Bike-related travel heating up with tour operators reporting increased sales


A version of this story ran in the December issue of BRAIN.

By Sara Stover

While hardware sales cooled off dramatically post-pandemic in the bike industry, spending on bike-related travel is a bright spot as Americans shift their spending to experiences rather than products.

Earlier this year, Statista reported that consumers are increasingly prioritizing experiences over products, with traveler global spending on experiences up 65% compared to pre-pandemic figures.

And bicycle tour operators confirm that their business has benefitted from the shift in the larger population.

“Increased spending on experiences has definitely had a positive impact on Western Spirit Cycling Adventures’ bottom line,” said Ashley Korenblat, CEO of the Moab, Utah-based tour company, which specializes in guided mountain bike trips in 17 states.

“On average, our company has grown by 15% over the past three years,” Korenblat said.

Grand View Research’s Cycle Tourism Market Size, Share & Growth Report further solidified that this trend is here to stay, revealing that in 2022, the global cycle tourism market size was up to $117 billion.

A more recent report by Coherent Market Insight, Cycle Tourism Market Analysis, put the market size at $128 billion.

Bike tour operators benefit from pent-up demand

While these findings highlight the significant extent to which consumers are spending their discretionary funds on cycling trips, what’s even more telling is how successful many American bike tour operators have been post-pandemic, benefiting from sustained levels of pent-up demand for outdoor recreational activities.

“So much growth for the bike industry came during and out of the pandemic,” said Jake Fergus, the marketing director of Trek Travel.

This year and last were the most profitable years in the company’s history, said Jake Simmons, Trek Travel’s marketing specialist.

“(I)nterest in experiences and investment in wellness is still strong as we approach the holiday season,” added Simmons. Specifically, Trek Travel saw an increase in demand for travel via e-bike, an interest it met by offering self-guided tours in domestic locations.

“Around 33% of Trek Travel guests are riding e-bikes and overall e-bike usage is up anywhere between 25 to 40% post-COVID,” said Simmons. “In fact, in some of our most popular regions, we are seeing a 50/50 split between e-bikes and ‘acoustic’ road bikes.”

Coherent Marketing Insights expects the cycle tourism boom to continue, ascending at a compound annual growth rate of 9.5% over the next six years and reaching $241.27 billion by 2030. It’s anticipated that demand for low-impact vacations, a renewed interest in attaining physical health through cycling, and the mainstream adoption of e-bikes will all fuel the growth of the market.

Europe leads the way, attracting a diverse demographic

Home to several prominent cycling destinations, Europe accounted for over 30% of global bike tourism revenue, according to Coherent Market Insights’ report, making it bicycle tourism’s leading market in 2022. When it comes to European bike tour packages, Trek Travel guests are spending an average of $4,000 on a tour. The price point for the company’s most affordable trip is $799 for a three-day weekend self-guided bike tour of Girona; its most exorbitant offering is $6,799 for a six-day Tuscany Wine Country bike tour.

The Cycle Tourism Market Analysis notes that with a market share of over 20% in 2022, North America is the second-largest market for cycle tourism. The region is home to a number of popular cycling destinations that are among Western Spirit’s national offerings, including Moab’s White Rim Trail Bike Trip for $1,195 and a $3,150 Glacier National Park Road Tour for advanced cyclists.

“During the pandemic, we were still able to run trips,” Korenblat said. “People wanted to get outside, so we made that possible while minimizing contact and impressing the health department.

Korenblat, who bought Western Spirit in 1997, said 2022 was busier than 2023, perhaps because more American cyclists looked to Europe. “We still saw substantial activity in Utah and the western U.S., but not as much as in 2022,” she said.

While an array of consumers are drawn to cycle tourism, there are specific demographics that are more likely to invest in this travel niche. Statistics published by WYSE Travel Confederation and UNWTO reveal that travelers aged 30 and under represent 20% of the overall travel and tourism economy. Inspired by blogs and videos on social media, analysts expect this age group to continue contributing significantly to the cycle tourism sector as their income increases.

For the cycle tourism industry, millennials also represent a growing market. Bike tour operators are targeting this demographic through events like Outerbike, a series of bike demo events produced by Western Spirit that enable attendees to take bikes out on the trails at a destination bike location.

Travelers aged 31 to 50 are also displaying an inclination toward adventure travel, a trend that Cycle Tourism Market Size, Share & Growth Report doesn’t expect to cool down anytime soon. While this demographic’s demand for “soft adventure trips” and willingness to spend discretionary money on meaningful travel experiences is expected to further propel the cycle tourism boom, travelers 50 years old and under aren’t the only ones booking bike tours.

“One of our recent Andalucia Bike Tour trips hosted 12 guests, representing five countries and four continents. Of the 12 travelers, the youngest was 24 years old and the oldest was 82!” said Trek Travel’s Fergus. “While there are competitors whose numbers are returning to pre-pandemic levels, we aren’t seeing that. We attribute this to diversifying our demographic.”

Independent bike shops play a key role in cycle tourism

Trek Travel also offers self-guided trips out of different independent bike retailers through its Dealer & Retailer Program, harnessing one of the travel industry’s most effective ways to acquire new customers.

“We have over 20 self-guided destinations globally and almost all in the U.S. are hosted by direct-owned Trek stores. The rest of our self-guided hosts include hotel partners or other independent bike shops,” said Fergus, adding that the company has a playbook for supporting dealers who are self-guided hosts. The playbook includes co-op advertising, employee education, and point of purchase displays.

Western Spirit also has independent bike shops in different communities that function as satellite locations.

“Our tours start and end at the satellites. We contract with these dealers to maintain the tours’ rental fleet with the help of their mechanics. And when a guest signs up for a trip, they get info about the associated shop,” Korenblat explained, adding that Western Spirit provides marketing support for these dealers, at no cost to them. “We take care of the arrangements. For example, if you have a shop in Durango, we market to Texas for you.”

And the benefits to bike dealers don’t end there.

“A guest on a Trek Travel trip could have a high-end (rental) bike that they might not ride otherwise,” said Simmons. “When they get home from their trip, they might visit their local dealer and upgrade to the Trek they rode on the tour.”

Other post-travel habits include booking another bike tour.

“Sixty percent of customers come back and do a different trip. It gives them a chance to reconnect with what’s important. So we meet demand with more itineraries and more permits,” said Korenblat.

Industry veteran Jack Gresmer, who retired from his sales leadership position at Osprey Packs last winter, has launched a tour company that specializes in e-MTB trips to the Swiss Alps.

The company, MTNTravel.com, is built around giving U.S. IBDs a profit center and an opportunity to build community, he said.

“The concept is for the IBD to sell trips to mountain bike destinations to create more buzz for the category,” Gresmer said. Gresmer has worked in the scuba industry, where virtually all specialty retailers sell travel options.

“The good scuba shops that sell travel really have robust businesses because of it. It keeps their core customers very connected to the store. It works incredibly well,” he said.

Wisconsin retail giant Wheel & Sprocket is already on board with MTNTravel, he said.

Bike tour companies scale to meet demand

According to a recent Statista survey, Americans plan to spend around $632 on giving experiences this holiday season, a surge that cycle tour companies are prepared for.

“We’re already seeing 2024 bookings up almost 75% at this early date,” Western Spirit’s Korenblat said in November. “We will continue to scale to meet demand, including offering more trips, buying more vehicles, and hiring more guides.”

Trek Travel expects the increase in cycling tours to continue into January, as the brand aligns with both customers’ New Year’s resolutions and post-pandemic values.

“This upward shift in spending on experiences will likely continue because the pandemic changed our society’s priorities. We value time out of the home more,” said Trek Travel’s Fergus.

“We also value time together more and our cycling tourism models are built on these values,” added Simmons. “Once consumers invest in connection through active travel, it further changes their perspective. From a moral compass standpoint, it’s a net positive.”





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