Investment in bike racing pays off for Pietermaritzburg

South Africa's mountain bike world championship host city thinks big

With thousands of mountain bike enthusiasts expected to converge on the Cascades MTB Park in a month's time for the UCI Mountain Bike World Championships in Pietermaritzburg, South Africa, the province has completed detailed studies that show that cycling events have brought more than a billion Rands worth of value and economic spend to the region.

With the province of KwaZulu-Natal having invested R24 million into hosting major international cycling events over the past three years, the latest research shows that this has triggered an economic injection of R79 million into the regional economy, while at the same time providing international marketing exposure for the city valued conservatively at R1.68 billion, exclusively from the global TV coverage of the events.

This substantial return on investment has resulted in the province making a long term commitment to sustaining its support for hosting international cycling events and reinforcing Pietermaritzburg's positioning as Africa's "Bike City".

"We are passionate about our international destination marketing, and the positioning of Pietermaritzburg as the continent’s "Bike City" is now well established," said Clive Coetzee, the General Manager: Infrastructure Management and Economic Services at the KwaZulu-Natal Provincial Treasury.

"For the two weeks of the masters and elite world champs, almost every hotel and B&B in the city is fully booked out, and the visitors to the event will spend significantly on local products and services. Huge sums of money are generated through the hosting of these events," he said.

"We got involved almost by default," said Coetzee. "When the uMsundusi municipality went into financial difficulty, it landed up on my desk. After evaluating it from a lot of different angles we realised that we have something really good going on here."

"At that stage there was serious talk about Durban putting in a serious bid for the Olympics, which also became a factor in the early stages," he added.

"It is clear that the UCI (International Cycling Federation) are very happy with us and the way we have hosted these events, because they are coming back to us asking us to host more. That's very encouraging and it positions us in the top five cycling centres in the world."

"If we do decide to commit to hosting the Olympics, then this is one box that we have ticked," he said.

Pietermaritzburg's status as a "Bike City" positions the city as one of three continental cycling hubs, along with Copenhagen for Europe and Melbourne for Australasia.

"As we increased our exposure and we saw the benefits, it became easier to secure the funding to the point where these cycling events are now a base item in our budgets, which means that we can commit to supporting these events for the next five to seven years.

"It is important for us that these big international events have some sort of spill-over effect," said Coetzee. "We want kids to get involved in cycling and staying active, and for people of this region to use the fantastic facilities that are now available to them."

"Already if you go to these facilities on the weekends you can see the number of families that are out there riding. It's creating a culture of fitness and a healthy outdoor lifestyle, which, while it is difficult to quantify, it is very important to us."

Pietermaritzburg now has an international standard BMX track as well as a the multi-functional mountain bike facilities available at the Cascades MTB Park.

Coetzee confirmed that the success of positioning Pietermaritzburg as a "Bike City" has led to a sweeping plan to position other sporting codes with cities and towns in the province, and to start developing facilities and ultimately trying to attract top level events to those centres.

"Maritzburg and cycling has been a massive success so we now don't need to try and sell the potential impact of this strategy," said Coetzee. "We have brilliant support from Cycling South Africa and the UCI, and we have an experienced pool of top class organisers.

"We would like to work towards a stage where we have a full calendar of events spread spatially around KwaZulu-Natal that builds up to the hosting of various international championships, especially those codes that are Olympic sports."

"I don't think people understand just how big this world championships is going to be for Pietermaritzburg," Coetzee went on to say. "The city will be flooded with foreigners - riders, their families and lots of media - and I hope that the people come in their tens of thousands to support it."

"There is acknowledged recognition globally that cities that successfully host top sporting events are premium cities. That gets people excited and proud of being part of KwaZulu-Natal and being South African, and hopefully it will get them outdoors and active as well.

"The MTB World Champs will be a very important case study for us, and one that we hope to replicate in other regions of the province."

The UCI Mountain Bike and Trials World Championships takes place at Cascades MTB Park in Pietermaritzburg from August 26 to September 1, 2013, and will be preceded by the UCI MTB Masters World Championships from August 21 to 25.

Stay tuned to Cyclingnews for full coverage of the world championships.

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