I absolutely love the Route of the Hiawatha (ridethehiawatha.com), a Rails to Trails mountain bike ride that begins at Lookout Pass in the Bitterroot Mountains on the Northern Idaho/Montana state line. I’ve met people there from as far away as New Jersey and during the last visit, I spotted license plates from 18 states and provinces. It’s easily worth the six-hour drive from Seattle. This makes it perhaps the area’s biggest summer “attraction” or “primary draw” to the area.
Attractions can include ski resorts, an amazing trail system, a great downtown – it’s the primary activity that draws visitors to you. Note that I used the word “activity.” A mountain is an amenity, so are lakes, rivers, prairies, parks, and other “facilities.” The primary activity that draws people would include downhill skiing, fishing, stand-up paddle boarding, boating, river rafting, and other activities that take place at or on your best physical asset.
Remember, people are searching for activities that cater to them, not necessarily specific mountains, lakes, rivers or trails. Sometimes the trail can be so amazing that it is the attraction, but when you market it, make sure you include the primary draw to that trail. In the case of Ride to Trails, you could say “biking the Route of the Hiawatha,” or “biking the Hiawatha Trail” is the primary draw.
What I LOVE about the Hiawatha Trail is that you start by biking through a 1.7-mile tunnel (pitch black, by the way, but thank goodness the rental bikes come with a flashlight mounted on the handlebar), and when you’ve conquered that, you bike down the scenic, wide, compacted gravel trail through 10 shorter tunnels and over seven high railroad trestles that are hundreds of feet above the spectacular mountain terrain below. This is the kind of mountain biking I love! You start at the top and for the most part, coast all the way down the 15-mile trail. Then they pack you and your bike into a converted school bus and shuttle you back to Lookout Pass. Yes! Extreme biking without breaking a sweat! That’s my kind of biking!
During the summer months “Biking the Hiawatha Trail” is one of, if not the, primary attraction in this area of Northern Idaho for families, biking, and even non-biking enthusiasts.
The average visitor is active 14 hours a day, yet they typically spend only four to six hours with the primary activity. The Hiawatha Trail, including travel time, getting geared up, and enjoying the experience takes three to four hours to complete. Other activities take about the same amount of time.
What do you do with the rest of the time in the area?
This is where your “complementary activities” come into play. You always promote the primary draw, the Hiawatha Trail in this case, and then the “while you’re here you’ve got to…” activities.
The number one complementary activity in the world is shopping, dining and entertainment in a pedestrian-friendly setting. Once we rode the Hiawatha Trail, we spent time in nearby historic Wallace, Idaho.
Of course, we had to visit the Oasis Bordello Museum (which closed as a bordello in 1981 – that’s not a typo), we shopped the shops, rode the Silver Streak Zipline, and took the Sierra Silver Mine Tour, followed by dinner, the purchase of fudge for a late-night snack, and so on. The complementary activities trigger the decision to make it an overnight stay. Without these complementary activities, the Hiawatha Trail would just be a day trip from Spokane, Washington or a “while passing through” activity along Interstate 90.
Visitors will spend 8 to 10 hours doing complementary activities – that’s how important they are. And for the mine tours, ziplines, and historic downtowns that aren’t happy being labeled a “complementary activity,” consider this: Eighty percent of all non-lodging visitor spending takes place with complementary activities. Why do you think there’s a Downtown Disney next to each of its parks? Yep, to get that 80 percent!
Finally, there are the “amenities.” These include the unheralded requirements of public parking, restrooms (or washrooms for our Canadian friends), visitor information, wayfinding signage, sidewalks, downtown beautification, benches, local parks and playgrounds, and lodging. The “amenities” are what enable us to all have an enjoyable experience and are a key contributor to bringing us back.
THE BOTTOM LINE
In your marketing, always promote your “anchor tenant” – your primary activity. Then add in the “while you’re here, don’t miss this” list of complementary activities. Finally, make sure the supporting “amenities” are in place to ensure a great experience.
And if you’re ever in the area, be sure to bike the Hiawatha Trail and spend time in nearby historic Wallace, Idaho! You will love it!