According to a recent article published on nzherald.co.nz, the economic value of mountain biking in Rotoruaâ€™s Whakarewarewa Forest has been estimated at a whopping five times its annual timber revenue and continues to climb faster than your average lycra-clad road whippet.
Mountain biking in Rotorua is netting $10.2 million annually, a huge chunk of which is going straight into the local economy and tourism sector. Who would have thought the humble bicycle could generate more revenue than forestry? After all, forestry is only one of New Zealandâ€™s steadfast industries with a total worth of over $5 billion a year, equating to 3% of GDP.
Whakarewarewa is one of many forests full of mountain biking trails across New Zealand, but is fortunate enough to have a group of dedicated people (largely volunteers) who have worked the malleable soil into a work of art. The tracks suit all skill levels, with everything from meandering trials through native bush and Californian Pines to some of the most difficult (and dangerous) mountain biking in the Southern Hemisphere (Ed: if you donâ€™t believe me, check out this video).
So how did Whakarewarewa go from being a local best-kept secret to a destination of choice for thousands of international riders each year? The answer: a great deal of hard work on the track, some intelligent marketing, and finally, several innovative business collaborations.
First off, word of mouth started to spread like wildfire and the Whakarewarewa tracks became popular with riders from all over New Zealand keen on a weekend getaway. Then in 2007, Riderotorua.com was set up to promote the tracks on offer and it has evolved to feature a comments and rating section for each trail within the forest. The site also features a directory of local businesses, accommodation, bike shops and bike taxis. There is also redwoods.co.nz, with daily updates on the condition of the tracks and maps of the area. Within a few minutes, a rider from anywhere in the world can find out about the tracks on offer, download a map and book accommodation.
Last year, Ride Rotorua teamed up with Destination Rotorua Marketing and local businesses to produce a DVD profiling the tracks that was distributed in Australian Mountain Bike Magazine â€“ Australiaâ€™s most popular cycling publication with a readership of over 75,000 keen mountain bikers. The accompanying article described Rotorua as having â€śThe worldâ€™s best mountain bike trailsâ€ť.
Taking advantage of Air New Zealandâ€™s twice weekly flights between Sydney and Rotorua, the riders started pouring in â€“ and havenâ€™t stopped. Rotorua Airport and local businesses are looking at ways to make the process easier for international riders, such as by offering a bike assembly area at the airport where they can leave the box behind and pedal straight into town or to the forest.
There are currently plans for a second DVD this March, which will showcase the wider Rotorua and Central Park area. Local business groups are also working closely with bike companies and shops across the Tasman to try and organize product launches and events in Rotorua â€“ with some local businesses even offering to pay the airfares.
Best of all, unlike the trees in the forest that can only be sold once, the forest trails are a sustainable investment that will keep generating a return for years to come.
There are lessons here for almost any kind of small business.