Saturday, 17 November 2012

Revisiting the Goldfields ...

OK, This is an up front boredom alert ... you may wish to cease reading this blog post now because this post is just for me ... and maybe the two other people on this planet who have an interest in the economic benefits of bicycle tourism (hi Dan, hi Tom).


OK, so you didn't listen to my warning - well from here on in it is all on you, but let's go ...

First we need to tie a couple of threads together.

Thread one: you need to understand something about me and it is quite well explained in this diagram derived from one of the many personality surveys that are available.  This was one of the expensive ones and is my Team Management Profile (better acknowledge TMSProfile at this point so I don't get into copyright problems):


There are four things I bring your attention to:  (1) when it comes to relating to others, I'm an extreme introvert, in fact I got a 29/30 on this scale and I swear to this day that the only reason I didn't get 30/30 is that I must have misread one of the survey questions.

Secondly, I am quite creative (but with a little bit of practicality) in how I go about using information, which to me means that I'm good at looking at information and seeing things, and in particular solutions, that others don't. 

Next, skipping to the bottom chart, I much prefer to be flexible in how I organise myself and others ... that means I don't like locking things in, and I'm less than clear in conveying what I want to do because if I'm clear then that may reduce my future options and well ... what if there is a better option that I don't yet know about?

As an aside, this is why Kim spends her week days pulling her hair out (or preferably mine)  when she asks me my plans for the weekend and I respond with something like "I'm thinking of going for a ride out along McMcCall road south of Queenstown or I might head up to Launceston and do Sally's Ride or I could go for a paddle down to Bruny" (turns out so far that I'm sitting at home doing this blog post, but while I'm distracted by this thought has anyone actually cycled out Mt McCalls Road to Franklin River  - it looks like it could be a good ride to me.)

Finally, and this is the important one ... I've got a pretty strong bias to being analytical when I make decisions and why, as I noted in my previous blog post, that perspectives fascinate me.

Anyway, bring all this together and I'm (apparently) a 'creator-innovator' which basically means I am very curious and like to solve problems ... provided it is sufficiently interesting.  A spin off of this is that if I see something that I don't think looks right, well I can become a bit obsessive about it.

Herein enters the second thread that you need to understand ... back in 2009 a study was published by Associate Professor Sue Beeton titled "Cycling in Regional Communities - A longitudinal Study of the Murray to Mountains Rail Trail" (the MMT report).

Now in the main, I found this report very interesting and well presented.  What got to me was the results that riders to the region spent on average $244 per person per day and specifically that they spent on average $123 per person per day on food.

wtf?

Now, I'd just got back from a three month cycle tour around Europe with Christie at the time that I first saw this report and I was darn sure that we had spent no where bloody near that amount of money per day (we barely spent that per week) and I was pretty sure that every other cyclist that I had met in all my travels also spent no where near that amount of money.

My version of pre-dinner drinks and snacks in a French Campground.
Dinner was a french bagel and cheese.
Furthermore, I had to ask myself - how could you spent $123 per person per day on food? ... I mean I have a huge appetite but I still think I would struggle to spend that much money even if I really, really tried (and remembering that many bike trails have you spending the night in small towns, so meal options are generally cafes, pubs and low to mid end restaurants - not upper crust places where you can blow your dosh easily).

Kim and my attempt at blowing big money on the Goldfields Track - Breakfast $44.
So presented with something I couldn't compute, I did what any severely introverted, analytically biased, creator-innovator type would do ... I obsessed about it ... for years ... and slowly but surely I started to gather information to see if this could possibly be true.

For instance on my recent(ish) month long jaunt over to Canada and the USA, where I stayed in motels virtually every night, ate out or got takeaways for most meals and didn't stint myself in pretty much anything ... I was only able to spend a grand total of  $8,915.21 (note the obsession in cost gathering to the nearest cent) and that includes all the hundreds of dollars of bank fee charges and my flights which I bought at the last minute so were quite expensive ($2,400).

This means that, excluding the airfare,  I only managed to spent on average $197 per day.  


Do you know how pathetic that makes me feel?  I didn't even manage to make the average spend of a cyclist here in Australia and I had no one to share accomodationexpenses with, I had car hire and fuel expenses, train expenses, I went on an organised kayak tour ...  all these expenses that cyclists don't have and I still couldn't even  make the average spend.

I felt like a failure.  I still do.

I'm sorry Canada, I'm sorry USA and I'm particularly sorry to you Amtrak ... I feel like I let you all down, and that's not good enough ... especially when you offer such cool food ...


Fast forward to last month and with our first anniversary looming, and Kim keen to go on a long weekend bike ride along the Goldfields Track I saw my opportunity to once again bring out my bicycle, credit card and most importantly: my calculator and get a first hand understanding of how the heck I could meet Victoria's expectations of what I should spend as a bicycle tourist.

Without warning Kim of my ulterior motive for this trip, I handed over my credit card to her to book the accommodation and off we went ...  here's what I found:

Accomodation

According to the MMT study, trail users used a variety of accommodation from cheap camping to luxury B&B's with an average cost of $53 per person per night.

We went for nice (3 stars or better), but not excessive accommodation so I expected we'd blitz this number getting me off to a good start.  I was disappointed: our average spend was $114 per night (cheapest $75, most expensive $160), or just $57 per person per night.  Hardly a blitzing.

Food and Beveridge

This was the big one.  We ate out every night, we usually had a bottle of wine, a few ciders or bourbons and we bought plenty of snacks for the trail, and yet still we only managed to spend a total of $555 over the four days (and this included meeting some friends at the airport and shouting them dinner).  This amounts to just $69 per person per day, well below the required $123.

Fuel/Transport

It cost us $472 in flights and airport parking, but ignoring that as money spent in Tasmania and not contributing to the Victorian regional economy, our only fuel/transport spends were Skybus transfers to Spencer Street Station and V/Line train tickets which in total came to $125 for both of us, or if averaged over the four days about $16 per person per day.

The MMT report was $18 per day.

Cycling / Souvenirs/Gifts / Other

The MMT report  reported a combined spend of $51 per person per day on cycling stuff, souvenirs, gifts and 'other'.    The only expense we had was the purchase of the guidebook and map in Ballarat which cost $39, or $4.88 per person per day.

How do those other cyclists carry all that stuff ... if anything I think we would have paid people to take some of our gear away ...

Summary

A detailed breakdown of our expenditure is shown at the bottom of this posrt, but the take home message is that ignoring the airfares and airport parking in Tasmania, we only managed to spend $1,172 whilst in Victoria, or $146.50 per person per day, and I would have placed us at the upper quartile of what a mountain bike touring cyclist would spend on a trip like this.

Furthermore, we could have easily reduced costs significantly by camping each night, and buying a few more groceries in the supermarkets and cooking our own dinner, and we had no desire to buy extra souvenirs (or anything) that would have added weight to our travels.

The only way I could think of to significantly increase our expenses would have been to stay at more expensive accommodation.  I don't think I could have eaten or drunk much more and still managed to ride.

I'm not saying that the MMT report is wrong, but I do suspect that the results may have been extremely biased to the area and maybe by large purchases of wine to be shipped home direct from vineyards which inflated the food and beverage price (something noted as a possibility in the report), or my gut feeling (and I apologise to the author if I've got this wrong) ... that the results for some of these items weren't actually per person, but were actually per group or per trip.

 I just can't see how people would spend that much money per night.

Epilogue

Interestingly  in researching (I know, a strong word) this blog post I came across a subsequent study of The Value of Cycle Tourism in the Southern Flinders Ranges: A Preliminary Study which found that the average spend per person per day was around $165 per day (still above what we spent), and noted two other studies, one of which found the average spend was $124 per night, and the other (in Canberra) found the average spend was $236 per night.

I just keep scratching my head at these numbers.

I can understand that high-income, short-duration travellers would happily spend up for a bit of luxury, as we did, and these surveys do seem to indicate that this is the demographic of the people that are responding to their surveys, but I still can't get away from the fact that even when I try and spend money, I can't get up around these average spend figures.

The other thing that confuses me is that most of the people I meet on the road when out cycle touring aren't in that high-income demographic (except at events).  They're budget oriented travelers and I don't see where these people are represented in these surveys.

However, the most baffling thing to me in all of this is simply this: where are all these bloody cyclists that spend all this money?

Hello?  Is there anybody there?
Virtually every trip I've gone on in all of these cycle tourism hotspots has involved mainly cycling by muself and meeting other cyclists has been a real novelty and surprise.

Maybe all the other cyclists are at home filling in online surveys about their expenditure?

So I have yet to resolve this issue to my satisfaction, but it is important to me because when I read these studies about how cycle tourism can bring all this money into Tasmania, and I chase down the research behind these statements I keep hitting this conundrum ... what I see in the data just doesn't match my own experiences and I can't explain the difference.  

Luckily I am up to the ongoing challenge to continue to resolve this issue and I already have plans, flexible plans of course, for further research in New Zealand and Europe in 2013 ...

So, I better stop writing now.   I'm guessing that even those of you who ignored my original "this will be a boring post" warning have well and truly stopped reading this anyway, but that's OK ... fortunately I'm a severe introvert and I like my own company ... a lot.



... and thus ends the tying together of the threads ...  I wonder if there's still time to head over to the West Coast.


========= COSTINGS FOR OUR GOLDFIELDS TRIP =========


Category Pre Trip Melbourne Ballarat Creswick Daylesford Castlemaine Bendigo Total
Accommodation

$75 $108 $161 $110
$454
Flights & Parking $472





$472
Food - Breakfast

$49

$20
$69
Food - Dinner
$94 $73 $89 $80 $15
$350
Food - Lunch
$10
$20 $20

$50
Food - Snacks


$37 $18 $18 $13 $86
Guide Book

$39



$39
Vic Travel
$89



$35 $125
Grand Total $472 $193 $236 $254 $278 $163 $48 $1,644

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