The development of a trail is a multi-faceted process of which trail construction is but a component of the overall project. If you want your trail system to reach its full potential you will have to address the various product development components required to expose the trail to the marketplace writes AmaRider’s Meurant Botha.
In terms of marketability, trail owners often overlook the fact that their trails are part of the larger regional attraction. In the case of high-traffic tourism regions like Cape Town or Durban, trail operators benefit from an existing influx of tourists and you’ll see that your visitor statistics will reflect this.
If you are situated further from the major tourism routes, you will have a much tougher time to generate substantial visitation and will have to place a special emphasis on destination marketing. Unless you are fortunate enough to offer 60-100km of trails, your trail system is always going to be a stop-over and not a multi-day destination capable of attracting tourism revenue beyond the permit office. It is therefore important to align yourself with other product owners in the region to enable the region to market to, and attract visitors as a collective. In case your region is lacking in trail infrastructure, this might mean having to partner with aligned businesses like hotels and restaurants. The easiest structure through which to achieve this is the local tourism office although the capacity and effectiveness of your local organisation varies from town to town.
Where local tourism office capacity is lacking it might be necessary to step in and drive the marketing yourself. In any event, you are most likely to find that your pro-activity will be well received by tourism related groups operating in your area as they are normally very hungry for quality product information.
It starts with signage
Although we have seen a big increase in formalised trail product development, much of South Africa’s singletrack information is still in the domain of local knowledge and requires some form of guiding to expose new users to the treasures out there. This is particularly true of non-commercial trails as commonly found in and around towns and cities. These local trails must however not be overlooked when looking at a region’s trail offering as they often represent some of the best riding, created over many years by passionate riders.
Orientating guests and visitors without proper maps and route markers is a near impossible task so proper signage should be the first consideration in any product development campaign.
When considering which trails to signpost, it is important to decide whether it is possible to maintain the integrity of the signage over the long term. There is nothing more frustrating than having signage stolen or vandalised and of course your visitor, followed by the permit sellers, bear the brunt of any breakdowns.
Just as important as orientation is the topic of visitor safety, an unfortunate but real issue that must be addressed. You can spare yourself a lot of orientation trauma with a route design structure comprising of flowing, independent loops or where inner shortcuts of the main loop gives you shorter route options.
The most difficult route structure to mark out is where a series of loops run from several spine trails as we’ve just built in the Simonsberg outside Stellenbosch. The Muratie/Delheim/Uitkyk estates boast more than 20 singletracks but you need a bit of local knowledge and ride time to pick your way through them.
As a designer I wanted the user to explore the area by choosing their own loops. This unfortunately means that the user must read trail markers and occasionally use a map which is never straight forward. I will accept defeat and will now re-sign the routes to guide users through a series of primary loops to build a ride of varying distances and assist permit resellers with easier instructions. Hopefully on subsequent visits, users will explore off these main routes, but I have a feeling that the majority of users will stick to what they know until guided.
From a risk management point of view we advocate that singletracks are individually named to assist in orientation and for trail managers to steer clear of colour based loop identification as this can cause confusion with the standard green/blue/black difficulty ratings. Surely The Rim Trail is a much nicer trail name than The Blue Route.
Once you’ve signposted your trails, it is important to draw up legible maps. It is perhaps a good idea to get some constructive criticism from other riders and friends to ensure that your map is ready for public consumption. There are many jokes about men, maps and asking for directions. This problem is exacerbated and taken to a whole new level when interrogating the man who drew the map. Trust me…
In terms of product development, descriptive trail names are much more likely to become part of local knowledge and this adoption of local trail names in general conversation is very common in trail meccas like Whistler, Moab and Park City. Once your community of non-riders adopt the trail names, it makes direction, orientation and response so much easier. Who doesn’t want to go ride The Discombobulator on BC’s North Shore?!
Develop an events calendar
Throughout the process it is a great idea to use events to fast track product development. Events are the perfect way to profile your trail system and drive the production of maps, elevation profiles and increase signage.
I always say that you can use events as marketing that pays for itself as a well-run event should at least break even. The stories that surround an event offers multiple opportunities to speak to a wide audience and profile not only your trail system, but the region as a whole. Many attractions measure the public relation spinoff as the event ‘profit’.
It is not always about trying to get as many riders as possible to enter. You’ll find that a smaller crowd has a much higher quality experience and that the regions attractions have limited capacity anyway.
The print media are always keen to profile new trails and much can be gained from a well-coordinated media event.
Product marketing is a continuous task as there are numerous offerings out there, all vying for the bicycle visitors’ attention. Also don’t forget to keep your trails in top condition as a high quality visitor experience is paramount to your marketing strategy.
That said, I’d better go fix those route markers…