Barcelona welcomed the delegates with recently installed EuroVelo 8 – Mediterranean Route signage showing the way into the city. A three-day long coming together of the cycle tourism community lay ahead.
The welcome drinks reception was held at the beautiful Maritime Museum of Barcelona and this was the first time that those working on the EuroVelo network, and cycle tourism more broadly, have been able to come together in person since the previous edition of this conference held in Limburg, Belgium back in 2018.
In his welcome speech, ECF President Henk Swarttouw explained that the United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) sees “three trends in tourism today: domestic tourism, sustainable tourism and active tourism, and fortunately cycle tourism checks all these boxes!” Representing the hosts, Isidre Gavín, from the Generalitat de Catalunya introduced The Catalan Bicycle Strategy 2025 and emphasised the commitment of the Generalitat de Catalunya to facilitate the use of the bicycle for daily mobility and for tourism. He declared that the Catalan Government intends to continue develop its EuroVelo route to further increase the use of bicycles over the coming years.
The following morning, the formal part of the conference began, and ECF CEO Jill Warren, opened the day by highlighting how much the world has changed since the previous edition in 2018 and in particular, how the tourism sector has suffered during the pandemic. However, she welcomed the fact that cycle tourism seems to have bucked that trend. All across Europe, the numbers of cycle tourists has continued to grow over the past two years. According to data that ECF collected through the collaboration with Eco-Counter, the numbers of people on the EuroVelo routes on weekends have increased 12% compared with the same period in 2019.
The conference, therefore, provided an opportunity to look into why this increase has taken place; how it can be encouraged further; and what does the future hold for our sector. After an outstanding opening plenary on how cycling tourism can confront the challenges faced by society, which included representatives of the UNWTO, WHO, Generalitat de Catalunya and the World Cycling Alliance, the stage was set for a full day of inspiring exchanges.
Six parallel sessions followed with more than 30 speakers from across Europe sharing their experiences on topics such as promotion and marketing; economic reactivation; infrastructure in environmentally sensitive landscapes; innovation and monitoring; the development of EuroVelo routes in Southern and Eastern Europe; and a session to discover new cycling destinations.
The second plenary, moderated by EuroVelo Director Ed Lancaster, showed us how investing in cycling tourism has improved the resilience capacity of the region of Limburg, Belgium, the Metropolitan area of Bologna Italy, and the ski resorts in the Pyrenees. All three territories have been exposed to unforeseen events and investing in cycling tourism has provided a way to overcome them.
On the final interactive session, our keynote Nagore Espinosa, tourism expert, engaged the audience by celebrating the fact that tourism is finally back! However, she also warned that: "We said that after the pandemic we tourism would return better and greener, but last summer has shown us that we are starting to return to a similar situation as before the COVID-19". She asked the delegates to work to ensure that the industry genuinely changes to embrace a more sustainable future.
In the closing speeches, ECF CEO Jill Warren thanked the Generalitat de Catalunya, the Ajuntament de Barcelona, AMB, the Diputació de Barcelona, and all the cycling organisations and sponsors that made the event possible. Jill also shared how ECF “hoped that the legacy of the Barcelona edition will be felt for years to come, as cycle routes and cycling tourism continues to be developed around Europe by the delegates who have been inspired while attending this event”
Xavier Flores, Generalitat de Catalunya, once again confirmed the commitment of Catalonia to continue investing in cycling tourism and thanked ECF for the opportunity to host the EuroVelo & Cycling Tourism Conference.
The conference dinner, held on Barcelona’s glamorous beachfront, was the perfect space in which to compare notes from the day. The following morning, the delegates had the chance to jump in the saddle and explore Barcelona and its surrounding area by bike on one of eight technical visits. This provided the opportunity to see first-hand some of the recently installed EuroVelo 8 – Mediterranean Route signs!
As part of ECF’s work we will continue to advocate for more investments in cycling tourism; coordinate and work for the further development of EuroVelo the world’s largest cycle route network; and continue to provide platforms for the sharing of new ideas and best practices, such us future editions of the EuroVelo & Cycling Tourism Conference. This year’s edition had been the largest one yet, with more than 300 people joining in-person or online – more than double the previous edition – showing the growing demand for knowledge-sharing in this field.
On that note, if you think that your city would make a good host for next one, just let us know. We will be opening a call early next year for the host of the 2023 edition.