Ride away to glory

T V SARNGA DHARAN NAMBIAR –

Unless we keep moving, we risk losing our balance. This isn’t about just the bicycle, but life in general. Moving on, in terms of redefining our perceptions and appreciating diversity in thoughts, beliefs and cultures, is essential lest we turn fanatical.
But the bicycle itself keeps moving and reinvents itself. We are only beginning to realise the true power of the bicycle: beyond philosophical enlightenment, it is emerging as a key driver of tourism — especially responsible, sustainable tourism. Bicycle tourism is a niche segment today, and its prospects look bright, given its catalytic power to enrich culture and eco-tourism.
There are great efforts across Western countries focusing on enhancing bicycle tourism. The glow-in-the-dark cycle path in Eindhoven in the Netherlands is an indicator of the exciting times that await this segment. The path has thousands of solar-powered luminescent stones that glow in the dark, and is also a tribute to the greatest post-impressionist painter Vincent Van Gogh’s Starry Night.
Bicycle tourism is especially significant today where every action of ours threatens our fragile environment. The worrisome increase in motor vehicles not only congests roads, but degrades air quality and contributes to noise pollution. These can discourage inbound tourism. The antidote is to promote a bicycle culture and develop the necessary infrastructure to enhance bicycle tourism, which also has the power to disrupt our sedentary lifestyle.
The bicycle is reclaiming its lost glory, and people are increasingly opting for bicycle tourism as a great way to explore destinations, adding considerable value to national economies. For instance, bicycle tourism is valued at £635 million annually in the UK, while it contributes $83 billion annually to the US economy.
Bicycle tourism brings great economic benefits to local rural and urban communities as well.
The scope for growth in bicycle tourism is immense. The UN World Tourism Organisation reports a 7-per cent rise in international tourist arrivals last year, with figures crossing 1.3 billion. The momentum is expected to continue this year as well. However, the majority of this is consumptive, energy intensive tourism. Herein lies the opportunity to develop bicycle tourism, promotion of which can boost sustainable tourism in a big way.
Globally, there are initiatives aimed at promoting bicycles. Interestingly, the US-based People for Bikes has developed a data-driven rating system that can assess cities and towns in terms of bicycle-readiness. The Bicycle Tour Network offers expert consultancy to develop a country or a region’s bicycle tourism sector. Its annual conferences allow members to network with each other, and features lectures and interactive sessions on topics related to the successful and safe administration of cycling events and tours and promotion of bicycle tourism.
But for bicycle tourism to grow, related infrastructure comprising cycle-stations and parking lots that are linked to road, rail, tram and underground stations is needed. Inter-modality is quite crucial in cycling mobility, which allows tourists to move easily. It has been found that cities with improved cycling facilities for residents are well positioned to generate tourism revenues with the same infrastructure.
The Sultanate, with its tough terrain and enchanting landscapes complemented by a welcoming climate (except the summer peak), is a natural destination for bicycle tourism. There are quite a number of regions in the Sultanate that can easily claim pride of place on the global bicycle tourism map. By developing several moderate distance cycle route networks tied to specific regions’ scenic, cultural and historic attractions, Oman can position itself as the most preferred bicycle tourism destination in the Middle East.
Also, this offers great opportunities for Oman’s tour operators, who can offer innovative short tours and multi-modal overnight tours, as well as self-guided tours across the Sultanate. Globally, self-guided bicycle tours are a popular and less expensive option, where the company books the lodging, transports luggage, plans the route, and provides maps and route information, and people can ride the tour on their own, making touring more accessible and affordable.
It’s quite exciting that Oman is all set to have its first Haute Route cycling event in March 2019. Haute Route Oman is expected to be one of the toughest of its kind, offering bikers a rare opportunity to explore the country’s beauty and hospitality while participating in the extreme challenge of high-altitude mountain biking.
Oman’s tourism sector is expected to be rejuvenated by key cycling events such as the Haute Route, and the already popular Tour of Oman and Muscat Century Ride. The time is ripe to develop this niche tourism segment in Oman, by adding more off-road cycling trails and establishing key infrastructure.