Planes, trains and…bikes? That might not be exactly how movie lovers remember the title of that classic 80s film, but it certainly is more reflective of today’s travel trends. Now, more than ever, travelers are seeking out unique ways to experience Europe, and one of the most immersive ways to do so is by bike. But because there are some common misconceptions about biking vacations (no, you don’t need to be a cyclist), many people are still unaware and maybe even nervous to embark on this type of travel. That said, we went straight to the source: Lindsay Juley, travel agent representative for Trek Travel, to learn more about how and why travel agents should recommend bike tours across Europe.
For starters, we wanted to know what makes a biking vacation different from other modes of transportation; why ride when you can cruise, hop on board a train or hang out poolside at a luxurious resort? To this, Juley says, “It’s an amazing way to see a destination. [You] can go off the beaten path and go to those quieter, more rural roads that you normally wouldn’t see if you were traveling in a tour bus.” Speaking from her own experience, Juley adds that bike tours allow travelers to “connect with the locals,” stating that, “A lot of times when I would be stopping for water or stopping to take a photo, a local would walk up to me and be interested in the fact that I was cycling through their backyard so it’s just a really great way to connect.”
When speaking with Juley about the personal connections she has experienced on bike tours, you could not only tell that she is passionate about this type of travel, but that the connections she has made have been meaningful. And when it comes to creating unforgettable vacations for your clients, the relationships formed with others, that, unfortunately, you can’t book for your clients on VAX, make trips memorable and impossible to reproduce. To elaborate on this, Juley shares a story from a bike tour that speaks to the close connections that travelers can make if they opt for this type of vacation. Juley says, “We work with Summit Lake Vineyards in California, up in wine country, and they are a family-owned vineyard. We ride up there and have a lovely picnic lunch that overlooks the surrounding vineyards – just stunning. When the wildfires started to threaten the vineyards, our guides actually stepped in and helped harvest the grapes for Summit Lake Vineyards. We just wanted to help any way that we could. Luckily nothing happened; their vineyards are safe. I just love telling that story because it speaks volumes. We aren’t just a bus tour arriving to do the same standard tour and wine tasting. Really, you get that feeling of it being more like a family.”
Juley said it best herself, this story speaks volumes as to why your clients should consider a biking vacation. But we also know that as agents, you need to be informed about logistics, such as who can go on a bike tour, how do you go about making it happen for your clients and what types of trips can you choose from? So one of the biggest questions you might ask is “Do my clients need to have biking experience to travel Europe in such a physical way?” The short answer is no. Your clients do not need to be avid cyclists to enjoy a biking vacation. In fact, Juley explains that at Trek Travel, they have “travel agents ask their clients to self-rank on a scale of 1-4.” Depending on the rank, agents will be given a variety of appropriate options for their clients.
But Juley does mention that “the more clients can get on a bike before the trip, the better their experience will be.” She also states that if travelers are going to train that “it helps to have a consistency of riding, like two or three days back-to-back because that’s really going to mimic what [their] experience will be like on trips, rather than going out for a longer ride on a weekend.”
And, even though wellness is a top priority for us at VAX and Trisept Solutions, we can all admit that sometimes life happens and exercise gets put on the back burner. To that point, Juley fills us in on electric assist bikes, which come included as a part of many tour operators’ trips. She states, “If you haven’t heard of an e-bike before, it’s essentially just a regular bike that has a battery that is situated on the down tube. There are four different levels of assist that people can choose to have on. As you pedal, it actually gives you a boost. In especially hilly destinations like Tuscany, the e-bike is phenomenal for someone who is either introducing themselves to cycling or is nervous about particular hills in a region – or they’re coming from an area like Wisconsin where there are hills but nothing like the hills in Europe. It allows people to go further than they normally would be able to while still getting a great workout. It really gets people who might not have done a cycling vacation – maybe their spouse rides and they don’t ride as much. It gives them that extra confidence.” So if this is the reason your clients are on the fence about trying a bike tour, check to see if the tour operator offers an e-bike option. You can also inform your clients that tour operators typically have a support van that follows the different biking groups, so if your clients need anything at all, they will be assisted.
So now that you know your clients don’t need to be world-class cyclists to try out a bike tour, how do you go about booking one? Well, according to Juley, the first thing agents should do is get in touch with the tour operator. “I encourage travel agents to use our resources [in order to] cultivate a relationship and conversation with their clients. And then when it comes time book, we can direct them back to the agent to do so,” says Juley. She emphasizes the importance of creating an open conversation with the tour operator “because there are a lot of ins and outs of knowing what the different styles of bikes are and knowing what 50 miles with 3,000 feet of elevation gain really means.” Don’t worry if you don’t have all the answers to your client’s bike tour questions – that’s what the tour operators are for.
During our conversation with Juley, she even touched on the fact that operators “don’t expect travel agents to be cyclists.” And she’s right – your job as a travel agent isn’t to be a cyclist, but part of your responsibility is forming connections with operators that can offer the knowledge and guidance you need to make informed decisions about your clients’ vacations. By doing so, you can help clients achieve those memorable vacations mentioned earlier.
It’s also safe to say that if they choose to go on a bike tour, clients will have plenty of unforgettable options to choose from. Juley notes that the styles of tours range from independent or guided to multi-sport and family trips. But the most popular tours are their classic tours, which combine “both the cycling as well as the cultural activities.” And, as agents know, cultural activities built into the trip are important to travelers, especially when traveling through Europe. Juley says that riders can expect activities like “cooking classes, walking tours with local guides, truffle hunting with a truffle dog and visiting local markets,” among several other options that are dependent upon where your clients are riding.
When speaking with Juley about the various bike tour options, it’s clear that she understands the importance of creating a dynamic experience for clients, and as travel agents, we know that is your goal as well. So to that point, we leave you with a quote that speaks to the immersive nature of bike tours: “If you travel by car, train or bus, it’s like watching a beautiful movie pass by. If you travel by bike, you’re in the movie.” And, as a travel agent, you have the unique ability to work behind the scenes, directing a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for your clients.