The shape of John Key's "national cycleway" is becoming clearer, after the Prime Minister gave more details about a "series of 'Great Rides'" in a tourism speech this morning.

Key attracted criticism about the lack of price and route detail for a national cycleway unveiled at the much-hyped February"Jobs Summit".

His initial claim of a $50 million price tag for what was originally pitched as a national cycleway from Cape Reinga to Bluff was thought by many to be unrealistic.

Key told the Hotel Industry Conference in Auckland this morning that $50m would be allocated to the project over the next three years.

"I see the national cycleway developing from a series of "Great Rides" through some of New Zealand's most beautiful scenery. Our long-term goal is to create a network that links these "Great Rides" into a uniquely New Zealand set of cycling experiences that connects and passes through our cities."

The routes for these rides would be influenced by existing cycleways, facilities and tourism attractions.

Key said the Government was working with councils and community groups to identify suitable routes that could boost employment and regional economies.

"The plan is evolving, we'll have more to say about that, certainly it's a collaborative project, we'll be working with local communities, working out the likely tracks , but there's some really exciting initiatives, there's a lot of work gone on behind the scenes," he said.

"It's fair to say regions right across the country have been coming forward, proposing ideas and I think they are going to put that $50 million to good use."

"We have a got a very clear vision for it now, a series of cycleways which will be linked together to a nationwide cycleway over time and I think you're going to see a lot of tourists coming, particularly from overseas, but also from New Zealand, piggy-backing on the success of the Otago Rail Trail."

"Government has huge advantages," said Key. "We have access to Ontrack, so therefore we have access to the rail corridor, we have clear access to the conservation estate which is huge, so we can ensure that those rides are going to go through some of the most beautiful parts of New Zealand."

The Government hopes its $50 million, three-year Budget allocation to the cycleway project in the Budget would attract extra contributions from regional and community groups, business and individuals.

"The cycleway will help create jobs," said Key. "It will create a high-quality tourism asset that will help attract higher-value cycle tourists and complement our 100 per cent pure brand. And it will help unite and inspire regional communities in these difficult economic times."

Government will soon set up an advisory group to help out local groups as they develop proposals for the "Great Rides", he said.

Mountain biking guide author Jonathan Kennett said last month he believed the Government's role would be one of "supporting" the network, rather than developing it outright.

Kennett said the Government would back proposals that were ready to go, such as a cycleway from Queenstown's Lake Wakatipu to Bluff, then assess other opportunities later.

Government would likely take a role in overall promotion and publicity of the network.

John Willmer, Bike NZ's development manager, said he believed the Government would take a "hard-line business return" angle when deciding what trails would be in it.

"[The Government] might say: `bring us your plans for the trail and bring us the plans for the businesses you are going to develop around it'."

Willmer said the Government would be discrete, and start by supporting seven high-value riding opportunities. He said the rides would be community-driven initiatives.

This would avoid the Government taking the risk of determining a route which would mean "creating winners and losers".

Tourism Ministry figures show fewer than 2 per cent of visitors take part in cycling, but they stay more than twice as long as the average tourist and spend 1.6 times as much.

The proposed cycleway could attract international tourists but the benefits to local communities are unpredictable, one report suggests.

Ministry of Tourism figures for the year to last September show 45,000 of the 2,469,064 international visitors took part in a cycling sport. The cycling tourists spent $199 million on their trips - excluding international airfares - an average of $4386 each.

The average spending of all international tourists is $2692. Cycling tourists on average stayed in New Zealand for 49.2 nights, more than twice the average length of stay of 20.9 nights.

Britons make up the biggest number of cyclists at 19 per cent, followed by Australians at 17 per cent and Americans at 9 per cent. An economic study done last year on the Otago Central Rail Trail - New Zealand's longest and most successful cycling trail - found only about 30 per cent of its visitors were international tourists.

While making it clear that the tourism sector would not get any funding increase in the Budget, Key did point out that there had been no increase for it in the past eight years.
He said he did expect that Government would "put more into the pot" over the next few years.