Motorcycle Events Rev Up Economically Distressed Counties

Motorcycles. We all see them, hear them, and many of us ride them. But how often do we stop to consider these riders as tourists and how they impact local economies?

This article looks at motorcycle tourism as an anchor point within rural areas for tourism development. The challenge to develop an economically distressed area is not impossible. But effective management of its tourism resources and encouraging collaboration among stakeholders can make this and other tourism initiatives successful.

As rural areas define tourism initiatives, they typically focus on local history, culture and natural environment. A common challenge for rural tourism is the lack of an anchor point. Due to this, rural communities are encouraged to approach tourism from a cooperative perspective. This collaboration can be significant because it maximizes financial resources and technical expertise. 

As motorcycle tourism becomes a potential source for economic development, rural areas are beginning to incorporate motorcycle events into their tourism opportunities. 

A rural county or area interested in tourism initiatives should examine the background knowledge of local resources and stakeholders’ perspectives. This knowledge is especially important to determine if the county is a motorcycle friendly community. Information gathered from this feasibility evaluation is essential in outlining a marketing plan to attract motorcycle tourists.

Connecting Motorcycle Tourism and Rural Tourism 

Tourism has been recognized as a key approach to rural development and poverty alleviation. Undeveloped areas, such as rural counties, seek to incorporate events to jump-start or enhance their destination appeal. 

Tourism events such as fairs and festivals can spark cooperation between communities and stakeholders. As with most tourism initiatives, especially in rural communities, the goal is to create products and experiences that encourage tourists to spend their money locally, stay longer, and entices them to plan subsequent visits.

According to TBM, a magazine published in the United Kingdom, motorcycle adventure companies seek to appeal to the motorcyclist by offering “out of the ordinary” experiences, or a chance to experience a “life-changing event.” While some riders thrive on riding solo, other riders seek to ride with small groups or a companion. 

Motorcycle adventure companies guide riders through landscapes that require the rider to change with the natural terrain, environment and weather conditions. This includes the opportunity to make personal connections with the residents of local communities along the route. 

Riders experience a transition from their cognitive life influences to a state of sensory awareness. As they ride and become more aware of the visual stimuli and sensory emotions, riders become one with their machine. They experience a release of mental stress and solutions for problems seem to emerge.

Regarding cultural tourists, these tourists typically earn more money and spend more while on vacation. They are likely to spend more time in an area, stay at hotels, shop, tend to be older and include more women. Cultural tourists are similar to motorcycle tourists as they share the same qualities. 

A recent study conducted by the state of Ohio finds that on average a visitor spends $365 per night and $111 per day visiting an area. These averages are good news for destinations that attract motorcycle riders as they average two to four days in a visited area.

Analysis of a Distressed County

The Appalachian Regional Commission ranks a county’s economic status on three indicators: three-year average unemployment rate, per capita income and poverty rate as compared to national averages. The economic categories include distressed, at-risk, transitional, competitive and attainment. 

Distressed counties are the most economically depressed counties and rank in the worst 10% of the nation’s counties. Unfortunately, many Appalachian counties fit the distressed category, including a few in Ohio.

Let’s look at Meigs County. Founded in 1819, early settlers of Meigs County made a living through coal mining, iron ore excavation and salt processing. Of the county’s 429 square miles of land, only 1% is considered urban. 

The Civil War came through Meigs County in July 1863 when Confederate General John Hunt Morgan crossed the Ohio River near Cincinnati. Meigs County became famous as a result of Morgan being cornered by Union troops at Buffington Island. 

Meigs County holds claim to the oldest courthouse in the Northwest Territory, which was built in 1848. Being a rural county, Meigs has an array of country stores, fresh produce markets and artisan crafts. 

The beginning

In order to develop a viable tourism marketing program for Meigs County or another area interested in a tourism initiative, a three-step approach will need to be adopted. First, conduct in-person interviews. Second, a review of county resources. And third, a content review of academic articles in related areas. 

To understand perceptions of motorcycle tourism, specifically, the acceptance of motorcycle tourism in the county, in-depth interviews with area stakeholders will need to be conducted. Participants should be asked about their perceived value of the county’s heritage, key attractions, in addition to their opinions about motorcycle tourism. 

These interviews should not exceed 60 minutes. The ideas and attitudes expressed as part of these interviews will aid in defining the sustainability of this marketing initiative and help lay a foundation of community support.

For example, in 2014, the Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism launched a tourism initiative targeted to motorcycle tourists via a redesigned web site. 

Like Meigs County, the state of Arkansas has miles of two-lane scenic roads, motorcycle friendly establishments and hosts motorcycle tourism events. 

The Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism viewed these intrinsic resources as an opportunity for economic development. 

As these parameters mirror Meigs County, albeit on a larger scale, it matches the initial criteria to be used as the primary model for this marketing plan and tourism initiative.

A look at Athens County, Ohio, provides another example. In 2018 Athens County played host to more than 200 members of the Vulcan Riders Association’s Central Ohio Chapter for the Vulcan Riders 2018 National Rally – East. 

“Athens was chosen by the Columbus Vulcan Riders Association, specifically for riding on Ohio’s Windy 9, one of the first curated collections of motorcycle trails in the Midwest and the only one in Ohio,” says Paige Alost, executive director of the Athens County Visitors Bureau 

Motorcycle tourism is a popular method of tourism development in rural areas due to its lower expenses, collaborative stakeholders, and the bundling of resources to overcome the lack of an anchor point. 

These cooperatives could outline a series of clustered attractions and collectively brand the area to secure the tourism initiative. By incorporating motorcycle rides and events as part of the tourism initiative, it may provide an operational pathway for a revitalization.

Copyright 2024 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.