Published by Lyn on 23 February 2016
Do you want to attract more cyclists to your accommodation business in France? Here's how.
How to be cycle-friendly
I often get enquiries from campsite, hotel, B&B and gite owners asking how they can make their business more appealing to cyclists in France. I'm posting a version of my usual response here in the hope of helping accommodation providers to become more welcoming towards cyclists.
As far as I can see, the criteria for being 'cycle-friendly' is quite simple (this may sound like a long list but it's really not, and much of it you will already be doing for yor existing guests).
Firstly, there is one non-negotiable, must-have item on the list and that's secure bike parking. Ideally, this means there should be a storage room, a lockable garage or barn, or a utility room where bikes can be locked overnight. If not, guests should be able to bring their bikes indoors – into their hotel room, or into a communal space in the gite, apartment or cabin. It's important to remember that some bikes are worth thousands of euros but, even if they're not, they still have sentimental value to the rider, and may provide their main (or only) method of transportation on their holiday. For travel insurance policies to be valid, secure bike parking is a must.
Having good storage available can be a good indicator that you take the needs of cyclists seriously. If you don't have existing bike storage facilities, investing in a bike shed that is of solid construction and appropriate to the needs of cyclists can help them feel comfortable that their wheels are safe during their stay with you. (They will also be likely to recommend you to other cyclists and send more business your way).
Regardless of where you offer to store bikes, the No. 1 priority should simply be to ensure they are safe and secure when not in use.
Next on the list is a series of optional extras that would endear you to cyclists and make their stay more enjoyable.
In no particular order:
• Provide laundry facilities or somewhere for cyclists to air their cycling clothes
• Have cycling information available for your guests.
This can be as easy as talking to your local tourist information centre and requesting cycle maps or local route information for your reception area or welcome pack. You could also order a copy of a respected guidebook that covers routes in your area and have this on hand to share with guests and for them to borrow for their route-planning. For instance, if you live in Brittany, there is the excellent Brittany's Green Ways guidebook and the Nantes-Brest Canal guidebook for cyclists and walkers (also in e-book for cyclists on the move). For elsewhere in the country, Lonely Planet's Cycling in France guide offers a good spread of routes, Cycling Southern France, Cycling the Canal du Midi, Cycling the French Alps, Cycling the River Loire, The Grand Traverse of Massive Central, and The Way of St James: A Cyclist's Guide are all good for route suggestions and plannnng advice. We have more guidebooks for cycling in France here. Consider also picking up an IGN or Michelin map that covers your area.
• Find out where your nearest bike hire outlet is.
Have the details to hand and offer to help arrange bike hire for your guests if needed. If there aren't any bike hire shops locally, check to see if there is a bike delivery service for your area. Better still, make a small investment in some bikes and allow your guests to borrow them during their stay. Don't forget to check your insurance policy to ensure you are covered in case of accidents.
• Find out where your nearest bike shop is for repairs, spare parts, etc, and having the information handy for guests
• Have some basic tools available.
You don't need a bicycle repair workshop, but having a few maintenance tools on hand, a pump, and a puncture repair kit would have cyclists singing your praises. Likewise a hose and a small area where they can wash down their bikes.
• Internet access.
As said to Elan in the comments below when he wrote to suggest including this, not having internet access for guests in the 21st century (preferably wifi and preferably free) is like not having electricity or water. It's especially useful for cyclists as it can help them to plan their next day's cycling (and to check the weather).
• Try and be flexible.
While it's completely understandable that gite owners in particular prefer week-long bookings or minumum night stays, we're finding that accommodation partners who offer a bit of flexibility are having the most success with cyclists. Often touring cyclists will only want to stay one or two nights en route to somewhere else, in which case B&Bs and hotels may be most suitable. However self-catering accommodation is also popular with cyclists, in particular those travelling with their own cars. Often they will want to stop for two or three nights in one place, explore that area by bike and then move on. Offering shorter stays – or at least keeping the option open for people to enquire about shorter stays – can attact cyclists during the quieter months, or perhaps fill a late gap in your bookings if you have no other options.
Many partners listed here provide guests with a 'welcome pack' of basic supplies. This is a great idea, especially for hungry cyclists who are arriving having burnt up all their energy and eaten all their supplies en route. While you don't necessarily need to supply full meals or a grocery store of goodies (especially if you're a campsite, hostel or self-catering owner), information on local shops and restaurants is always useful too. Keep in mind, too, how you might be able to help cyclists who are arriving on public holidays, on Sundays or after hours when the shops have shut – see Elan's comments at the end of this article for a first-hand account of why this might be helpful. For cyclists having ridden a full day, it's a much more challenging task to get back on their bike and ride another however many more kilometres (often in the dark) to find food when they don't have access to a car. (I have an article here about public holidays in France and how cyclists can avoid going hungry).
Why being bike-friendly is good for business
According to statistics presented at the Velo-City Global Conference in Copenhagen in 2010, and based on a study commissioned by the French Ministry of Sustainable Development, more than 7.2 million people cycle while on holiday in France every year; more than 1.2 million of these people are foreign visitors. That makes cycling the second most popular holiday activity in France after walking. (Email me if you'd like more info on the bicycle enconomy in France.)
France is becoming more cycle-friendly every year. More than 8000km of dedicated green ways and routes have been built for cyclists and pedestrians over the last 10 years and another 5000km are in the planning stage.
In peak season, some 8000 people cycle every day in Annecy, 9000 on Ile de Ré and 6000 in Chambéry. But it doesn't really matter where your accommodation business is based because around 57% of cycling holidays in France are taken on the coast, leaving 43% of bike holidays to be taken inland along canals and rivers or into the mountains of the Alps and the Pyrenees.
This is all good news if you have a tourism business that can be geared towards these cycle tourists, and most accommodation businesses can be – my list above illustrates how easy it is to do.
Getting cyclists to stay with you
Once you've done all of the above, you need to get cyclists riding to your door and not past it. That means including your bike-friendly facilities and local cycling routes and ideas on your website and in your marketing material. Don't forget to get listed on cycling websites like this the one you're reading. We have an ever-growing database of accommodation providers that we've screened and are happy to recommend to our users. You can zoom into the map below or see our Where to stay section.
Remember too to include your cycling credentials in your mainstream marketing and advertising on sites such as booking.com, TripAdvisor, Cottages4You, Home and Away Holiday Rentals, Owners Direct and the like.
I hope that all helps – happy to help further on the above address or via the comments below.