Some of the biggest spenders of tourism dollars in Arkansas these days may be arriving on two wheels.
Attendees of the Fort Smith Regional Chamber of Commerce’s First Friday breakfast heard a report on the growing economic impact of motorcycle tourism in the state.
Grady Spann, Region 5 superintendent with the Arkansas Department of Parks & Tourism and an avid motorcyclist, said Arkansas has developed a national reputation as a preferred location for motorcyclists. Spann said the state’s geography — scenic vistas, unique destinations and mountain roads with plenty of “twisties” — combine to make the state a biker’s ideal riding area.
The popularity of motorcyclists is seen in events such as the recently concluded Bikes, Blues & BBQ festival held in the Fayetteville area. Spann said organizers have gauged the impact of the event in the millions, with some 400,000 statewide participants spending an average of $87.50 apiece.
And the BBB festival is one of 17 events being held in the state this year, according to Spann, creating a situation favorable to those who depend on tourism dollars for their livelihood.
An important key to attracting motorcycling tourists is to recognize who they are, Spann said. He said today’s biker is more likely male — although 10 percent of those riding are women and the number is increasing — and the median age of riders has increased over the past three decades from 27 to 41. More than 25 percent of those men are aged 50 and above.
Spann said today’s riders are not only older, they are typically more affluent than in earlier years. The projected annual income of the target audience for an upcoming motorcycle trade show in Dallas is $88,000, he said.
Motorcyclists on vacation also appreciate services that typical tourists do — hospitality, attention to their particular needs and opportunities to interact with the local community.
The cycling crowd can be reached through a variety of media. Spann said many rely on Internet connections and social media, but print advertising, particularly in motorcycle trade and travel magazines, also proves effective. He said despite the potential market, there is little advertising aimed at motorcyclists. He said Arkansas spent only $46,561 last year to promote motorcycle tourism.
Today’s bikers have older tastes in music and entertainment, facts that smart providers will recognize. Spann said those in the hospitality industry describe most motorcycle travelers as “easy keeps” — customers who check in, leave for the day, and return at night to eat and sleep. He said bikers communing with the natural beauty of the Arkansas countryside also tend to “use what is already here” rather than tax the environment.
Spann said an as-yet-untapped tourism market is the female motorcyclist. He said there is currently no exclusively women bike event in the nation. He predicted overwhelming success for the community or organizer who can put together a successful event that appropriately addresses the particular needs and wants of women who ride. ___
(c)2012 Times Record (Fort Smith, Ark.)
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