Words: Chris Ord
Sometimes you don’t really know what treasures are hidden in your own backyard until you start digging them up. That’s an ignorance often magnified tenfold when its someone else’s backyard you’re surveying. So, it’s no wonder that the Sunshine Coast in Queensland hasn’t traditionally been in the mix when pundits start nominating Australia’s best mountain biking destinations.
That is set to change however – at least during the winter months – off the back of TRC Tourism’s recent consultancy researching and analysing the state of mountain biking recreation in the tropical region.
The brief was sensibly anchored in the notion that when it comes to winter, Australian mountain bikers have few options in terms of singletrack playgrounds given the snow, rain, sleet and sheer chill factor that makes more iconic ride destinations such as Derby and St Helens in Tasmania and Mt Buller and Bright in Victoria, rather unpleasant, if not unrideable.
The Sunshine Coast, on the other hand, has a mild winter, plenty of sunshine, trails that are in peak condition and an abundance of other holiday recreation options once the riding is done. The growth of micro brewing across the region is just one example of attractive destination add-ons our consultants eyed off, not to mention the thought of riding from trail to bar to beach (not necessarily in that order, for safety’s sake).
TRC teamed up with Sunshine Coast-based consultancy, Converge Marketing, who was tasked with taking the eventual findings of the TRC Tourism study and turning it into a winter promotion campaign that would position the Sunshine Coast as an epicentre of winter mountain biking goodness.
But to attract riders, you need to have a strong foundation of actual trails to ride. On the Sunshine Coast? Is there? As it happens, yes. And more than you’d think.
TRC Tourism’s role was to investigate the state of play of mountain biking on the Sunshine Coast: what trails are there, what facilities, what experiences are to be enjoyed and how well are they delivered, and how do they link in to local tourism industry and other attractions? Further, what would be the best messaging to inspire and attract riders? Essentially what is the ‘story’ of Sunshine Coast mountain biking?
To find out, TRC Tourism consultant, Chris Ord, reached out to the mountain biking community, the cycling services and events industry, and other stakeholders in the mountain biking scene to pull together a clearer picture of what was on offer, and, importantly, who it would appeal to.
“What we found was the Sunshine Coast is a bit of a gem hidden in plain sight when it comes to mountain biking,” says Chris. “I’ve completed other trail consultancies up that way, namely the Noosa Trail Network Masterplan, and I’m a mountain biker, yet even I was mostly unaware of the amount and sheer diversity of trail riding located across the three Local Government Areas.”
The project consulted across Noosa Shire, Gympie Shire and Sunshine Coast Shire, with four mountain biking clubs, numerous trail alliances, local coaches, event operators, retailers, shuttle and tour operators and other local stakeholders all offering valuable intel on mountain biking in the region.
“The insights of those who live and ride on the Sunshine Coast was critical, of course. We needed to interrogate how they viewed and used their own trails before we could understand why visitors should and would. Locals know the strengths and weaknesses of their trails best.
“What we discovered was a strong foundation of community support and activity in the mountain biking space with a high degree of inter-regional trail use – the mountain biking clubs regularly head off to neighbouring trails on ride days. It was obvious that we just needed to promote that lure and exploration of different trails across the region to the visitation market.”
“Most notably, and perhaps uniquely in Australia, the numerous trail hubs are within close proximity to each other – there’s something for everyone from beginners and families to XC grinders to frothers looking for features to get their kicks on, and the hubs all within half to an hour’s drive of one other. There’s nowhere else in Australia – especially during winter – that can boast a line-up of five dedicated mountain bike parks – Tewantin, Sugarbag Rd, Parklands, Ewan Maddock and Victory Heights* – plus more expansive hubs of off-road rides exploring the lush hinterland landscapes of Noosa, Eumundi and Mapleton.”
“It’s no wonder the Olympic mountain biking will take place at a Sunshine Coast Hub – Parklands – come 2032 Brisbane Olympics,” says Chris who recognises that the spotlight of Olympic XC standard trail development represents a prime opportunity to not only bring visibility to the region as a mountain biking destination but also to further drive investment into a broader range of connected trails, including those servicing the growth in beginner to intermediate riders “markets critical to Sunshine Coast’s destination ride tourism,” says Chris.
The primary anchor, of course, is that the range of mountain biking is all set in a region that hums with other activities that are highly attractive to a winter holiday maker, in an equally attractive environment. The fact that the ride offering is so diverse means that families can take kids out on trails for a morning meander and be at the beach for lunchtime ice creams; adventure riders can get out into the hinterland for something a little longer and more remote; thrill seekers and flow-chasers have MTB parks where the post-pedal thirst can be quenched within five minutes of the trail head. All in pleasing weather with an abundance of tourism-ready accommodation suitable for all budgets.
“It’s an alchemy situation that gives glimmer of hope to a mountain biker in southern Australia staring glumly out a rain-sodden window and reading a bunch of ‘trail closed’ notifications on social media,” says Chris.
The alchemy, he says, is found in the collectivisation of the various mountain biking experiences across the Sunshine Coast.
“The product and experiences are all there – they just needed to take a leaf from the Avengers and join forces, at least in terms of promoting their existence to the broader mountain biking public.”
And that is where Converge Marketing kicked into gear. Armed with the analysis of the offering and the likely target audiences, they set about creating a media plan and content that would best position and promote the Sunshine Coast mountain biking offer to the rest of Australia. The result is a campaign anchored by the tag: ‘Ride On. Sunshine Coast’, with a by line of ‘Ride The Five’, immediately setting the notion of a ‘trail bagging’ or ‘trail passport’ where riders tick the box to collect all experiences.
The five mountain bike experiences being promoted for the winter campaign are Parklands, Sugarbag Rd, Tewantin, Ewen Maddock Dam Ferny Forest and Mapleton (at the time of writing the Victory Heights facility in Gympie is closed due to flooding).
“We know the collection of experience is a now major driver of destination travel,” says Chris. “So, Converge Marketing’s approach of collectively highlighting the regions ‘hero’ rides and the fact that there are five of them all within easy reach no matter where you stay on the Sunshine Coast, is spot-on targeting.
“The content produced by Converge off the back of our findings also hits the mark by representing a range of rider types and abilities, which reflects the diversity of trails and rides on offer, and in its highlighting of post-ride attractions.
“Of course, we particularly loved the fact that they featured the micro-breweries in the campaign – after all, hydrating after a good rainforest ride is very important. And it’s a tad warmer up there than down south,” says Chris, picking up on one of the main drivers for riders to head north this winter. “Great trails, but also, great weather.”
Check out the result of TRC Tourism and Converge Marketing’s work:
*As at July 2020, Victory Heights MTB facility is closed due to flooding. Re-opening schedule is not known at time of writing.