Destination Stewardship Report – Volume 4, Issue 3

This post is from the Destination Stewardship Report, a publication that provides practical information and insights useful to anyone whose work or interests involve improving destination stewardship in a post-pandemic world.

Birdwatching by bicycle, Baie de Somme. All photos courtesy Top 100 competition.

50 Years of Cycling and Conservation

Another winner from the Top 100 – Every year, Green Destinations organizes the Top 100 Destination Sustainability Stories competition, which invites submissions from around the world – a vetted collection of stories spotlighting local and regional destinations that are making progress toward sustainable management of tourism and its impacts. As previously, we’ve selected two more stories from the winners, this one from a bay in France where ecotourism, estuaries, and pancake topography combine for success. Synopsis by Ailin Fei. Top 100 submission by François Goudeau, Baie de Somme Communications Director.

In Northern France, the Baie de Somme combines Bicycle Tourism with a Long-term Mindset

Baie de Somme estuaries

For half a century the Baie de Somme – a popular tourist spot in northern France less than three hours from major urban areas, close to Paris, London, and Brussels – has faced challenges from overtourism and environmental degradation. A cycling-centric approach has helped combat these issues.

Fed by the Somme River, this estuarine region features dunes, cliffs, forests, and salt meadows. Renowned for birdlife and seals, the Baie hosts a diversity of sustainably managed landscapes, as well as a rich culture and history. It attracts travellers in search of authentic discoveries.

In the mid-1970s, however, it was earmarked for massive development typical of seaside resorts at the time, combining high-rise buildings on the seafront and marinas replacing typical historic harbours. A plan adopted in 1974 – now called the Syndicat Mixte Baie de Somme – instead shifted the focus to responsible tourism, sustainable development, and ecomobility initiatives. The Syndicat Mixte launched the Bicycle Plan in 2001.

Dual-purpose road at Cayeux-sur-Mer

Promoted in cooperation with Somme Tourisme and local stakeholders, the Bicycle Plan played a crucial role in developing infrastructure and attracting cycle tourists. Over the years, five programs were executed representing an investment of €21,404,578 from various sources. One example: An upgraded a rural road with two concrete rolling lanes, thereby avoiding a diversion for bicycle tourists, but also allowing residents and farmers to leave their land without damaging the surface, all while blending in perfectly with the landscape.

Success factors include a long-term vision, commitment to conservation, rich heritage, and strategies promoting awareness. The Syndicat Mixte works in collaboration with the Regional Natural Park to enhance accessibility through soft mobility and create personalized itineraries using a node system.

The website Baiecyclette serves as a guide, showcasing the extensive 160 km cycle path network, grown from only 22km in the early 2000s. Improved hospitality offerings and investments attrtacted 715,600 bicycle tourists in 2022, reducing traffic congestion. As the destination celebrates 50 years of visionary management in 2024, there is a focus on transgenerational continuity, passing down the enduring spirit and impetus for the younger generation to preserve the destination’s uniqueness.