PERTH COUNTY – The Perth County Economic Development and Tourism team presented a report on June 3, informing council on how the county will benefit from its decision to join the Ontario by Bike network in 2021 and how it will help bolster the hyperlocal tourism during COVID-19 recovery. The program takes advantage of a growing market of cycle tourists who produce strong economic spin-offs for local businesses, especially those in some of the hardest-hit sectors from the pandemic.
Perth County Tourism has been pursuing a hyperlocal tourism program in 2021 due to the ongoing impact of the pandemic and a province-wide focus on stay-cations and travel within Ontario. Perth County, including Stratford and St. Marys, has historically been a gap on the Ontario By Bike network in southwestern Ontario despite enjoying strong cycle assets including the G2G Trail and well-utilized paved and unpaved rural roads.
Cycle tourism represents a rapidly-expanding market opportunity for tourism development across Ontario. Unlike many other tourism activities, cycling experienced unprecedented growth during the COVID-19 pandemic as many people picked up cycling as an outdoor, naturally socially-distanced activity. Internationally, cycle tourism has been on a steady rise and the number of cyclists and demand for cycles domestically has led to bicycle shortages in many regions across Ontario.
A cycle tourist is defined as anyone travelling greater than 40 kilometres from their home for cycling. Before the onset of the pandemic, it was estimated that there were 1.6 million cycling visits to Ontario accounting for $893 million in spending. On average, cyclists tend to stay 2.6 nights longer than non-cyclists and spend $358 more per trip than non-cyclists according to Statistics Canada’s 2018 Travel Survey.
Although the pandemic will likely have an impact on where international cyclists are coming from, approximately 75 per cent of cycle tourists in Ontario originated within the province before the pandemic, making it an ideal activity that is aligned with the current hyperlocal tourism focus.
Cycle tourism also provides a strong opportunity for partnership with the business community, particularly in sectors that were hardest hit by the pandemic. According to Ontario by Bike network’s “Cycle Tourism in Ontario: A Report on the State of Ontario’s Cycle Tourism Sector,” it indicates that 53 per cent of cycle tourists stay in paid accommodation. The report also found that 28 per cent of their spending is on accommodation and 29 per cent is on food.
The report stated that Perth County is ideally situated to take advantage of the opportunities that cycle tourism offers with strong existing assets such as the Guelph to Goderich (G2G) Rail Trail and favourable topography.
“Joining the Ontario by Bike network has been on our radar for several years and the opportunity to join at the same time as Destination Stratford and St. Marys will mean that the marketing efforts that go along with this, and most importantly the visitor experience, will be seamless across the entire region,” said Manager of Economic Development and Tourism, Justin Dias. “This opportunity also aligned nicely with our current focus on hyperlocal tourism.”
Perth County will benefit from a dedicated Great Places to Cycle webpage on the Ontario by Bike website, enhancing visibility for the county as part of a province-wide association of engaged cycle tourists and the opportunity for Perth County businesses to become certified free of charge. Through the certification process, businesses benefit from being designated bicycle-friendly, have access to webinars and workshops, inclusion on Ontario by Bike’s interactive map and a bicycle-friendly toolkit including marketing materials as part of a network of over 1,500 Ontario by Bike certified businesses.
With the hope of a return to a more normal Stratford Festival season in 2022, there is also an opportunity to draw even more cycle tourists out of the city to explore more rural routes and Perth County businesses and attractions.
“(It’s) exciting to have more tourism opportunities for Perth County and leverage our beautiful system of trails,” said Coun. Todd Kasenberg. “I’m curious about how the county might be involved with the G2G trail as it goes through a couple of our municipalities. Are there tourism promotion efforts that can be made (to) incite you on the trail itself? Have you considered an investment at all in trail amenities… to improve the experience these tourists who will come here will have?”
“We do have a lot of activities planned for the summer as we’re able to be outside, social distanced to help draw people… off the trail into the local communities,” said Dias.
Tourism Officer Ashley Brockelbank said they have been developing partnerships with the G2G trail to improve the accessibility of their trailheads and support Canada Rides G2G.
“We’re leaning on them heavily as we start to develop these signature routes and work to develop our cycle tourism,” she said. “I’m not a cyclist so we’ve been leaning on them heavily to figure out the best ways to get this rolling and to send people to the trail.”
Coun. Hugh McDermitt asked whether the numbers in the report represented spending in an urban area rather than a rural area.
“I believe the numbers I quoted came from Ontario by Bike,” said Dias. “I think it’s provincial statistics so a mix of urban and rural. I don’t think it’s segregated in that way, unfortunately.”
Warden James Aitcheson ended the discussion with a comment about cyclist safety.
“I live on a very busy road, Perth Line 20, and I have seen more cyclists out on that road than ever,” he said. “There is one thing that does concern me and I don’t know how you would deal with this, whether you would just forward it on to the cycle association, but very few riders wear reflective gear… it will get closer to dusk at night and they aren’t that overly obvious if you are driving into the sun… every day there is just bikes going past my place to no end which is pretty well attributed to what you just presented to us.”
“(Through) the Ontario by Bike network there might be some opportunity for some bicycle safety webinars and workshops there might be offered through that network, so hopefully that will help address some of that problem,” said Dias.
Colin Burrowes, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Listowel Banner