Ádám Bodor from the European Cycling Federation shares his thoughts about the Iron Curtain Trail (SEE) project
EuroVelo 13 – The Iron Curtain Trail – connects 20 countries, 3 seas and over ten thousand kilometers of formerly closed border. A lighthouse project of this scale has a clear international appeal. By captivating the imagination of an international audience, people outside the typical cycle tourist profile may be interested.

This project is not only an attempt to change people’s habits but makes financial sense too. According to the study “The European cycle route network EuroVelo” commissioned by the European Parliament, the southern section of the Iron Curtain Trail (ICT) is expected to generate annually 1.5 million daytrips, more than 170,000 holiday trips and have a total economic impact of 97.7 million Euro per year if it is fully developed. Bearing in mind that the cost of the core activities of the project are set to total 58.5 million Euro for the 2014 – 2020 period, it is an investment well worth making.

In order to fulfill this potential and appeal to an international audience, the services and highlights of the destination need to be made clear. While local tours do generally exist, they are often in local languages and lack the visibility required. The aim of the transnational offers is to increase the visibility and accessibility of the best of what local services have to offer. Put simply, a cycle tourist wants to know what services they will find before they get to the route. In order to attract that tourist, information on these proposals must be accessible to them (in a language they understand) and must appeal to them (at a scale they understand). 

The diversity of the landscapes that the ICT crosses brings certain challenges. Different sections of the route have very different levels of population density and economic development and some sections will have better infrastructure than others. As well as outlining what it is that the route has to offer, a transnational package gives extra coverage to the route which can reassure potential users.

So, how was it done? 

EuroVelo has been working on putting together a Transnational Action Plan (TAP) and developing transnational packages with international appeal. In both these projects, an attempt was made to establish a common methodology. It has provided a framework for coordinated action that involved many countries and can be used as a reference in future projects. 

The goal of the Transnational Action Plan was to give an overview of the current status of the EuroVelo 13 project, identify its aims and outline the strategies by which to fulfill them. The TAP focused on five areas that are central to the success of the project: infrastructure, services, marketing & promotion, and organising & financing. 

In it, we propose to construct 304 km of new segregated cycle paths and 692 km of cycle lanes along main carriageways, whilst 207 km of surface improvements are needed for roads, mainly for cyclists. In order to reduce costs and improve road safety we proposed soft route development measures (shared lane marking and traffic calming / reduction) on 231 km of the route. The improvement of the quality of the low traffic public roads is necessary on 107 km. We defined 70 separate sections for the southern part of the Iron Curtain Trail. The length varies (between 12.5 and 92 km) and we want to be sure there are basic accommodations at least at the end of the daily sections. Unfortunately 17 sections in various rural stage of the route do not fulfil this basic criterion (of which 7 are placed in Serbia and 4 in Bulgaria), so we propose to develop basic accommodations on 10 sections, amongst other measures. To provide better services, especially for cyclists, we proposed to transform the service points to cycle friendly in every country and introduce label and quality insurance in those countries which do not yet have a national system. To reach and convince our target groups we have to integrate the Iron Curtain Trail to trans-national (EuroVelo), national, regional and local promotion activities and offers and we need new marketing – promotion actions (websites, printed promotion tools, events, study tours). The organisational solutions are the key to the sustainability in case of every long distance cycle route project. Beside awareness raising and training, we propose steering and working groups.

In parallel to putting together the TAP, the EuroVelo team has been working closely with local partners to set up coherent packages at the transnational level targeted at an international audience. It has resulted in the submission of seven different transnational packages between Bratislava in Slovakia to Edirne in Turkey. 

The first step was for local, regional, national packages to be submitted. These were either transport or tourism offers and highlighted which services most needed to be developed and promoted. After that, an evaluation was carried out to establish which of these initial offers were best suited to be integrated into a transnational offer. The proposals were mapped based on the itinerary outlined in the submissions. It was observed that there was a concentration of proposals along two sections of the ICT South. A classification of the submissions was made based on whether they constituted a touristic or a transport offer. It was also noted whether the proposals designated a specific operator and whether the proposals were at an idea stage or at a realisation stage.

Three different levels of cooperation among the tourism providers were identified. The first, most basic level of cooperation is that of mutual promotion. The participating partners may promote each other by providing linked recommendations on the tour websites and promotional material on the ground. The second level involves setting up a voucher system where mutual discounts of between 5% and 10% are offered based on previous participation in a partner tour. The final level of cooperation is to incorporate both tours into one offer. Modifying the original proposals to maximise complementarity or continuity can be envisaged.

Once the seven proposed transnational packages were put together, they were resubmitted to the local partners. The format, distance and duration of the various packages were of the same order. The next step will require close collaboration between the partners in order to identify an appropriate operator and bring the package to the market.