Image courtesy of the Chittenango Landing Canal Boat Museum
Get In Gear with Cycle Tourism
By Star D’Angelo, Independent Museum Consultant
According to the American Alliance of Museums, museums contribute $50 billion to the national economy. New York ranks as the second highest contributor, generating $5.4 billion annually1. That is nearly half of the $108.7 billion total tourism dollars generated in New York in 20172. Museums clearly are an important economic force in New York, but the numbers also indicate that there is also quite a bit of room for museums to grow within the tourism industry.
Attracting more recreational tourists to museums is not a new idea, but the need to pay more attention to trends in this sector was reinforced this past September when I was invited to attend the NYS Bicycling Summit in Saratoga Springs. Organized by the New York State Bicycling Coalition, the Summit focused on a variety of topics related to bicycle safety and increasing interest in bicycling for recreation and transportation.
Did you know that cycling tourism is the largest sector of the growing tourism economy? The Outdoor Industry Association completed a national study in 2017 that found that bicycling participants spend $83 billion on 'trip-related' sales, and generate $97 billion in retail spending3. In 2012, Parks and Trails New York released a study that found that the 277 mile long Erie Canalway Trail alone generated $253 million in sales, created 3,440 jobs, and generated 1.6 million annual visits4. Despite working at a museum located near numerous established bike paths, I was unaware that cycle tourism had become so popular! Museums and historic sites were mentioned repeatedly throughout the Bicycling Summit and I learned quite a bit about the mutual interests of cycling advocates and museums.
Currently, New York State is actively expanding bike paths across the state and improving cycling safety as a part of its ongoing effort to increase tourism state-wide. Museums in the rural and scenic areas of upstate New York are especially poised to serve cycle tourists who increasingly express interest in exploring small towns within two to five miles of their route. They are seeking opportunities to experience a “strong sense of place” (a phrase that was frequently repeated during the Summit) and they spend more time in a single community than automobile tourists.
It is important to be aware that cycle tourists have needs that differ from those of tourists who are traveling by car. As you can imagine, they need rest stops along their chosen route that provide for their basic needs such as a place to lock bikes and rest briefly. Cycle tourists also want to learn a bit about local culture and history and they are looking for interesting and entertaining diversions as they pass through each community.
Here are some tips for encouraging cycling tourists to visit your museum:
If your museum is located within five miles of an established bike path, pay attention to cycle tourism trends consider offering services tailored to the needs of cycle tourists. There is no single source of information about all bike paths in New York but the NYS Bicycling Coalition Provides regional resource information here.
Provide a covered place to safely lock bikes during their visit. It may also be a good idea to keep a list of bicycle repair shops in your area for visitor use.
Provide a bathroom facility and a safe, comfortable place to sit down and rest.
Makes sure that your museum has an attractive and welcoming gift shop offering easily portable, locally produced items that reflect the unique character of your community. Ideally the shop will also carry items of use to cycle tourists such as flat repair kits and water bottles.
Provide access to snacks such as bottled water and granola bars. Team up with a local restaurant for cross promotion of services if you can’t provide food on-site.
Keep your tours and programs brief and engaging. Most cycle tourists will spend an hour or less at each rest stop. During the Bicycling Summit there were many stories about overzealous tour guides taking up too much time and offering too much information. This is such a common experience that it seems to be an insider joke among the cycling community! Train volunteers to offer a few engaging stories instead of attempting to provide a full encyclopedia of information.
Check to see when bicycle tour groups will be moving through your area and adjust your operating hours to accommodate them. Far too many cycle tourists find that museums are closed when they wish to visit. In fact, summit participants repeatedly expressed frustration with attempting to access museums outside of 9-5 business hours.
Meet with cycling groups to discuss cross promotion and other joint marketing strategies. You can find information about who is cycling through your area via the Ride with GPS website. Ride with GPS also provides ways to promote visitation to your museum through designated ambassadors, cycling route maps and other services.
Cyclists may not have regular access to the internet so, provide marketing resources in the form of printed rack cards, brochures, and pocket maps that are easy to carry.
Work locally to improve safety for cycle tourists. There were many concerns expressed about cycling through industrial districts and past numerous abandoned buildings in towns along the Mohawk River Valley, Hudson River Valley and other areas. Cycle tourists are especially concerned about personal safety. Provide maps and directions to assist them.
If your museum works with developers to reduce adverse impacts for new construction within historic districts, advocate for bike path linkages to the historic district and/or your museum.
Attend conferences related to recreational tourism. Pay attention to annual tourism studies released by New York and reach out to colleagues in other sectors of the tourism economy.
With some thoughtful consideration of the needs of cycle tourists, even the smallest museums can benefit from this new and growing trend in tourism. During the Summit, I quickly discovered that bicycling advocates are eager to share information and to partner with museums to improve the experiences of cycle tourists. Let’s reach out and start talking about ways to support each other!
The following entities offer resources that can help museums encourage increased visitation through cycle tourism:
1American Alliance of Museums: https://www.aam-us.org/programs/about-museums/museum-facts-data/
2New York State Tourism Industry Association: https://www.nystia.org/news/2017tourismeconomics
3The Outdoor Industry Association: https://www.adventurecycling.org/bicycle-tourism/building-bike-tourism/economic-impact/4
Parks and Trails New York: https://www.ptny.org/application/files/2714/4604/5359/Economic_Impact_of_the_Erie_Canalway_Trail_Full_Document.pdf