07 Nov Day 1 of the 2013 National Bicycle Tourism Conference
What started out to be a slow introduction of the National Bicycle Tourism Conference, turned out to be a rewarding experience by the end of the night. I participated in a workshop, met a lot of people, and capped off the day with some food & beer. Before I get into that, let me back up and go through the first half of my day.
I woke up later than I expected at 10AM and went downstairs for a hearty oatmeal breakfast at the hotel restaurant, The Grille. I had a great conversation with my waiter who was a local of Iowa, but had family in Austin, Texas and Mexico. He explained to me that the town really didn’t have much going on until the weekend when football takes over as the past-time. Local bars would fill up with intoxicated University of Iowa students, cheering on the Hawkeyes to victory.
I decided to explore the Iowa River Landing Wetland Park which was located right behind the hotel. It was a cold day. I’m talking about very close to freezing temperatures. I spent my time admiring the fall foliage, which I rarely witness in Los Angeles. After an hour of exploration, I headed back into the hotel lobby to warm up and register for the conference. I decided to take advantage of the complimentary hotel shuttle which took me to the neighboring Coral Ridge Mall.
This was an impressive mall which had 2 things: A Scheel store and an ice rink. Scheel is like a huge REI store with a huge emphasis on hunting. One thing for sure, this town definitely loves their Hawkeyes.
Bicycle Tourism Trends
When I got back to the hotel before 3PM, I went straight to my first session which discussed the trending topics of bicycle tourism with Adventure Cycling‘s Executive Director, Jim Sayer. Jim actually spotted me after he had registered for the conference, and we got to know each other before the session started. Because of Jim’s notoriety, I was introduced to different people including Mark Wyatt, Executive Director of the Iowa Bicycle Coalition.
I also got to meet Kim True, Ride Director for Bicycle Coalition of Maine before the discussion began. She had informed us about the success of the first BikeMaine tour in September. This sounded to be a good ride which featured some coastal routes in the state of Maine and promised a lobster dinner.
As people trickled into the conference room, I recognized another pair of attendees which I’ve been following on their blog and was looking forward to meeting in person, Russ Roca and Laura Crawford of The Path Less Pedaled blog. It was a surreal moment in which I introduced myself to them and since they started following me through Instagram, there was a general feeling of familiarity. I’ve been watching and reading about their journey on their blog for over 2 years now, which inspired this blog and my passion for bicycle touring.
As the discussion started, Jim introduced himself and had us make our introductions. I was one of the few enthusiasts in the room not represented by a company. There was about 20 attendees who introduced themselves. We had Debra Hermsmeier who told us about potentially starting a ride for disabled participants with her husband, Michael. Bob Westgate, Tour Leader for the Adventure Cycling Association, also worked full-time in a different industry that was not bike-related. I later found out through a conversation that he leads ACA rides on every vacation day he has. That is dedication right there. Eric Bourgault of Velomotion Plus was from Quebec City, Canada who focused on the experiential bike tours. Craig Cooper of Bikes 2 U helped charter the famous RAGBRAI ride. Jamie Gilpin of Outfitter Bicycle Tours came in a bit later, thinking that we were an insurance discussion, told us his organization helps plan tours for folks in Europe and in the states. He then excused himself to find the right session. There were definitely others, but these are the names I recall or received business cards from.
Jim facilitated the 2 hour discussion around needs and challenges in bicycle tourism. What do people want on bicycle tours?
- Economic impact analysis.
- Demographic information.
- Food sanitation.
- Bicycle destination marketing.
- Cultural tie in with their rides. Experiential tours.
- How to effectively market the tours to millennial riders.
Some challenges include:
- Better signage. Quebec has the Green route bikeway which is eons better than what we have in the states.
- “Less is more” model in which tours tend to be too many of everything. Too many miles too many activities.
- Marketing dollars. It’s difficult to explain to government official the financial impact bicycling can have to a small town in order to justify an investment.
- Direct marketing opportunities. How do we reach out to a target market?
- Attracting riders of different backgrounds. This was rather awkward as both Russ and I were the only non-white participants in the room. Russ & Laura had to explain that diversity in their materials is necessary and that they have been doing their best to promote bicycle touring across the board. I contributed that this has been the case in my personal experience, where I am 1 of 3 non-white riders.
As you can see, the topics were diverse and colorful. Although we didn’t have a concrete solution to everything, I felt getting this out there for people to think about was important. I needed to know what are some of the challenges and needs which will help me set expectations for this industry.
Meet & Greet
The session ended promptly at 5PM where everyone had a few minutes to drop off some things at their hotel room and head over to the Backpocket Brewing Company, which was conveniently located adjacent to the hotel. Newbies were handed a souvenir glass with a blinking blue plastic cube to help people recognize you. In my opinion, a brilliant touch to a networking event. I spent the evening chatting it up with Russ, Laura, Debra, Michael, Eric, Jamie, and Daina Kalnins of Build Your Tour, whom I took the shuttle in with from the airport yesterday. We had all the beer and pizza we wanted with live entertainment provided by the “Swing Crew”. Many people opted to leave before 9PM. I waited 10 minutes after 9 to retrieve to my room and compose this update.
If you’re here from the conference, feel free to comment below. I would love to hear from you about your experience. Thanks for visiting.