MACHIAS, Maine — Bicycling means business.
That was the theme of a meeting held June 15 to plan for the development, promotion and management of long-term bicycle tourism opportunities in the Bold Coast region.
Hosted by the Washington County Council of Governments, the Bicycle Coalition of Maine and DownEast & Acadia Regional Tourism, the meeting included 17 participants representing Washington County communities and organizations. The group plans to build on the fact that BikeMaine 2016 will bring 400 riders and 75 support personnel to the Bold Coast Sept. 10-17. The event will allow businesses and community organizations in the area to identify ways to serve bicycle tourists in the future.
“We are being offered this opportunity that is unique,” said Crystal Hitchings, regional planner and grant administrator for the Washington County Council of Governments and DownEast & Acadia Regional Tourism. “If we are successful, it will be a model for the bicycle coalition to use throughout the state.”
BikeMaine was started in 2013 by the Bicycle Coalition of Maine, a nonprofit founded in 1992 to make Maine a better place for bicycling and walking. Each year, the event organizers choose a course somewhere in Maine for the one-week tour, traditionally starting the Saturday after Labor Day.
The Bold Coast was chosen as the route for 2016. Riders will pedal from the Schoodic Institute in Acadia National Park to Eastport and Lubec and back, riding on back roads that take them off the highway and into local communities.
BikeMaine riders will average 55 miles per day and stay overnight either at campsites or in local hotels and inns in the host communities of Winter Harbor, Jonesport, Machias, Eastport, Lubec and Milbridge. These communities also will offer activities and entertainment that showcases their local areas.
“Our region is really pretty special and recognized for being special,” Hitchings said.
BikeMaine Event Coordinator Zach Schmesser said 125 people are on the waiting list for this year’s tour, which is capped at 400 riders.
“We sold out in early March which, I think, is a testament to the region we’re going to,” he said.
BikeMaine brings money into the communities along its routes. In 2015, BikeMaine estimates that a total of $448,000 was pumped into the local economy. The more than 350 BikeMaine cyclists spent an average of $1,077 per person, Schmesser said. More was spent by organizers on food and supplies.
Kim True, BikeMaine senior advisor, said there’s good reason to cater to bicyclists long after the event.
The nation’s approximately 26.1 million bicyclists — which includes about 2.5 million in New England — tend to be “a more affluent, more educated group” with more disposable income. Bicycle tourists spend 29 percent more per day than tourists coming via other modes of transportation, she said.
For example, bicyclists can’t carry a lot of food with them, so they tend to buy more.
“They eat a lot more than other people because their food is their fuel,” True said, adding that they move at a slower pace than tourists in motor vehicles and tend to stay in one place longer.
Overall, bicycle tourism adds an estimated $66 million to Maine’s economy, she said. Washington County has the opportunity to get more of that pie.
Meeting participants discussed ways to do that. Ideas included offering training for businesses on how to be more bicycle friendly, making tourist maps that show the locations of services for bicyclists or bicycle friendly businesses and getting the word out about the amenities that exist in the area. This means not only getting the word out to prospective tourists, but also to other people in the area.
True also encouraged everyone to take photos of cyclists during the event and post them afterward on their websites and social media. This way, bicyclists who see the photos will know other cyclists already have been there and will see it as a bike-friendly destination.
“Nothing sells cyclists [like] seeing pictures of bicycles in your area,” she said.