Bike Tour Vacations

​Jim Plaunt operates small group bicycle tours in the Great Lakes region. The heart of the business is 5-7-day, fully supported tours where the group rides between 30 and 50 miles a day.

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The tour firm caters to a senior clientele. “I thought the age bump was 45-65,” said Plaunt. “But it’s really more like 60-80.” Plaunt points to a few reasons for that, but it’s mostly that they include high-quality lodging and dining, a factor that “thins the herd a bit.”

To cultivate new business, Bike Tour Vacations typically attends a handful of bicycle-oriented trade shows each year. With in-person events being shuttered for 2021, the company this year has a virtual booth at the Iowa Bike Expo, sponsored by the Iowa Bicycle Coalition. RAGBRI, a partner of the event, will kick off the across-state annual bike riding event, the route announcement of which is the highlight of the day. “What RAGBRI has given to small operators like me is the background and training for how to make this work. My business liability insurance is something that people made up for the event. It’s aimed at bicycle tour operators. They understand what we are doing and they offer some coverages which are generally excluded by other liability companies,” said Plaunt. He is also a member of local bicycle riding groups and cultivates tour participants from their ranks.

2020 was an unprecedented year for bike sales and Plaunt feels that it will be a boon for business in the future. “There’s a lot of pent-up demand from 2020. People didn’t get to go anywhere and they are ready to go now,” he said.

After a strong start, the firm’s 2020 bookings were on the verge of topping 2019’s by February, when the season came to a halt. The firm managed to run three trips to the Pictured Rocks region in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. The first was a scheduled departure. Then in June, Plaunt got a call from an affinity group that raises money for climate change issues. They said they would like to have a small tour so he offered them the same Pictured Rocks tour. The group used the tour as a fundraising effort. In order to go on the trip, participants had to raise a specific amount of funds. Plaunt was fortunate enough to have a third small affinity group taking that same tour, so essentially they ran the same trip back-to-back-to-back.

Based on the size of the group, Bike Tour Vacations will put 2-4 staff on the trip. “In a perfect world we’d have 16-20 guests on a tour,” said Plaunt. “We’ve had a weekend tour with 47 people on that, but that’s a different animal.”

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Looking forward to the future, Plaunt is optimistic. “I’m ahead of last year’s head count. The busy booking season is January/February and I think people are itching to get out the door.” Still, he doesn’t anticipate that business will be back to normal with current travel restrictions in place through much of the summer.

As for the future, Plaunt said, “I could be retired, I don’t have to do this, I want to do this. When things are going well, it’s great fun. And even when they are not going well, it’s also a challenge and enjoyable.”