November 02, 2011

Cycle tourism presents an attractive opportunity

As published in The Erin Advocate

Erin should take full advantage of its beautiful rolling hills by promoting itself as a destination or take-off point for cycling tourists.

"There is a tremendous opportunity for cycle tourism," said Andy Goldie, Director of Parks & Recreation for Centre Wellington, which is developing a Trails Master Plan. He was helping with an information Open House at Centre 2000 on October 22 for the county-wide Active Transportation Plan (ATP).

It is going to take a while to build up the number of rural roads with excellent bike lanes – ideally 2 metres wide, compared to the current 50 centimetres (19 inches) if they exist at all.

"Cyclists are using the roads anyway, and interest is growing all the time," said Project Manager Jay Cranstone, an Erin native, avid cyclist and landscape architect with MMM Group of Mississauga, the consulting firm hired to organize the ATP. While mountain biking remains popular, he has noticed a renewed interest in road cycling.

"Cycle tourists spend more than car tourists," he said. A survey in Quebec, where cycling culture is very strong, showed cycle tourists spending an average of $102 per adult per day (up from $83 in 2005), compared to $52 per day for motoring tourists. They also like vacationing in the spring and fall, extending the season for tourism-related businesses.

Unfortunately, Downtown Erin village is too congested on summer weekends for many cyclists to feel comfortable. Alternative routes and better parking could help improve the situation. Our off-road trails are generally unmarked, which is fine for long-time local riders, but for visitors, a more official, signed network is needed.

Erin needs to boost its image as one in a series of attractive destinations within a network of regional bike routes.

There are several positive scenarios. For example, people traveling the Trans-Canada Trail (Elora-Cataract) could detour into Hillsburgh or Erin village because they've heard good things about them. City dwellers who load their bikes onto vehicles and head out for an afternoon of riding could make Erin their preferred place to park and set out. Or those who come here mainly for shopping may like the option of also doing some short loops, either biking or hiking.

Cyclists planning a vacation could decide to check in at a local Bed & Breakfast place, using it as a home base for their excursions. Or if they are based at Conservation Area campgrounds in Rockwood, Guelph Lake or Belwood, they could plan routes through rural Erin, because they've heard that the hills and views are great, and the roads are not too busy. Companies that book cycle tours could flag Erin as a "must-see" place.

The Town of Erin needs to promote itself as a centre of activity, not a fringe area. Being a part of a large regional tourism association is useful, but the benefits seem limited. Erin has been shifted into a region that extends from here to Lake Huron, though we can still maintain a link with our Headwaters partners to the east, which seems a more logical grouping.

Erin gets some promotion on the Headwaters website ( which is quite professional, but it is not enough. We are lumped in with other places that in some respects have more to offer.

We can't expect other people to aggressively promote Erin – that's our job. We need a broad tourism strategy, involving businesses and the municipality, that identifies our strengths and gets the word out to potential visitors. Ideally, we should have our own tourism association to decide on the best marketing strategies.

Improved cycle tourism is just one of many aspects, which tend to support each other. Cycle traffic benefits food businesses, both the sit-down restaurants and places that offer quick carbohydrates such as ice cream and baked goods.

Riders may be interested, for example, in travelling to several of the art displays on the Hills of Erin Studio Tour, visiting farms or in attending attractions after their riding is done, such as shows at Century Church Theatre.

Public feedback is still being collected for the county study on non-car mobility – search Wellington Active Transportation or go to