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Montana’s Potential for Cycle Touring: An Untapped, Emerging Tourism Market

January 16, 2014

MISSOULA – A new study conducted by the Institute for Tourism and Recreation Research and graduate students from the University of Montana’s College of Forestry and Conservation found that multiday cyclists spend $75 per day while in Montana and stay an average of eight or more nights. Forty-one percent of those nights are spent in either hotels/motels or bed and breakfasts. The study was conducted in cooperation with the Adventure Cycling Association, a national nonprofit headquartered in Missoula.

With the assistance of Adventure Cycling, ITRR surveyed more than 700 cyclists who traveled through the state of Montana between 2011 and 2013 or acquired Montana bike maps. Seventy-three percent of the sample reported traveling through Montana in the past three years on a cycle tour. Hailing from 48 states and 18 countries, the cyclists stated that Montana’s scenic views, local hospitality and diverse landscapes were the most memorable experiences from traveling through the state.

“Beyond the beauty of the state,” one cyclist wrote, “it was the kindness of the people that over and over impressed me with their support and interest in my journey.”

Ninety-two percent of the cyclists are planning to take a multiday trip in the next three years.

“This study provides important information on the needs of multiday cyclists who travel in Montana,” said Jim Sayer, executive director of Adventure Cycling. “The bike tourism market in the U.S. and globally is booming, and ITRR’s study provides some excellent guidance on how Montana can capitalize on the state’s excellent scenery and hospitality to become an even more popular cycling destination.”

Cyclists participated in many other activities while traveling in Montana. Forty percent of cyclists reported visiting historical sites, 37 percent reported wildlife watching and 29 percent reported experiencing local breweries. Furthermore, cyclists spent their time in small and large towns across the state. Communities across Montana could capitalize on this emerging travel market by providing simple, affordable amenities that cyclists desire such as available lodging, accessible dining and hot showers.

Twin Bridges is one town that has embraced cyclists by providing small, in-town bike camps which include showers, restrooms, tables and a grill. The service is free of charge and encourages cyclists to visit local businesses while staying in the town. Within four months of building the camp, donations collected onsite paid for the town’s investment.

In this study, a number of cyclists did indicate areas of improvement for the state. Maintaining highways to allow for bicycle travel, increased education on sharing the road and ensuring that rumble strips are designed to accommodate bicycles were all noted as crucial aspects of the bicycle experience.

One cyclist noted, “More important than anything are road and riding conditions. I LOVE Montana, but frankly many of the roads were terrible for cycling.” Montana is beloved by the majority of cyclists, but a statewide effort to improve riding conditions and increasing amenities provided in towns would benefit cyclists, local residents and businesses.

According to Norma Nickerson, ITRR director, “Multiday cycling has the potential to be a tourism niche for the state of Montana which could be expanded into a statewide travel agenda. Many entrepreneurial business opportunities could emerge, including bike retail and service shops, campground expansion for cyclists, bed and breakfasts, more small-town breweries and maybe even the 10-year-old with lemonade stands along the bike route.” 

The full report is located on ITTR’s website at http://www.itrr.umt.edu/Research2013/Multiday CyclingStudy.pdf.  

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Contact: Norma Nickerson, director, UM Institute for Tourism and Recreation Research, 406-243-2328, norma.nickerson@umontana.edu.