From train to trail

From train to trail

Cycling entrepreneur Markus Stitz is a prime example of how tourism innovation is riding high in the Borders Railway corridor.

The Borders Railway is the gateway to beautiful countryside and world-class outdoor leisure activities, creating a fertile environment for business investment, start-ups and expanding companies in the tourism and leisure sector. Markus Stitz is a great example of a two-wheeled entrepreneur who is taking full advantage of the new rail connection, developing a local “bike-packing” route, called the “Reiver Raid”, in partnership with local tourism businesses.

With the mountain biking and cycling industry now estimated to be worth £360m a year to the Scottish economy, generating around 1.4 million visits to trail centres and wilderness, Stitz says there has never been a better time to saddle up and start a new business idea in the Borders Railway area.

Working with the Midlothian & Borders Tourism Action Group (MBTAG) and Teyl de Bordes from Whitmuir Farm, Stitz – an experienced adventurer, marketer and founder of Bikepacking Scotland – aims to make the region more attractive for cyclists by using the natural landscape to develop cycling routes that appeal to both casual riders and more serious two-wheeled adventurers. The Reiver Raid route is formed by a number of shorter loop rides that can either be ridden individually or combined into a more challenging 175km, two-day “bikepacking” route.

Official launched on the weekend on 26-27 August, the Reiver Raid has already attracted more than 1,000 views on the GPSIES website and was downloaded more than 50 times in less than three weeks. It is also currently the most-popular page on the www.bikepackingscotland.com website.

Giles Ingram, chair of MBTAG, said: “We are delighted to be supporting Markus with this project. Innovation and new product development are intrinsic to the growth of the tourism industry in Midlothian and the Borders and the new railway provides a fantastic springboard for entrepreneurs to connect to a growing audience.”

Bikepacking Scotland was founded by Stitz, a round-the-world single-speed cyclist with the aim of providing resources for people who are interested in participating in bikepacking and adventure cycling in Scotland. Although a growing activity, bikepacking and adventure cycling are currently not promoted by governing bodies or tourism organisations in Scotland.
In only a few months since its inauguration, Bikepacking Scotland has gained a sizable following on social media and online.

The Capital Trail, a route that Stitz developed in 2015, has been awarded the “best new trail” prize by Bikepacking.com, while Stitz has been rewarded twice for his efforts to promote cycling in 2015 and 2016.

A recent report commissioned by Transport Scotland and the Borders Railway Blueprint Group demonstrated that, in its first year of operation, the railway attracted workers, homeowners and tourists to the communities served by the line. House sales rates are up, hotel bed space nights are up and visitors spend is up. The Scottish Tourism Economic Assessment Monitor (STEAM) statistics released in January also demonstrated a significant improvement in key tourism performance figures for the Borders and Midlothian in the first half of 2016, compared to the first half of 2015 before the railway opened.

With MBTAG citing growth opportunities within the hospitality industry, services industry, tour operators and supply chains for both business and non-business visitors, there really has never been a better time for tourism related business to think about getting on board.