
Insurance Experts
Athletes & Professional Mountain Bikers

Source: Tourism BC, 2010

Furthermore, many of these champions and/or stakeholders may be positioned to source funding or investment (including ‘in-kind’ support) to drive development (these examples are for North Cowichan):

North Cowichan Municipality trails development / maintenance
Bike clubs / volunteers (Riley McIntosh and the Cowichan Trail Stewards Society)
IMBA Canada (currently under re-development)
Community Futures Cowichan (CF Crowsnest Pass is a good referral example)
Destination British Columbia (Mountain Bike Tourism, Tourism Business Essentials Program, Community Tourism Futures)
Island Coastal Economic Trust
Cowichan Valley Regional District
Cowichan Tribes
Other Government (Health Authority)
Corporate Sponsors
Trans Canada Trail
Other NGO’s
Service Clubs

Source: Example from Municipality of North Cowichan Case Study

Incidentally, at the time of this writing, Martin Littlejohn (Executive Director of the Mountain Bike Tourism Association) and Patrick Lucas (Founder of the BC Aboriginal Youth Mountain Biking Project, and a Consultant) are currently engaging in a ‘research road-trip‘ (read: they are doing a lot of mountain biking!) to meet with community champions and stakeholders throughout Central and Northern British Columbia, with the intention of assisting communities in these regions to support the development of collective strategic mountain bike tourism development plans.  Martin and Patrick have already been successful in raising some investment towards these initiatives through a pine beetle recovery fund.

While economic impacts and associated job-creation will be a part of the conversations which Martin and Patrick are engaging with stakeholders, other less-tangible benefits to our communities need to be part of the equation to support the  (social, cultural, environmental, and financial) sustainability of mountain biking and ensure that mountain bike tourism may assist in building diverse experiences and vitality in our communities.