Sunday, May 3, 2009

Tour de Singkarak: Tourism in 1st Gear

Lithe and muscular cyclists walked about the lobby of the plush four-star Hotel Bumiminang last week in Padang, West Sumatra, clad in jerseys bearing international sponsors’ names. Outside, banners and posters advertising the first Tour de Singkarak fluttered optimistically in the city streets.

The 462-kilometer bike race with a track that cut across the province’s top destination spots, including Padang, Bukittinggi and Sawahlunto, was strategically geared to highlight the region’s lush green hills, quiet valleys and serene rice fields to the 25 participating teams.

Both local and central government officials hailed the inaugural tour as the ideal way to boost the region’s profile. But the three-day competition drew mixed reactions from locals, many of whom expected it to be an instant cash cow.

Jero Wacik, the minister of culture and tourism, said that the goal of the race was, “To fill all the hotels, fill all the taxis and ensure the locals receive the profits.” Indeed, hotels in the towns along the route were at maximum capacity during the tour, from April 29 to May 3.

Cody Stevenson, competing for Team Budget Forklifts of Australia, said: “It’s always hard with a cycle race in its infancy to promote tourism. But if it keeps developing, within three to five years it’ll be a good tool for tourism, because as the race gains more exposure, it’ll get more foreign teams.”

Cody cited the Qing Hai Lake Tour held in July each year in China as an example of using cycling races to foster tourism.

“Over the years the Qing Hai Lake Tour has helped promote the region,” he said.

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