Monday, July 5, 2010

Mountain Bike Tourism: How to Get Mountain Bikers to Travel to Your Town

Recently I was walking around downtown Dahlonega, Georgia with my wife, and humored her by following her into one of the local antique stores.  As we walked in the door, I spotted a "North Georgia Vacation Guide," and was pleasantly surprised to see this:

"In this issue: Mountain Biking."

"Sweeeeet," I thought to myself, "something to entertain myself with besides 70 year old pieces of furniture and knick-knacks."  I grabbed one and flipped it open, searching eagerly for the mountain bike content.

The short paragraphs that I read were concise but accurate, but did not provide much detail.  The author informed riders that local bike shops and advocacy groups such as different chapters of IMBA could help them with more detailed information about the North Georgia trails, which I think was a smart move.

The article then went on to list "just a few of the numerous biking trails..." in North Georgia. It listed many excellent trails in Dahlonega, Blue Ridge, Elijay, and Clayton.  The list also included many rides that I would rate as "mediocre" to "down-right disgusting and lame." For instance, the Sosebee Cove ride which I just reviewed on here yesterday was listed.  I would not recommend that ride to anyone, unless you are a bored local looking to notch another ride in your belt.

Thoughts on the Advertisement
All in all, I thought this advertisement did an O.K. job in getting the word out about the mountain biking in North Georgia.  The ad successfully:
  1. Caught my eye (as a mountain biker) 
  2. Made me pick up a tourism pamphlet I wouldn't have otherwise
  3. Caused me to read further about the mountain biking
  4. Gave me a taste of what the terrain is like in North Georgia
  5. Gave me names of some of the popular trails, and information on how to find out more about them
 All in all, I think this was a successful advertisement, as far as it goes.  But would it really get mountain bikers to travel to North Georgia?  That's difficult to say.

How to REALLY Get Mountain Bikers to Travel to Your Community
If you're going to get mountain bikers to travel long distances to ride singletrack and stay a while when they get there, a short blurb in an ad-filled pamphlet isn't enough.  To successfully attract riders, you must first A) have the trails that they'll want to ride and B) spread the word through venues that riders already trust as authoritative.

I think that the absolute best way to make this happen is to get your area profiled in a popular mountain biking magazine.

Another Example From North Georgia
Dirt Rag Mag recently profiled the fantastic mountain bike trails of Ellijay and Blue Ridge this spring in issue #149.  The writers of Dirt Rag traveled to Ellijay and spent about a week mountain biking the local trails.  They were thoroughly impressed by the singletrack riding, and it showed in their article. Remember point A, the trails must be of high caliber in order to impress and attract mountain bikers.

This article wasn't just a one page blurb with a few short paragraphs.  No, it was an exhaustive guide to the popular rides of Ellijay and Blue Ridge, complete with directions, statistics, and a thorough analysis of each trail.  This area profile spans 8 pages,  and is chock full of informative text and attractive photographs.

In addition to profiling the trails that the area has to offer, articles like these often include local lodging, food, and beverage recommendations... and this write up was no exception. Articles like this are guaranteed to bring tourism revenue into the community.

Why This Is Successful
I see this article as a method which has been successfully executed to boost mountain biking tourism in the area. This was a recently published article, and I have no facts or figures to show you that "Hey, this really worked." Rather, I'm going to tell you why I think it should work.

  1. Quality Singletrack -- I touched on this point above, so I'll cover it very briefly here.  In short: if your area does not have an adequate abundance of well-constructed, entertaining singletrack you can forget about ever drawing mountain bike tourism. Ellijay has trails of that quality.  Check out my reviews of Bear Creek, Pinhoti-Bear Creek, and Stanley Gap and Flat Creek in Blue Ridge.
  2. Distribution of the Magazine -- Dirt Rag is one of the premiere mountain bike publications in the nation, and is read by thousands upon thousands of people. The magazine sold 48,500 copies last year alone (2009). (Source)
  3. Targeted Demographic -- Instead of hoping a mountain biker wanders into a local antique shop and picks up an advert, these magazines are delivered directly to the door steps of people who are intensely interested about riding singletrack.  Also, the magazine distribution targets the location that you want it to.... namely, everywhere, but specifically not locals.  While some locals will inevitably read the magazine article, it is getting read by riders all over the Southeast and the country--unlike the small North Georgia pamphlet, which I picked up when I was already in the town of Dahlonega.
  4. Authoritative -- I have no idea who wrote the above blurb in the "Vacation Guide." It could have been anyone.  The author didn't provide any sort of insider information to the trails, and may not have even been a mountain biker at all. The authors of Dirt Rag, on the other hand, have been in the industry, writing about mountain biking for decades.  Their readers respect the opinion and advice of the authors. Top-quality mountain bike magazines such as Dirt Rag are viewed by many as the books of the mountain biking Bible.
  5. This Technique has Worked Before -- I have witnessed articles like this one create a ton of buzz about different regions of the country and the mountain bike trails there.  One time I read an article in Bike Mag about the riding in Vernal, Utah. I had never even known there was singletrack in that corner of Utah, and had driven through a year before while on a mountain bike road trip and never even thought about stopping.  Over the next month, all of the big online mountain bike discussion boards were flooded with buzz about Vernal.  Vernal's trails hadn't even been listed in's expansive database yet, but because of the new stir about the trails on the discussion boards there, someone decided to put the information up and share it.  Since then, I've read a ton of ride reports, looked at pictures, and watched videos from Vernal. Stories similar to this abound for many areas around the nation, and there's no reason Ellijay, Georgia will be the exception to this rule. 
Here in the Southeast, it is no secret that mountain bikers can bring in a large chunk of tourism revenue. If you as an advertiser or tourism board are looking to get mountain bikers to come to your community, make sure that you draw on the 5 points listed above to make sure that your publicity campaign is a success, and that mountain bikers everywhere hear about the awesome trails in your area!

Your Turn
What does it take to get you (the average Joe mountain biker reading this post) to travel to visit a mountain bike trail system or destination? Is it a magazine article, hearsay from your friends, a post on the internet, or a combination of the above? Please feel free to share your thoughts in the comment box below!

The Story Continues:
Ellijay: Mountain Bike Destination WIN!
Suches / Blairsville: Mountain Bike Destination FAIL


    Daniel July 5, 2010 at 10:45 AM  

    I have seen this same thing time after time all across the country and used to think the same things you are. And your 100% right in the way you would attract people already into MTB. However, most if not all of the people who put together such material havent had their own asses on a bike seat since like high school. Your assuming they are trying to attract MTB’s to an area when in fact they because of their lack of experience they are targeting other people like themselves to try MTB in their area (did that make sense?). Thus the importance, to them, of listing the lame/novice type trails. I love Dirt Rag, but not too many people other than experienced riders are going to pick it up, let alone dive into the content and understand it.
    I was fortunate to attend IMBA’s trail crew seminar on the economics of MTB one night, fantastic stuff. But I quickly learned there is a big difference between appealing to the experienced rider vs. trying to get more people into riding.
    To me the more bike related infrastructure in a community the better, and not just MTB, bike lanes, bike racks outside stores, highway signs that remind drivers to share the road, etc. The more bikes & bike related stuff in a community attract more, its like a snowball effect, and it is, thankfully, happening in communities all across america.

    Greg Heil July 5, 2010 at 5:37 PM  

    I definitely agree with what you're saying man. That's the real way to make mountain biking grow in a big way is to make communities progressively more bike friendly.

    The slant I was trying to take with it is that hey, there are people out there in town councils trying to get more tourism to their area. Lots of places here in the southeast (like all across north georgia) are realizing that mountain bike tourism is a viable source of tourism income. So I decided to do an analysis of the different ways to draw people in. (Maybe I didn't say quite what I meant to say).

    I agree, making the whole area more bike friendly would be a big bonus, but I think that some of these tourism promoter types are looking for bikers who are already big into the sport to travel to their town and spend some money while they're there.

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