Sharon Hill Aug 09, 2013 - 4:19 PM EDT Last Updated: Aug 09, 2013 - 10:02 PM EDT
Cycling vacations have lured California couple Jim and Lisa Burque to France, Italy, the Czech Republic, New Zealand and now to Windsor.
They are some of the 216 cyclists headed to Windsor this weekend for a ride on a new 620 km waterfront trail along Lake Erie from Lakeshore to Fort Erie. The riders on the Great Waterfront Trail Adventure are expected to have a $250,000 economic impact locally and help spin the region and Ontario into the cycling tourism market that is worth almost $47 billion in the United States.
“It’s the most enjoyable way to see any place. You’re going at a pace slow enough to really enjoy the environment,” 59-year-old Jim Burque of the San Francisco Bay area said Friday.
“You meet people. You see a lot of local things you don’t see driving. When you’re driving, you’re just zipping by everything.”
That is exactly why tourists on two wheels are valued. As they pedal through small communities, they stop to see the local attractions, eat at restaurants and stay in hotels while their luggage is transported for them.
“The car can drive from Toronto to Windsor and miss every one of those beautiful harbour towns. The bike can’t. The bike is going to stop at every one of them,” said Marlaine Koehler, executive director of the Waterfront Regeneration Trust which is the charity promoting the waterfront trail along Lakes Erie and Ontario.
Koehler said cycling tourism is worth $46.7 billion in the United States and an estimated $134 million in Québec. She said Ontario should aim to match Québec now that a 620 km waterfront trail along Lake Erie is part of the 1,400 km, 68-community route that is marked from Lakeshore to Québec.
“Cycling tourism is a great way for Ontario to take the tourism assets it already has and repackage them in a new experience,” Koehler said. “We already have great lakes. We already have wonderful harbour towns. We have museums. We have wineries. We don’t need to create new attractions. We just need to package the experience in a way that engages the Ontario, the American and Québec tourist.”
Koehler and the more than 200 cyclists are planning to officially open the Lake Erie route with a 9 a.m. Monday ceremony at the foot of Ouellette Avenue.
The cyclists will begin their seven day ride to Fort Erie at Lighthouse Cove Sunday afternoon. They will stay in Windsor and Leamington.
With two of the seven days here, the cyclists are spending $120,000 just in hotel stays and food, said Tourism Windsor Essex Pelee Island CEO Gordon Orr.
That could equate into an estimated $250,000 economic impact over two days and those riders coming from three provinces and six states could in turn become ambassadors for the region as they talk to their cycling friends, Orr said. ”This is phenomenal exposure.”
The Quality Suites hotel in downtown Windsor is booked solid and has more cyclists at the chain’s Comfort Suites hotel. “It’s nice to be sold out on a Sunday night,” director of sales Heather Nantau said Friday.
Cycling tourism is an overlooked gem, said Ajax Mayor Steve Parish who will be on the ride and has already witnessed the benefits of the waterfront route and investing in bike lanes and trails.
“I think that we have the potential cycling tourism industry in southern Ontario that is potentially one of the largest in North America but we’re not putting the resources into it in terms of publicizing it, in terms of investing in the infrastructure, trails and roads and really promoting it,” Parish said.
The Windsor region could benefit more as a start or finish spot because people will tend to spend an extra day or two here, Parish said.
Koehler said the waterfront trail along Lake Ontario had its first ride in 2008 and adding the Lake Erie route with signs was a three-year venture. Now it is about promoting the trail, she said. The route is large enough now that the Canadian Automobile Association has launched an Ontario Bike Assist app and the trail is gaining attention from cycling vacation companies and running events. She said there is an excellent opportunity in Essex County to create an around the county trail.
The Burques cycled the Lake Ontario trail three years ago and are back in Canada for a second trip. Jim Burque said they want to cycle around all the Great Lakes.
He praised the flat, easy ride and friendly people they met in Ontario and suggested advertising more in cycling magazines.
“Put the word out there more. I don’t think a lot of people know about it.”
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