Christchurch – The City that… Cycles ??

Regular guest blogger Robert has returned from his overseas travels and now turns his attention back to Christchurch…

Over the years, and more particularly since the earthquakes, there has been concern conveyed from various sources in the tourism, marketing and administrative areas of our city about a ‘lack of focus’ for Christchurch.

What does Christchurch represent for visitors? What is the image we want them to visualise to entice them to visit? And crucially: how do we get them to stay longer once here?

Tour bus or bicycle? Each has its advantages for visitors
Tour bus or bicycle? Each has its advantages for visitors

This dilemma over “branding” has confronted our decision makers for as long as I have lived in Christchurch. The following comment from Mike Yardley in The Press summarises the scenario nicely:

Our obsession with such banal fripperies borders on the pathological. But what it reveals is our underlying sense of self-doubt and insecurity, which is purportedly solved by slapping up a fresh chest-pumping strapline.

As the Weekend Press reported, city leaders are sizing up overhauling Christchurch’s branding – and the “Garden City” tagline could be toast.

With the completion of the city rebuild likely to gobble up the rest of the decade, I would seriously question the prudence of expending serious dosh on a re-branding exercise just yet.

I am not a fan of slogans, and I detest cheesy and contrived hype that states pretty well nothing. But I think that, if a city does actually have a feature to shout about that has evolved and is widely known for, then I see no problem using it for marketing purposes. Hence ‘The Garden City’ has been a worthy description to date, but in my opinion anything about “shining” or being “fresh each day” is, quite simply, cringe material.

On a bike it is easy to notice (and photograph) things  around you
On a bike it is easy to notice (and photograph) things around you

Slogans aside, at some point it is going to become obvious over the coming years that Christchurch is actually a city that cycles. Few could have failed to notice the success of the Central Otago Rail Trail to boost tourism in the region. The NZ Cycle Trail development throughout the country is gathering momentum, with many wonderful experiences to be enjoyed on a bicycle. Most in Christchurch will be aware that in five years or less we will have the city pretty well covered for everyday cyclists to get around safely and enjoyably. And tourists are going to enjoy it too because, in many parts of the world, cycle tourism is becoming a worthy business; not just in the scenic wilderness, but in towns and cities also. Consider riding the Chicago Lakefront Cycle Path if you go there, or look at LAbikepaths.com for a multitude of routes to choose from when visiting Los Angeles. Visitors to Perth talk about the enjoyable city cycling.

The Chicago Lakefront Pathway is a great facility for tourists and commuters alike
The Chicago Lakefront Pathway is a great facility for tourists and commuters alike

Making it simple and safe for tourists to ride Christchurch in its entirety; in addition to the current cycling adventures on offer (Little River Rail Trail, Bottle Lake Forest Park, McLeans Island Recreational Area, Port Hills Tracks, including the yet to be developed multi-million dollar Christchurch Adventure Park) the appeal of staying an extra night or two will become hard to resist. I foresee a perfect storm on the horizon enabling visitors to Christchurch to have the unique cycling experience that no other national (or international?) city can surpass.

Whilst accepting that most tourists come to New Zealand to view the unspoilt natural scenery and to have a wilderness-style experience, many also want to learn about our people, our history and our culture. For those, particularly the older visitors to Christchurch, a cycling experience can offer the following…

  • After a long-haul journey getting here, the risk of circulation problems (DVTs) can be reduced with gentle aerobic exercise. The fresh air will clear the mind.
  • Pounding the pavements by foot, every day, and long periods of standing for exhibits at art galleries, museums, or even retail stores can be hard on the joints, back and feet. No better way to recover from tired calves, cartilage or corns than a gentle ride on a safe bike path for an hour or two or three.
  • The ability to experience the true city, off the tourist trail is easier when using a bike. For some, simply riding through a residential area on a bike path to see where and how the locals live and to experience their cafes, restaurants, shops, parks, gardens and amenities can be an important part of the visit. Viewing architectural styles of homes and landscaping, public buildings and streetscapes can display the ‘feel’ of a place as much as a guided tour. Of course there are the locals to meet and talk to and those serendipity moments when you find something of ‘awesomeness’ that wasn’t in the guide-book.
The Belem World Heritage Site Lisbon; accessible by bike, walk, bus, car train and light rail
The Belem World Heritage Site Lisbon; accessible by bike, walk, bus, car, train and light rail

Slogan or not, Christchurch is going to become an awesome Cycling City in the future and the tourists are going to be very happy tourists. It would be unwise to underestimate the positive tourism spin-off for our city that a few dedicated cycleways are going to achieve, in addition to the numerous and obvious local benefits.

Do you think that cycling will become a tourism drawcard for Christchurch?

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