Cyclists are the New Dogs
Competition is fierce in the hotel sector and accommodation businesses have to look carefully at how they differentiate their offer. Gone are the days of tea & coffee-making facilities being good enough an inducement to potential guests. Appeal to niche groups and you could be onto a winner, but you have to get it right.
In this guest post, Neil Batt, owner of UK business Riph-Raph and ex-racing team manager discusses his experience as a keen cyclist of staying in hotels and what accomodation businesses could do to attract more trade.
"Have you seen them? The bloody cyclists? Some road users feel that the growing throng of cyclists on the roads are a plague and a menace. That’s not to mention the increasing number of mountain bikers annoying the Ramblers’ Association to the point of bobble hats exploding like woollen confetti.
These are rivalries between groups that will rumble on and on, so what am I doing referencing them in this intro? The truth is the number of cyclists has increased massively over the last decade, and any savvy business owner should be asking “what’s in it for me?”
As a dog owner I saw the rise of the ‘pet friendly’ B&B and this would of course be my primary filter when searching for an overnight stay with Molly the Collie. As a cyclist I find it very difficult to apply the same filter for my cherished bicycle right now.
I’m a road cyclist (yes, I do own the road actually). I ride for fitness and pleasure. I love exploring new areas of the country and witnessing new vistas as the rising sun beams its virgin light, casting long shadows across a dew-spangled landscape (or it’s peeing down again, probably). I’ll normally stay in a B&B or chain hotel. I’ll leave ‘cyclist hotels’ for another chat as they are a specific, generally sun-blessed continental bacchanalian phenomenon with wine, olives and massages – what heaven is like, probably.
I’ve also worked professionally as a cycle racing team manager. Spending six months of the year driving bikes, tools, bags of kit and skinny blokes with funny diets the length and breadth of the country. I had little option other than to stay in a branded “taverns” by the ring road on the edge of town.
The memory of slamming doors and all-night drunken arguments while the passing HGVs not only shook me from my sleep, but were close enough to physically shake me from my bed in a well-known chain hotel in Lincoln literally still keeps me awake at night – what hell is like, probably.
So as a hotelier, how could you boast that you are a bona-fide ‘cyclist friendly’ establishment that welcomes lumpy middle aged people in ill-fitting Lycra or their sickeningly fit sporting brethren?...
Many national chains will say in their blurb they’re ‘cyclist friendly’. The reality is that they are merely ‘cyclist ambivalent’. I am allowed to take by bike in to my room. Great! I’ll lean my pride and joy against the Corby trouser press or the tub chair that nobody has ever sat in. I just hope I don’t trip over it when I get up in the middle of the night and knock the wonky 14” TV out of the window.
Many smaller hotels, in fairness, will normally find space for my bike/kit in a storeroom or outbuilding with the mops and rolls of toilet paper, or perhaps a spare room to stash it all in. I always pre-warn when I book. You wouldn’t want me shouldering my bike up the stairs, chipping the paint and ripping your wallpaper, after all. You have high security* clothes hangers in your wardrobes for clothes. I’ve noticed that, although I never use them. That’s what the tub chair clotheshorse is for.
A lockable space for bike storage needn’t be expensive, even a garden shed would suffice. Likewise, bike stands would be very much appreciated and are really inexpensive. I recently bought a three-bike stand for £20 from a discount supermarket, for example. Throw in some bike cleaner, a bucket and a sponge and you’re already head and shoulders above the place down the road.
Laundry facilities – Don’t be a drip
Not a deal breaker, but if I’m staying for a couple of nights or more, or have a peloton of sweaty athletes washing cycling kit in the shower and hoping it’s drip-dried by 6 am, my patience can be tried.
Full in-house laundry facilities might be a big ask for some, but access to a tumble drier would be great. And while I think about it, can I please clean my water bottles in your dishwasher?
Add value to my stay
High value touches needn’t be high cost and they will always be appreciated by the cycling community. Simple things like being shown where to put my bike (rather than being pointed to the car park) or a chat about the locality or weather are parts of customer service that you don’t always get. Just a basic understanding of our hobby would be great.
While I think about it, no leisure cyclist would expect a race-team oriented chef to be on hand, but a kitchen which serves a couple of nutritious meals rather than “everything with chips” might help generate return visits.
Location, location, location…
If you’ve got it, flaunt it. Are you surrounded by rolling country lanes, good cross country single track bridleways perhaps with some challenging climbs / good pubs (delete as appropriate)? If so, sell it to me (and not just when I get to reception, you can promote your location’s benefits prior to my arrival, too. There’s technology available to do that, see). It’s your cost-free resource that could swell your booking inbox.
Guided and group rides…
There will be knowledgeable local cyclists who might be keen to earn a few quid offering guided rides. They know their area like the back of their hands after all. Why not put a shout-out to a local cycling club and see what happens? And groups always appreciate recommendations for decent food and comfort break stops.
Before you know it you could grow from ‘cyclist ambivalent’ to ‘cyclist friendly’ all the way to ‘cyclist destination’. If you can, throw-in a local qualified mobile bicycle mechanic in to the mix while you’re at it…
You can’t fail to notice the amount of road cyclists on the highways and byways these days, and we’re a friendly, lucrative bunch. There are some fantastic hotels out there that recognise the opportunity to do great business with individual or groups of cyclists, but a lot of hotels are missing out. Some simple and inexpensive touches added to any establishment might open the door to a very nice chunk of cash, from a very nice crowd.
*Nobody wants to steal your funny little clothes hangers."
About the Author:
Neil Batt is owner of UK business Riph-Raph and ex-racing team manager. Riph-Raph builds bespoke racing bikes for every kind of rider.