MobilityCyclingEncouraging Cycling Tourism with Digital Storytelling

Encouraging Cycling Tourism with Digital Storytelling

This article was written for by Krešimir Herceg, an entrepreneur aiming to enhance the leisure cycling experience. In doing so, he wants to help destinations reduce CO2 emissions and overcrowding at spots of cultural and natural significance. Krešimir is the founder of Bikademy, a marketing professional, and regional coordinator for active and cycling tourism development in the Croatian county of Brod-Posavina.

The number of bikes sold in the European Union skyrocketed during the COVID-19 pandemic. Compared to the previous twelve months, 11% more bikes were sold in 2020, a year when the whole world was on pause. And sales continue to rise.

The pandemic evoked a need for movement, travel, and exploration, even for those who previously didn’t cycle.

Therefore, it’s not a surprise that more and more users – as tourists – are finding the bike a perfect way to explore destinations. It’s slow enough to truly experience the surroundings, but fast enough to see more compared to walking without the need for a car. It’s also a big win for the cities we visit.

Cycling tourists love exploring, connecting with locals, and spending money on authentic gastro and cultural experiences.

So, cycling tourism has risen in popularity, and with it more and more destinations are building an industry around it by creating safer infrastructure, developing routes with all the markings and signs, and printing maps and brochures.

However, even though sea, sand, and sun are not enough anymore, digital innovations that tell stories and interact with cyclists are still not so common. The time has come for this to change.

Digitising Cycling – A New Frontier

Digital innovations can highlight hidden urban gems, making the adventurous prospect of exploring by bike all the more enticing.

Many cities have a “commitment to promoting cycling culture and improving cycling conditions”, Bicycle Mayor of Tirana, Albania, Iden Petraj told us. Tourism’s part in this is often overlooked as we focus on getting local households and commuters on their bikes.

That’s why I came up with Bikademy. It is an app that helps cities and wider regions, as tourist destinations, position themselves as desirable for cycling tourists, while, on the user side, motivates tourists to cycle in those destinations.

As a marketer, I did my research.

Although some users like the straightforwardness of a paper bike map, others reported they enjoy the flexibility of designing their own cycling route.

A product that wants to make an impact had to be fun and interactive. So, as the name suggests, Bikademy is designed as a virtual academy, offering two ways to get involved with the city (or region):

  • Studies – information about points of interest.
  • Exams – up to seven micro-locations that tourists need to visit and check-in via the app to be rewarded with a cycling bag, bidon (water bottle), or other useful cycling tools.

However, the reward system is not the only way we motivate tourists to get cycling. Storytelling is the key! And every destination has a unique story worth telling.

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A welcoming, wide cycle path, Zagreb. Image credit: Bikademy / Krešimir Herceg

Storytelling as Motivation

At Bikademy, we develop creative video and social media campaigns for Studies and use the power of storytelling to attract new audiences and connect them with cities.

For example, for Croatia’s capital, Zagreb, we chose a mix of well-known and off the beaten track locations. These can be cycled as a 25-kilometer route in a single day, or as a longer tour of 75 kilometres split over multiple trips. This flexibility adds a lot of appeal for cyclists of all abilities.

It has proven to be a hit not only with tourists, but with locals as well. For example, a group of friends from bike club Rama cycled the Exams in Zagreb, won rewards, and shared their experience with friends who later did the same.

“We usually ride with the desire to get to know the landscape of Croatia (and beyond), and Bikademy Exams gave us another goal – checking off locations from the list, seeing places we might not usually see and trying to fit all of the Exams in one day”, Gordana Gregl reports.

Those experiences are remembered through photographs and videos shared on social media and utilised by Bikademy as user-generated content, which incentivise others to try the cycle routes for themselves.

Cycling is also an effective way of helping citizens reconnect with their urban environment.

Kristina Cerin, another user explained: “When my husband and I found out about Bikademy, we decided to see what it is about and had a great time planning our Zagreb Study route. We even found out about Savica Lake, our new favourite for a Sunday ride or walk.”

Savica Lake is a peaceful green oasis hidden from the busy Zagreb streets and avenues that is enjoyed by both locals and tourists. Helping people discover what’s beyond the city limits is just one example of how interactive digital storytelling can connect the city and the natural environment.

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Cycling by Savica Lake. Image credit: Bikademy / Krešimir Herceg

A New Era for Bikeable Cities

Offering digital innovations in cities can be a new and exciting way for not only professional, but also recreational cyclists to explore the world on two wheels. Both Gordana and Kristina started their Bikademy journey as locals and continued as tourists.

Such innovations make it easy to connect the real and digital worlds. And more people on bikes means fewer people in cars, fewer crowds, and lower CO2 emissions. It’s only natural since cycling tourism has not only health and environmental, but also economic, social, and cultural benefits.

Cycling tourism is constantly gaining popularity for exploring new destinations and opening a gateway to the beauty of nature for urbanites. However, with the leveraging of digital technologies such as Bikademy, there are new ways to share a destination’s story, connect the cyclist community, and create new stories to inspire us to get moving in a sustainable way.

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