Editor's note: This article was originally written in Italian and translated by Giulia Biagiotti. You can find the original article here.
For a while now, bike tours and cycle tourism has been an established trend across Europe. For Italy, it seems that this year will be a great one for bike tours across the country as the this emerging trend continues to grow and fully embraces its potential.
For this interview, we're delighted to speak to Matilde Atorino, CEO of BIKENBIKE, a social platform founded in 2016 that aims to connect travellers who love exploring on two wheels with locals who enjoy showing off their destination in the same way.
Cycle tourism: facts and figures
As reported by Twissen in his article, cycle tourism seems to be an emerging trend both in Europe and in Italy. According to the European Cyclists' Federation, there's an estimated 2.3 billion bicycle journeys taken each year within the EU, generating revenues of €44 billion.
In Italy, the Italian National Tourism Agency reports an economic revenue from cycle tourism of about €3.2 billion per year. The good news here is that Italy seems to have understood the potential of this emerging sector and the recently approved National Tourism Strategy Plan includes building national infrastructures dedicated to cyclists amongst other strategic projects for tourism mobility.
Investments are booming as well. Take the initiative by the Lombardy Region for example, who recently organised the competition "Promotion of cycle tourism in Lombardy" with funding of over €9 million for companies active in this sector. Even the Italian startups are eager to unlock the full potential of this outdoor passion.
Cycle tourism in Italy
So, is cycle tourism a real trend that's growing in Italy? What's the profile of a typical cyclist? What solutions does the market provide for sporty and passionate people?
We asked Matilde Atorino, CEO of BIKENBIKE, a social platform created with love and passion for this form of travel and exploration. Their mission? To connect enthusiastic bike tourists with locals who love introducing their city or town on a bicycle. The platform facilitates the encounter among tourists and bike enthusiasts along with other services related to cycle tourism at a destination, such as bike tours and equipment.
The marketing efforts of cycle tourism in Italy has been growing a lot recently. In your experience, is it something that has always been around or a rising travel trend?I think we can say both, as the two can work perfectly together.
Cycle tourism is a well-known outdoor activity and it's already very popular in Germany, France and now Italy as well. Italy is increasingly becoming a trendy destination for cyclists. While this is not a revolutionary activity, it has been receiving growing interest for many reasons.
In fact, cycle tourism itself is becoming a growing trend as well thanks to new social and economic behaviours. Among them, the rising interest towards more sustainable types of tourism has fueled cycle tourism: it is not only about reducing environmental pollution caused by current transport systems, it's also about addressing the economic sustainability of tourism.
For instance, in Italy, cycle tourism can unlock the immense potential of realities linked to smaller cities and other destinations that have often an incredibly historic and artistic heritage. Traveling by bike "forces you" to notice even the smallest details of the environment around you.
And think about the possibilities offered by assisted pedaling systems, which, if supported by other industry players, can help people consider the idea of an entire trip by bike.
For today, our challenge is to make cycle tourism grow in popularity.
We're already seeing several political and economic factors that can help promote cycle tourism as a sustainable travel option thanks. Also, cycle tourism does not necessarily require physical preparation: cycling is a very democratic form of transport, you just need to choose the tour experience that best suits you.
As for those who have already had the chance to experience a bike ride, they know that its "slowness" is by no means synonymous with boredom, au contraire. Riding a bike is really fun as it allows you to engage both with mind and body with everything you experience during the ride. Biking is cool. What matters is not the destination but the trip itself, paraphrasing Jack Sparrow :)
What are the 3 main reasons why people become passionate about bike tours?
You learn to appreciate the simplicity the bicycle offers, which forces the rider to bring only the essentials, whether you go to town or decide to go on a half day bike trip. Once you've experienced the simplicity of the bike, it's difficult to go back.
Sometimes, biking creates a sort of dependence and one starts to feel, like me, a sort of physical addiction to it. This is the moment when cycling becomes a choice I make for my mental and physical well-being.
Also by riding a bike, whether it is to go to work or for a biking trip, you experience the region that surrounds you in a completely different way. In the summer 2016, I went solo-traveling through the Silent Way in Cilento, travelling 600km by bike. Although I live in the Cilento region, a land that I've known since I was a little girl, this was a completely new experience and felt an emotion that no other mode of transport would ever offer me. It was like visiting it for the first time.
In your opinion, what changes can we expect in cycle tourism in Italy in the coming years?
There are 10 cycling projects that have been officially announced during the Bike Summit in Rome, by Minister Delrio. These are very important projects taking place from the north to south of Italy. There will be a route to go around Lake Garda and another one is planned to cycle from Puglia to Basilicata. If these initiatives are communicated, marketed and managed in the right way, they can greatly contribute to the growth of cycle tourism in Italy.
Even when it comes to communicating the idea of cycling as an alternative mode of transport - perhaps I am personally more sensitive to the topic - it seems we are in a very positive moment. People always say that there are many opportunities but we need to understand how and if these opportunities will be explored and sustained in the long run.
It becomes crucial to educate people who are decreasing their reliance on cars to support and develop alternatives, and this does not apply just to cars. I am talking about initiatives like restricted traffic areas, speed limits, possibly electric public transport, car pooling, bikes and motorbikes.
What are the opportunities for the Italian market?
Let's take a look at the solutions tied to the sustainability of uncovered destinations as well as an increase in the production of bicycle accessories, where Italy has already developed a powerful industry. For those involved in the bike economy, it's very interesting to see the ENIT and Legambiente's estimations on GDP growth for each single biked meter (such as 2017 Report "L’A Bi Ci di Legambiente") where the bicycle is an acknowledged substitute for traditional transport systems.
Just think about the micro-economic effects for local shops, museums, bars and so on when it comes to attracting new visitors in an area where you typically would not stop if you were passing through by car or by bus.
BIKENBIKE Start up: Innovating in cycle tourism
How did you come up with the concept of BIKENBIKE?
Often startups are created among young people who study and work in the digital industry, such as universities. BIKENBIKE, instead, comes from my passion for the bike.
I started working on the concept without any digital background and maybe this penalized me when I first started, especially if we compare my experience to one of those startups that benefited from a different environment. For instance, if I had more access to developer skills, I would have accelerated the start up time and gone on a simpler path. On the other hand, my great passion for cycle tourism has allowed me to develop the skills that are essential to take on this new path.
Everything started when I asked myself this: How do I find peers to practice cycle tourism? What if I just want to share an easy ride outside the city?
I realized that the web did not offer a direct and simple way to connect bike enthusiasts with bike tours around the world. I started talking to a friend, a developer, towards the end of 2015 and together we created a first draft of BIKENBIKE platform, incorporating a business element into the model.
To date, BIKENBIKE employs 6 people who support the project, from the marketing and finance, to the more technical side of the business.
What added value is BIKENBIKE offering its customers?
BIKENBIKE is a structured platform that allows people to the perfect bike tour for their next trip. They can be users who are already familiar with the bicycle environment but also for "pedal beginners". The platform aims to meet everyone's needs which is why we promote both paid tours organised by operators (who we call "Bike Ambassadors Pro"), as well as tours managed by private individuals ("Bike Ambassadors", who can ask for a token fee).
The main goal is to share a proposed bike itinerary with all those interested in joining and exploring less known routes and paths.
We call those who organise bike tours "Bike Ambassadors" and though it's not original, it aims to represent our core concept: to help cycle tourism spread through promoters of sustainable tourism and unveiled destinations, within a social and sharing environment.
Eventually, BIKENBIKE wants to facilitate the transformation of a passion - that of the bike - into an occasional gain, in line with the principles of sharing economy.
Here is an example of my free bike tour which combines cycle tourism and street art on a route that goes from Rome to CVTà Street Fest, an event organised by the well-known artist Alice Pasquini in Civitacampomarano, in the southern Molise region.
What's the message that BIKENBIKE wants to spread?
Our is a message is about innovation and sharing our passion for the bike, especially with those who have never biked before. It is why we created a social platform. Additionally, we want to replace the traditional idea of cycle tourism and make this sport cooler than it is today. To do so, we have focused our resources on improving communication, visuals and styles to attract and engage a younger target market.
Why a social marketplace for cycle tourism?
What makes BIKENBIKE a social marketplace?
Social platforms are already available on our marketplace, where you can create a profile on the platform itself, get feedback and pictures on your tours, send messages and so on. What makes BIKENBIKE special is that it applies this model exclusively to cycle tourism. The idea of making BIKENBIKE a social platform came to us very naturally once we structured the offer for Ambassadors (private) and Ambassador Pros (tour operator). For instance, once you sign up for a tour, you have access to the profile of the organiser, including links to their social media profiles and a messaging service within the platform.
With regards to the back-end processes, we want to support users' self-regulation where we monitor published content and moderate user behaviours, but we do not impose any limitations. For instance, we don't have rules on prices. That being said, we do have a section dedicated to platform behaviour rules and at the moment, I write personally to those who show behaviours that are not in line with BIKENBIKE's values.
Everyone can sign up to BIKENBIKE for free and it's free to publish and share your tour. At the moment, we use Paypal to process the deposit users pay to book a tour organized by an Ambassador Pro and this deposit is our service fee. Then, people can complete the payment in person, not through the platform, but according to the tour operators' terms and conditions.
In a first phase (we've been online since March 10th), reservations and payments between private individuals used to take place outside the platform at the discretion of the bicycle ambassador and BIKENBIKE did not take any fees.
Today BIKENBIKE's platform is mobile responsive. Is there an app coming out anytime soon?
Given the importance of mobile devices, making the BIKENBIKE platform mobile responsive became immediately crucial. We are currently investing heavily in marketing to increase the platform and brand visibility, but we are already working on developing an app to provide our users with new features.
Where do you see BIKENBIKE in 5 years from now?
If things go the way I wish, we would like to expand the platform with new features. There is good potential for the platform structure to accommodate tours abroad and I believe BIKENBIKE can help foreign tourists find the best routes in Italy and vice-versa.
At the moment the website is in both Italian and English and users can tours based on the languages spoken by Bike Ambassadors. This multi-lingual aspect of the platform gives it an international look and encourages the encounter of people with different backgrounds who want to share their passion for bikes for a new and more sustainable way of travel.
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