Preparation Key to Successful Trails Tourism

Posted 06/22/12 by Jake Lynch in America's Trails

Photo © Rails-to-Trails Conservancy/Jake Lynch

RTC's Jake Lynch is out on the 2012 Greenway Sojourn from June 17 to 24. He's visiting towns and exploring trail-related businesses along the route from Washington, D.C., to Pittsburgh, Pa., and blogging about some of his experiences. 

One lesson I have learned visiting the towns and small cities along the route of the Greenway Sojourn this week is that successful trail tourism doesn't happen by accident.

Places in like Confluence, Pa., and Cumberland, Md., which have been very successful in connecting trail users to their local economies, have managed it through study and effort. Allegheny County, for example, employs a person for the express purpose of keeping business owners in Cumberland up to date on trail tours passing through, and creating events and reasons for those trail users to stay overnight. In Confluence, the bike store and lodging places have worked hard over the years to make the town a must-stop destination. For the past few days I have been hearing from businesses in these communities that they are really looking forward to our visit. They are well coordinated and prepared.

But some of the towns we have visited were not quite as prepared. Months prior to the Sojourn, organizers called and emailed local chambers of commerce and visitor hubs, with the heads-up that on these dates a large group of riders would be in their main street, most likely looking for something to eat, a cold drink and supplies. Despite this outreach, the advance notice didn't reach everyone, and a number of diners were closed on those days, and some businesses kept to their regular business hours and therefore missed the after-dinner rush of riders looking for cold ice cream or a beer.

Many of the businesses that were besieged by 50 or 60 hungry riders struggled to cope, happy but flustered. I heard them say if they had of known we were coming they could have put on more staff for the occasion. Not keen for a long wait, some Sojourners moved on and looked for somewhere else to dine.

Even though communication of the Sojourn's arrival didn't reach all of the individual shop owners, some entrepreneurs were clearly proactive and a little online searching for any organized bike tours coming their way. That's how the owners of C&O Cycle knew the Sojourn was due this week. That morning they sent their young son up the trail a mile to greet bikers and give them information on what was available in town.

I have no doubt that this time next year, those businesses that were caught unawares will keep their eyes peeled. And that's always been one of the great successes of the Sojourn--not only bringing attention to the trails themselves, but priming the trail communities to convert those bikes into bucks.

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