If there was ever any doubt that the bike park, and indeed Whistler's bike trail systems, were an integral part of the success of the resort's summer business it can be clearly laid to rest after this past season.
While there are no current hard and fast stats about bike park and trail use around Whistler, one only had to look around, or talk to local bike shops, to see how busy this activity is making us. (Tourism Whistler has collected bike data over the summer and will release its findings in the coming months.)
This week the province released tourism numbers for the season showing that B.C.'s tourism sector and visitor numbers have been strong through the summer.
No surprise there — rather it's a match to the experience Whistler has enjoyed. July 2015 was the busiest on record with Tourism Whistler posting a mammoth 26-per-cent increase in room nights over the same month in 2014. And August numbers beat even those for February of the Olympic year, 2010.
Along with updated tourism numbers the province also announced that it would update its five-year tourism strategy, Gaining the Edge. Unveiled as part of its B.C. Jobs Plan, the original strategy set a target of doubling tourism revenues in B.C. from $9 billion to $18 billion by 2015.
The most recent Statistics Canada data states that the province generated $13.9 billion in tourism revenue in 2013; with experts predicting the government's target may be reached by 2018. The province is still looking for five per cent growth each year.
"While this target remains ambitious, it is achievable if world conditions remain favourable," states the updated report, released Sept. 21.
The report also includes a nod to biking.
It states that the government will, "invest in cycling infrastructure and implement a cycling tourism signage and marketing strategy.
"The Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure will spend $18 million between 2015 and 2018 to partner with communities to build new bike lanes and trails in B.C."
The dust hasn't settled yet on what this means on the ground (Whistler didn't get any of this targeted money), but it's definitely good news. Since 2001, the B.C. government has committed almost $160 million to cycling infrastructure, creating new bicycle lanes and trails in over 100 communities across the province, according to a release.
It's surprising that stats on biking are few and far between, or pretty stale — it's been about 10 years since any meaningful numbers were gathered — but extrapolating out it's not hard to see how growing this segment is a win-win for B.C. tourism operators, enthusiasts and the province. A Travel Activities and Motivations survey in 2006 estimated that 135,000 U.S. visitors came to B.C. over the previous two-year period for mountain biking.
According to a Mountain Bike Tourism Association 2006 study, the trail systems of the North Shore, Squamish and Whistler, were estimated to have collectively generated $10.3 million in spending from riders that live outside of the host area.
Spending by visitors to Whistler accounted for just under two-thirds of that total, at about $6.6 million — this figure excludes Whistler bike park spending.
Non-resident visitors to the bike park spent an estimated $16.2 million in Whistler.
It is very likely the numbers are higher now — high enough to argue that the province should in fact be increasing its investment into this segment beyond that announced today, and into the Sea to Sky corridor.
Biking tourism is one of the fastest growing activity-segments and B.C. should strike now with investments in trail support and support for bike parks (with proper environmental assessment safeguards in place, of course).
Mountain bike tourism is growing throughout North America, Europe and other parts of the world. There are over 10 million mountain bikers in the U.S. alone and participation in mountain biking has grown by 78 per cent over the last 10 years. Furthermore, there are over 36 million cyclists in the U.S. and a proportion of this group would likely be interested in some of Western Canada's mountain biking experiences, which substantially increases the size of the potential market for Western Canada's mountain biking product.
Last week we saw the announcement by Colorado state officials that they will spend $100 million over the next four years for bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure in an effort to make it the best state to ride a bike in.
Here in B.C., over the past few years Recreation Sites and Trails BC has provided funding for mountain bike trail initiatives in the Sea to Sky corridor, including $87,000 this year for new mountain bike trail development, $8,000 for signage and to support volunteer maintenance of mountain bike trails. Between 2012 and 2015, a $170,000 contribution was made to the Sea to Sky trail, $50,000 was given for construction of Half Nelson mountain bike trail and there was $15,000 for the Diamond Head parking lot expansion.
Tourism competition is fierce — but Whistler knows all about staying ahead of the competition — just look at its ranking by SKI Magazine this year as the No. 1 overall ski area in North America for 2016.
As with skiing, Whistler Blackcomb takes the No. 1 position for lift-accessed trails. It's time to leverage this and the popularity of two-wheeled recreation in the corridor to make sure the province invests in this sector of tourism to grow it and give B.C. an edge.