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Bringing cycle tourism to Thunder Bay

Tourism Thunder Bay sees opportunities to draw more visitors to mountain and road biking opportunities in Thunder Bay
20200919 Mountain Biking 0081
A new initiative is looking to draw more visitors to cycle in Thunder Bay. (Evan Buhler RMO PHOTO)

THUNDER BAY – Local officials are looking to put Thunder Bay on the map when it comes to bicycle-based tourism.

Tourism Thunder Bay is working with the non-profit Ontario By Bike to feature local cycling routes bike-friendly businesses through the organization's interactive maps and guides, used by cyclists to help plan trips in the province

Tourism development officer John Cameron said the initiative would help bolster a type of tourism that’s said to be growing rapidly across the province, with the COVID-19 pandemic giving cycling a further boost.

Provincial figures from 2014 indicated over 1.7 million cycling-related visits to the province that year, with those visitors spending around $428 million. Cycling tourists tend to stay longer at their destinations and spend more money than other visitors, the province noted.

Cameron said while it's difficult to estimate the local impact, the tourism agency has noticed anecdotal evidence of recent increases in visitors looking to take advantage of both road biking and mountain biking opportunities in the region.

“We know people are travelling to Thunder Bay with bikes on their cars or RVs to ride here,” he said, adding that for some the sport could be a main draw, while for many visitors it might accompany other cultural or outdoor activities. “I would think it’s sort of a side dish or value added when people come here.”

An upcoming webinar hosted by Ontario By Bike on Nov. 25 will review cycling tourism opportunities and teach local businesses how to become certified as bicycle friendly, a free process that sees the location featured on the organization’s online maps and other guides.

Interested groups can register for the webinar online. The event is open to the public, but will largely target tourism professionals and businesses, particularly restaurants, craft breweries, accommodations, attractions, and cycling-related businesses, said Louisa Mursell, executive director of Ontario by Bike.

The workshop, held virtually due to COVID-19, will be the first step in expanding the Ontario By Bike network into northwestern Ontario. The region is currently conspicuously absent from the organization’s interactive map, which features hundreds of trails, routes, and businesses elsewhere in the province.

The process will also involve identifying mountain biking trails and road biking routes to highlight.

A second webinar to be offered in the coming months will focus on the Kenora-Rainy River area, Mursell said.

Businesses can register for the program and learn about criteria for the bicycle friendly certification online. For hotels, criteria can include secure, covered bike storage, while for other businesses, it could involve offering bike parking or having staff knowledgeable about cycling in the area.

Cameron pointed to promising factors in the development of cycle tourism in Thunder Bay, including a potential $1.5 million plan to expand the mountain bike trail network at Trowbridge Forest, including the Shuniah Mines and Centennial Park areas, as well as the growing popularity of recreational “fat biking” in winter.

“If locals are doing it and they’re having a great experience on those routes, then I think visitors will do the same thing,” he said.

Mursell said she believes Thunder Bay is well-positioned to attract cycling tourists, despite its relative isolation, as many bikers are looking for experiences off the beaten track.

“They’re not always looking for the big urban experience, but finding neat things along the way,” she said.

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