Rail trails attract millions of tourism dollars
HUGE economic benefits are expected to flow through the region when the Northern Rivers Rail Trail is finally up and running, according to supporters.
According to experts, countries such as Scotland, Canada, New Zealand, the US and other parts of Australia with regional rail trails, are reporting on positive economic growth.
Trails play an important role in nature-based tourism as rail trails encourage visitors to stop, stay and spend and the Northern Rail Trail hopes to get involved in the success.
Previously Deputy Premier John Barilaro said growing tourism in rural and regional NSW was a top priority for the government.
"The NSW Government has invested record funding to turbocharge rural and regional tourism and drive visitation beyond the fringes of Sydney to places like the North Coast," Mr Barilaro said.
"The positive flow-on effects from this tourism asset would be felt right across our regions with more heads on beds, and more tourist dollars ending up in the pockets of local businesspeople."
In Australia cycle tourism is a niche market with considerable potential growth.
In Victoria's snowfield region, Mansfield Shire's Tourism and Economic Development Team Leader Judy Dixon said the council definitely sees cycle tourism as a growth market.
"We have a three pronged approach with recreational cycling, road cycling and mountain biking," she said.
"The Great Victorian Rail Trail which is Australia's longest, provides wonderful recreational riding along safe trails through some spectacular countryside and the road touring cycle loops around Mansfield are well utilised by the local cycle club and the climb up Mt Buller inspires cyclists from all over to test themselves".
Ms Dixon said the mountain bike market has seen solid growth in recent years with the investment in a series of trails on Mt Buller with the Epic trail gaining international recognition.
"I particularly like that one as so much of it is downhill - taking you from the top of Mt Stirling to the valley floor and then there's transport back up," she said.
"Mansfield Shire also has a cycle friendly business approach."
Ms Dixon said the area is very busy in winter with snow sports and then in summer with mountain and lake tourism, so cycle tourism, particularly in the spring and autumn when it is most pleasant to ride is very welcome.
"We have definitely noticed an increase in business for the town and the cycling market sits nicely in the tourism shoulder times," she said.
In 2010, an international visitor survey conducted by Tourism Research Australia, revealed the total estimated expenditure for the year ending December 2010 by domestic overnight, daytrip and international overnight visitors that participated in cycling in Victoria is $362 million.
Studies undertaken in the US have shown visitors to rail trials and mountain bike trial parks can send between US$37 and US$80 a day, while in Australia,
Commercial trail-based businesses, including guiding services, equipment and passenger transport and equipment hire, create local jobs and provide opportunities to package and promote regional products to establish destination experiences.
Trail-based events, such as mountain bike competitions and adventure races, are gaining in popularity and can attract significant visitor numbers to regional locations.
Competitors and their families, spectators and organisers can boost the demand for accommodation, food and beverage, and other services.
Northern Rivers has a disused railway corridor of 130 kilometres running between Casino and Murwillumbah
According to the recent report Victoria's Trails Strategy 2014-24, rail trails can contribute millions of dollars through mountain bike tourism.
The report revealed Scotland has identified mountain biking as a product strength and has actively invested in and promoted the activity to domestic and international visitors.
In 2009, mountain biking tourism (single purpose visitation) was estimated to contribute £46.5 million A$72.56M) per annum to Scotland's economy.
When the total estimated economic contribution of visitors who participated in mountain biking during their visit was measured, the estimate increased to £116 million A$190.9M).
Likewise, Whistler Bike Park, Canada, has embraced the opportunity for economic growth through bike tourism. In 2006, the impact to the regional economy (GDP) of mountain bike tourism from the Whistler Bike Park was estimated at CA$18.8 million (A118.8M), including CA$16.5 million (A$16.45M) in direct tourism expenditure.
However, Northern Rivers Railway action group representative Bethany Shelley said she disagreed with concept of rail rials helping regions grow economically.
"I'm very unsure the rail trail will bring a lot of tourists, it sounds like these (economic) figures have been bumped up," she said.
"One of our members has visited rail trials in Victoria and he said a big problem trails was motorbikes riding on rail trails and vandalism."