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Cycling tourism: ECF and World Tourism Organization join forces to promote active, sustainable and green travel

A new Memorandum of Understanding signed between ECF and the World Tourism Organization shows the growing importance of cycling tourism as a safe, healthy and environmentally sustainable form of tourism, linked to over 500,000 jobs in the EU.

The European Cyclists’ Federation (ECF) and the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) have agreed to enhance and facilitate their cooperation by signing a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) related to cycling tourism. This follows the successful contributions of senior figures from UNWTO at two major conferences organised by ECF, Velo-city 2021 Lisboa and the EuroVelo & Cycling Tourism Conference 2021.

“Cycling tourism is a growing part of our sector, and one with enormous potential to deliver benefits and opportunities far and wide,” said UNWTO Secretary-General Zurab Pololikashvili. “Managed responsibly, it can support jobs and businesses, including in rural communities, while celebrating unique and shared cultures right across Europe.”

An estimated 2.3 billion cycle tourism trips take place in Europe every year – with a value in excess of €44 billion, according to a study commissioned by the European Parliament. The same study concludes that 20.4 million cycling tourists stay one or more nights en route and that these “overnight” tourists spend around €9 billion annually.

In addition, cycling tourism is linked to over 500,000 jobs in the EU, which is more than the cruise industry or the steel industry. The popularity of cycling tourism only seems to have grown over the past two years, as a growing number of travellers see it as a safe, healthy and environmentally sustainable form of tourism, and this has strengthened the ties between ECF and UNWTO.

“Europe is the best cycling destination in the world, and cities like Amsterdam, Malmö, Ljubljana or Strasbourg serve as great examples of that. Cycling tourism has grown in popularity during the pandemic – as have other types of outdoor, slow tourism – and represents an important contribution to the sustainability objectives of tourism recovery,” said UNWTO Director for Europe Alessandra Priante.

“Tourists also find that bikes are more accessible and affordable than other means of transportation such as cars. There is a vast range of positive environmental, economic, health and social benefits to consider when investing in cycle tourism, and that is why this collaboration is important to us.”

In September, Priante participated in a lively plenary debate at Velo-city 2021 Lisboa on the contribution of cycling towards a greener economy. In October, Dirk Glaesser, UNWTO Director for Sustainable Development of Tourism, spoke at the opening plenary of the EuroVelo & Cycling Tourism Conference in Barcelona. Following this, ECF President Henk Swarttouw was invited to the UNWTO headquarters in Madrid, leading to the establishment of a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between the organisations.

ECF and UNWTO have agreed to cooperate closely to achieve their common objectives, which include:

  • to promote active, sustainable and green travel through cycling, while contributing to the main objectives of the European Green Deal, as part of a modal shift towards more sustainable transport modes
  • to support the implementation of the UN Agenda 2030 and the corresponding Sustainable Development Goals related to the green transition and a healthy lifestyle
  • to work together in advocating for cycling tourism as a vehicle for dispersing visitors within and across destinations, tackling seasonality and encouraging rural economic development.

The concrete actions that ECF and UNWTO have agreed to collaborate on include:

  • to highlight the increasing importance of cycling tourism, its benefits and its regional economic impacts
  • to jointly promote cycling routes throughout the European region, including the EuroVelo routes that make up the European long-distance cycle route network
  • to work together to develop potential joint research related to sustainable mobility in general and cycling tourism in particular
  • to cooperate within the Velo-city and the EuroVelo & Cycling Tourism conference series.

“This collaboration will provide a great basis for the further development of cycling tourism within Europe and reflects its growing importance to the tourism sector,” said Henk Swarttouw. “As the UNWTO have recently reported, domestic tourism, rural tourism and ecotourism have emerged as the three most popular travel trends in recent years, and cycling tourism can play a central role in all three!”

The World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) is a specialised agency of the United Nations and the leading public international organisation in the field of tourism, with a membership encompassing 164 countries and territories and more than 500 Affiliate Members representing the private sector, educational institutions, tourism associations ‎and local tourism authorities.

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