This is the first of a two-part article going over my experience at the conference for the first two days. The second part is found here.
Do you remember about the same time last year I traveled to Coralville, Iowa to attend the National Bicycle Tourism Conference (NBTC)?
This year’s NBTC was set in a favorable location at the Bahia Resort in sunny San Diego, California. I’m sorry Iowa, but the weather in San Diego is definitely a step in the right direction even though I did enjoy being at a part of the country I had never been to prior to last year. Almost all attendees I surveyed agreed.
This also presented me with the opportunity to load up my bicycle and panniers for a week-long bicycle tour to San Diego. As far as I could tell, I was the only person arriving to the conference by bicycle. I should disclose that I stayed with a friend in San Diego, but traveled back and forth to the Bahia Resort using a car sharing service and carpooling with my friend for 3 of the 4 days.
This conference attracted people who were operating their own local tours to large tour brokers, like Bike Tours Direct. I met people from tourism bureaus from other states like Nevada and Vermont, as well as tourism agencies all over the country. For the first time, we saw advocate groups, like the San Diego County Bicycle Coalition who help organize and sponsor the event. We had non-profits, like the Adventure Cycling Association who encouraged more people from their office to attend this year, along with the prominent addition of People for Bikes. We also had city dignitaries, like the San Diego Mayor and San Diego Chief of Police present. A few businesses, such as New Belgium Brewing and bicycling retailer giant Advanced Sports International (ASI), represented. Several entrepreneurs, like The Path Less Pedaled as well as myself, were also accounted for. Even a local celebrity of the San Diego area popped in to enjoy the conference.
Bicycle Touring Industry
As you can tell, we had a diverse group of attendees who were all united with one purpose: grow bicycle tourism.
Even with this common goal in mind, each person came to the conference with different purposes. The conference offered a good forum for people to identify the challenges in the bicycle tourism industry. It allowed various people from different backgrounds to voice their concerns and challenges.
As a consequence of that, new insights are discovered and new strategies are shared. Having multiple perspectives and ideas flowing throughout this conference was enough to have people come back for more, year after year.
For me, networking was my main reason for being there. To meet as many people as I can to see if there are any areas I can help them out with as I have another year of experience under my belt. I felt more confident as I have accomplished several things this past year to move me forward and legitimize myself as one of the experts in the industry. I was looking to find a way to build mutually beneficial relationships, so that I can help people with their business challenges, and I am compensated in return. At the end of the day, it’s really about running a business and being profitable to maintain a particular lifestyle. As of now, my lifestyle isn’t so demanding, but I digress.
Day 1 – Welcome Remarks
We were greeted by several members of the Bicycle Touring Network’s (BTN) board members. They recognized all the efforts that went into putting this conference together and welcomed everyone to the conference.
I saw some familiar faces and many new faces. Of course, I can’t remember everybody from last year, but do remember the prominent ones. I was reacquainted quickly though from people who remembered me (not sure how they can’t as I was one of the only 2 Asian Americans there besides Russ from the Path Less Pedaled).
I did get to see Ron Durgin, a friend I’ve met several years ago, who is now running the Santa Monica Bike Center. It was his first time attending.
On the first night when we all arrived, we were treated to a tour of the Harbor on board the William D. Evans. This looked like a traditional steam boat with 3 levels for attendees to sprawl out and explore.
We enjoyed the beers and networked until dinner was served. This was sponsored by OK’S CASCADE COMPANY who are in the business of providing mobile executive showers and kitchens via big 18-wheeler trucks. They had their trailers parked outside of the Bahia for the entire week for us to check out. I did and was thoroughly impressed with the size and amenities.
Dinner included a buffet of food in which our dinner plates overflowed with an assortment of vegetables and protein options. We were also offered dessert to top off our meals before the majority of the group made their way on the top-level of the boat. It was a warm night as we cruised through the harbor and chatted the night away.
Day 2 – The Meat of the Conference
The second day of the conference promised to be packed with several breakout sessions, meals, vendor expo, and a dine-around local restaurants.
Our days started at 8AM for those who wanted to take advantage of the continental breakfast and continue to network. The dining area was surrounded by vendors so people could visit booths during meals. This was different from last year’s setup in Iowa as our dining area and vendor area was separated in 2 different rooms. This year was much better because we had to go through the vendor area to eat, and it was en route to our breakout sessions throughout the day.
There were 3 different breakout rooms. 2 of the 3 were on the same level as the reception / dining / vendor expo area. The third one was located downstairs across the building at a more intimate room, which allowed about 100 attendees at most to be present. My only session there was my first session of the conference called Expanding Access and Opportunity (Working with Transportation Providers to Get People to Your Event).
Before I get into the session, we kicked off the conference after breakfast with words from Earl Grief, President of the Bicycling Tour Network / Ride Idaho and from Jim Sayer, the Executive Director of Adventure Cycling Association welcoming us again to the conference.
Both the Chief of Police from San Diego, Shelley Zimmerman and the Mayor of San Diego, Kevin Faulconer welcomed us to their beautiful city and reaffirmed that they are pro-bicycling. Chief Zimmerman showed us her photos from past bicycling trips.
We were then greeted by Tim Blumenthal, the President of People For Bikes who gave the opening keynote. He highlighted several important trends in our country. Let’s start with some negative ones.
- Obesity is on the rise.
- Riding to school has dropped or has become non-existent these days.
Fortunately, there are a few more trends to help boost bicycling.
- Bike sharing is increasing all through the country. It may not be profitable business, but the long-term effects are beneficial to the community.
- There’s a movement to slow local traffic down. This will decrease the number of fatalities and improve the livability of our neighborhoods.
- More open street events.
- More fundraising events, like multi-day bicycling trips, are being made.
- Bicycling is becoming more mainstream.
So with these trends, there is an opportunity here – People want to ride with other people.
Expanding Access and Opportunity
As mentioned in the previous section, my first session focused on using alternative transportation with bicycles and trains. We had Ginny Sullivan, the Director of Travel Initiatives from Adventure Cycling Association, and Kevin McClafferty from Amtrak there to speak to us about what Amtrak is doing to help make it easier to include bikes on trains.
They mentioned the collaboration of ACA and Amtrak on 2 pilot train systems. One that has bike parking share a dining cart and adding 8 racks per car along with more racks on baggage cars. Ginny talked about other transportation challenges like shipping or flying with your bikes.
I attended this session as I am a big fan of combining train trips with bicycle tours. Therefore, I wanted to see if they would address some specific challenges I had in mind. I wanted to know if there are different designs to their trains, so that I can be more informed to let you, my readers, know the best way to board a train. I also wanted to see if there was a comprehensive list of airlines and their baggage policy. Ginny told me they’ve attempted to compile that, but have since stopped due to higher priority tasks. Another important thing to learn is that if you are traveling with a group of bicyclists, you can call ahead of time to 1-800-USA-RAILS and ask for the Tour Department so they can help you with planning. I’m definitely going to take advantage of this in the near future.
People want to ride with other people
The Power of Storytelling
The next breakout session was presented by none other than Charlie Gandy, Executive Director of Livable Communities. Charlie’s name has been passed around the Twitterverse for a while as I’ve read and have heard people talk highly about him. Charlie spoke mainly of California’s progress in terms of bicycling. $800,000,000 in infrastructure will be spent in the state to support bicycling. We are the #9 bicycling state in 2014 with the likes of Davis, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and San Diego improving bicycling infrastructure. This is good news as Charlie announced that there will be a Bicycle World’s Fair in 2017. That’s right, you heard it here first as there will be a state-wide celebration around bicycling. For more information contact BikeWorldsFairCA2017@gmail.com for more information.
We were then served lunch while Suzanne Lareau, CEO of Vélo Québec spoke to us about Québec’s bicycle tourism opportunities. After her presentation, we were informed that a local celebrity was at our conference. It was none other than NBA legend, Bill Walton.
The room became raucous from the Bill’s visit and the jersey contest. People who ran tours donned their event’s jersey and paraded around for other attendees and judges to see. If it was energy they were trying to generate, this was definitely accomplished here.
I made my way to see Bill Walton and had my picture taken with him. I directed him as “Mr. Walton” but he responded, “Mr. Walton isn’t here. I’m Bill.” He was nice enough for the quick photo opportunity and even looked genuinely happy after being bombarded with attendees asking for his photo or autograph.
The Next Big Thing in Bicycle Travel – Exploring New Trends
In this session, Jim Sayer of ACA and Natalie Cook, Vice President of Bike Tours Direct, presented to the audience. Natalie talked about her recent trips in Europe with a friend who was a novice to bicycle touring. One of the major trend that we’re seeing is the demand for more gravel riding. So much that Adventure Cycling Association released a new set of maps highlighting Idaho’s expansive network of trails to ride.
Trends in Travel and Tourism – Insight from Industry Experts
For the last breakout of the day, we watched the tandem of Russ and Laura of the Path Less Pedaled talk about their travels around the great state of Oregon. They lured us in with their great multimedia presentation once again. This was a good lead-off to the panel consisting of Todd Davidson, CEO of Travel Oregon, Colleen Tollefson, Associate Director of Explore Minnesota, and Glen Schlottman, Community Relations Manager, Arizona Office of Tourism.
The group talked about using the Internet to acquire publicity and attract people. There are 3 ways.
- Earned – Organically obtain followers who are truly fans.
- Paid – Using advertisements to generate buzz.
- Owned – You pay to have your content produced by people.
It is the intersection of all 3 of these strategies and careful crafting of your media strategies that will lead to substantial awareness and growth.
Another interesting trend that was noted in this session was the travel expenses of the top 2 generations.
- Baby Boomers – Spend 60% of their income on travel
- Millenials – Spend 75% of their income on travel
What does this mean? Although Millenials are spending 3/4 of their income on travel and experiences, their overall income is much smaller than Baby Boomers since they are starting their careers. Baby Boomers put away significantly more money for retirement and their overall income reflects this so their age group still spends much more in terms of total dollars injected to the industry. Millenials may have a higher affinity to use up their disposable income on travel, until they establish themselves and grow older. It would be interesting to see if this trend continues. If this does, you’ll see Millenials outpacing any other groups in travel expenses. I would say it’s still a safer bet to focus your marketing efforts to Baby Boomers right now, while watching what Millenials are doing in the coming years if you are looking to grow your business.