If you pay attention to the vehicle license plates during the Tour of Walla Walla bicycle race in April, you will see the names of states not usually seen in our town. More than 600 cyclists and their families and support teams from places like Arizona, California and Utah converge on our community for one of the premier race events in the national cycling competitive circuit.
Each one of those individuals is a cycling tourist, and does the same thing every time they come to Walla Walla: pump dollars into our economy.
How many dollars? The state of Oregon gives us a glimpse into the economic impact of cycling. Earlier this year, Travel Oregon released a study showing that travel-generated expenditures in the state involving bicycle activity amounted to $400 million in 2012. The study also showed that travelers who participated in cycling related activities directly supported 4,600 jobs in Oregon.
Cyclists spent money on lodging, groceries, restaurants, retail purchases, gasoline and miscellaneous items. In our community, they would also spend money on activities like going to the theater and attending concerts.
There is no guesswork here. Cycling tourists spend money, and they have it to spend. Of the cyclists in the Oregon study, 58 percent had household incomes between $75,000 and $200,000 or more. It’s not a matter of if touring cyclists will come to our valley, but how many, how often, and how much they will spend.
The Walla Walla Valley offers some of the best cycling in the Pacific Northwest. And there is vast potential for developing cycling tourism in the valley. Events such as the Tour of Walla Walla and the Ann Weatherill Cycling Classic bring tourists to town who spend their disposable income, then return to spend again.
There are excellent reasons in the Walla Walla Valley for growing and promoting cycling tourism. When cycling tourists travel they seek travel to a unique part of the state or country — challenging routes, a community’s ambience and a community’s support for cyclists. Because touring cyclists search for these factors when choosing destinations, there is every reason to believe that some of the spending documented in the Oregon study is Walla Walla’s for the asking.
The Walla Walla, Waitsburg and Dayton business communities can promote our valley’s appeal to visiting cyclists by taking small steps leading to a big payoff in tourist spending.
Here’s an easy one: welcome cyclists to the community on business website and Facebook pages. Chambers of commerce and tourism agencies can also make cycling information a permanent presence on their websites (and link to www.wheatlandwheelers.com). More than 80 percent of cyclists in the Oregon study used the Internet to learn about cycling in a community. Restaurants can add or identify menu items that appeal to a cyclist’s energy requirements. Consider installing racks for bicycle parking. Make cycling maps of the city and county easily available.
Safety is key in cycling. Putting sharrows (signs indicating bike lanes) on street and road surfaces will alert motorists to the continuing presence of all cyclists. Increasing the number of bicycle signs throughout the county will also help promote cycling tourism. Keeping bicycle lanes clear of glass and debris is important. And having motorists be continually alert to and aware of cyclists is critical to the viability and success of this sport activity for all riders.
These are factors that cycling tourists take into account when choosing their destinations.
Cycling tourists can and do make a difference in a community’s economic health. The study from Oregon and the other states shows that communities that promote and support cycling attract riders and dollars. This means that businesses prosper and hire more help or increase employee hours. Tax revenues for the city and the county grow. That can translate into helping to restore budget shortfalls and possibly increase discretionary spending.
The Walla Walla Valley can easily become a hub for cycling tourist activity in our region. Cycling tourist spending will generate a chain reaction not only in economic activity, but possibly economic development. The potential clearly exists; the optimism stems from the evidence we in the cycling community already have from cyclists who visit our valley and vow to make return trips.
This is an opportunity waiting to be seized, and the Wheatland Wheelers Bicycle Club is eager to partner with business, government and tourism organizations to promote not only a terrific sport, and a long-term investment in our economy.
J. Andrew Rodriguez is president of the Wheatland Wheelers Bicycle Club. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org