Rail Trails boosting Victoria’s tourism

Tourism Minister Louise Asher recently announced Victoria’s new Cycle Tourism Action Plan to capture Australia's growing international cycling tourism market naming Melbourne the nation's first ‘bike city’.

Girl on bikeAccording to the new Action Plan, Melbourne has applied for the recognition through the Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI). Although it is not a specific tourism accolade, with the UCI primarily focused on cycling as a sport rather than recreation or tourism, it does highlight Victoria’s existing cycling hot spots, says La Trobe University Associate Professor Sue Beeton.

‘Such recognition encourages Melbourne to further develop its cycling infrastructure and will potentially provide a momentum for further government support for cycling facilities around the State, not just for competitive events but for local areas already popular with cyclists,’ she says.

Dr Beeton has been researching the economic contribution of Rail Trails, which are cycling, walking and horse riding trails sited on disused rail lines and their extreme popularity with cyclists.

Focusing specifically on the role Rail Trails play in local communities through a series of longitudinal studies, she has found that tourists using Rail Trails are regularly outspending the average tourist to the region.

‘This is due in part to the fact that the trails do not have steep gradients and as such are suited to groups of all ages and abilities, and are particularly popular with families. The trails also traverse areas of historical and scenic significance and many provide a tangible link to our rail, pioneering and development heritage, presenting us with an outstanding tourism resource’ says Dr Beeton.

Although many Rail Trails are in regional areas, some are based on rail lines in Melbourne, such as the Lilydale Rail Trail and proposed Whitehorse Rail Trail. The inner city suburb of North Fitzroy, one of the oldest cycle trails is also on a disused rail line.

‘While the relative significance of Melbourne as a top cycling city is debatable, it is clear that cycling tourism is increasing, along with a series of trails that remove cyclists from the roads.

‘The pride that local residents have demonstrated through the success of their Rail Trails is significant, contributing to their quality of life as well as that of others. However, this needs to be underpinned by continued commitments to developing and maintaining the infrastructure and services, underpinned by relevant research,’ says Dr Beeton.

A copy of Dr Beeton’s 2009 report is available through La Trobe’s Tourism and Hospitality Research Unit, www.latrobe.edu.au/thru and a fourth study in the series is scheduled for 2012.

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