The Economic Benefits of Mountain Biking at One of Its Meccas: An Application of the Travel Cost Method to Mountain Biking in Moab, Utah

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Place: Moab

Overview

This study found that the Slickrock Trail, a world-famous mountain bike trail in Moab, Utah, draws a large number of avid users annually, who are willing to travel long distances and spend large sums to reach it. Because access fees are a relatively low portion of overall trip cost, visitation rates are unlikely to change much even if they are increased.

Relevance

This study provides a useful benchmark for the potential economic impact of a signature, iconic, standard-setting trail. Unless a community is evaluating trail use or economic potential in a similarly world-renowned area, the values from this study are likely to be an overestimate, but it does provide an upper bound.

Location

This study was conducted on a trail in Moab, Utah. The populations of Moab (5,087 in 2013) and Grand County (9,269 in 2013) are small, but the area is an extremely popular tourism destination with more than one million visitors to Arches and Canyonlands National Parks combined annually. It is also a top destination for mountain bikers, with over 100,000 visitors annually to the Slickrock Trail alone.

Trail Type

This study surveyed mountain bikers on the Slickrock Trail.  The Moab area is one of the most famous mountain biking destinations in the nation, and as one of the most popular trails in the area, the Slickrock Trail is a highly unique recreational resource.

Purpose

Moab is nationally recognized as a recreation destination for mountain bikers and off-road motorcycle users.  Using visitor counter data, the study estimated the annual value of the Slickrock Trail, as well as the intrinsic value held by trail users for a day of mountain biking.  This paper is frequently cited by those who wish to demonstrate the value of mountain biking. This is a scholarly analysis conducted by university economists.

Findings

This study estimates benefits to users in terms of “consumer surplus”, an estimate of the intrinsic value a trail user holds for the opportunity of riding the trail, measured in dollar terms. Consumer surplus is the additional amount an individual would be willing to pay, above the actual amount they had to pay for things like travel expenses and access fees. Consumer surplus is a non-market value, which means that while the resource may be important to individuals, they do not actually pay for it in a marketplace.

The study estimates that Moab mountain biking generated the following benefits for users, in addition to their daily spending:

  • $197 to $205 per individual per trip,
  • $53.08 to $55.27 per individuals per day, and
  • $8,422,800 to $8,770,300 for total annual use at Slickrock Trail alone.

The surveys revealed the following information about the average mountain biking trip:

  • Average length of trip was 5 days.
  • Of these 5 days, on average 4 were spent in Moab.
  • Groups traveled an average of 525 miles to reach Moab.
  • The average group was 3.74 people.
  • The average age of the trail user was 27.

From the model results, the authors also determined that visitation numbers would decline very little if fees were increased from $3 to $10. They attribute this to the fact that these fees make up a small proportion of a visitor’s total costs.

Methods

To estimate an individual’s total willingness to pay to visit Moab, the authors surveyed visitors to the Slickrock Trailhead from March 9-16, 1996. Every fifth visitor ending their ride was asked to complete a survey, resulting in 345 visitors approached. Of these, 35 refused, resulting in a response rate of 90 percent. Individuals who reported multiple purposes for their trip or who visited places other than Moab were omitted from the analysis, leaving individuals visiting for mountain biking alone.  Respondents were non-residents.

Visitors were asked:

  • the primary purpose for their trip
  • how many times they went to Moab in the previous 12 months
  • how much they spent to get to Moab
  • how much they spent while in Moab
  • how long it took to get to Moab

The authors used a travel cost statistical model to predict how many trips the average person would take based on travel cost, travel time, age, and the distance to similar sites trail users could have chosen instead of visiting Moab. The authors used two different variables at similar sites–either weather or desert terrain–to calculate a range of final values. From these model results, the study calculated the average individual’s per-trip and per-day consumer surplus.

Citation

Fix, P. and J. Loomis. 1997. “The Economic Benefits of Mountain Biking at One of Its Meccas: An Application of the Travel Cost Method to Mountain Biking in Moab, Utah.” Journal of Leisure Research 29(3): 342.