Even as global travel slowly returns, a pandemic-era leisure trend will continue: cycle tourism.
Cycle tourism has thrived over the past two years among those seeking an active getaway and the relative safety of nature, and it’s still growing today. “We anticipate double-digit travel growth in 2022,” said Timo Shaw, president of Vermont-based VBT Bicycling Vacations.
While most cycle tourism companies halted operations in the early months of the pandemic, many reported a surge in pent-up demand, which led to numerous bookings in early 2021 as vaccines became available and later in the summer as international travel began to open up.
“Demand was high in 2021, but our season – apart from the trips we did in the US in March – didn’t really start until the end of August,” says João Correia, founder of luxury bike tour operator inGamba Tours and a former professional cyclist.
Colin O’Brien, InGamba’s Marketing Director, says the volume for 2021 was a “healthy amount” given global events and the only cancellation was due to wildfires in California.
Most companies have been able to operate what appears to be a partial season over the past year, managing rapidly changing travel restrictions while still delivering a guest experience many travelers have come to expect after more than a year of closed borders.
Bike tours have long had a certain split: there were tours for casual riders and tours for those who were die-hard cyclists, but pre-pandemic momentum was already bridging that gap with more offerings tailored to all ability levels on the same ride.
Additionally, electric bicycles, commonly known as e-bikes, have become a major leveller.
“E-bikes are becoming a big part of our business,” says tour operator Tourissimo, founder and co-owner Beppe Salerno.
The company operates primarily in Italy and co-owner Heather Dowd notes that it gives more inexperienced riders the opportunity to take part in tougher tours, but that e-bikes come at an additional cost due to the weight of the bikes and the additional maintenance.
Dylan Reynolds, whose France-based company Ride & Seek runs long-distance tours in several countries, says e-bikes also allow older riders to stay in the activity longer, in addition to being an increasingly popular choice for younger riders.
“In the last year, the stigma (around e-bikes) is gone now,” he says.
Cycle tourism has long been popular in Europe (and broke several attendance records in the first year of the pandemic), and companies found that both North Americans and Europeans shared the call to return as soon as travel regulations allow.
“At the end of the day, our guests identify with cycling, so the common denominator makes people very alike,” says Correia.
In most cases, bike tours were already a higher-quality travel option with complete packages in the four-digit range even before the pandemic. The increased interest in private packages only drives up these costs. The first to return to touring were mostly existing customers with the disposable income and flexibility to undertake multi-day road trips.
Businesses are gearing up for a banner season in both North America and Europe.
“This year we expect to have a record year and all the metrics are pointing in that direction,” says Correia.