Mountain bikers in Whakarewarewa Forest are spending $30 million to $50m on their hobby each year in Rotorua, according to a new study.
The economic impact study was presented to the Rotorua Lakes Council's Strategy, Policy and Finance Committee meeting yesterday.
Data collected from four access points over a year showed about 230,000 rides were completed on Whakarewarewa trails annually by visitors and locals combined.
The study's survey responses showed riders' spending on the likes of food and drink, shuttle buses, bike and equipment hire, servicing and repairs, clothing and accommodation contributed an estimated 200 to 350 fulltime jobs to the Rotorua economy.
Councillor Tania Tapsell said the study would help "put to rest any criticism on what economic benefit it [mountain biking] is actually bringing in".
Councillor Charles Sturt agreed.
"The news is just going to get better and better because of the new developments with the world-class BMX track that is going to be built shortly, our new top class skatepark, and mountain bike events which are growing yearly."
The study did not examine the value of major events, other forests besides Whakarewarewa, the impact of other recreational users such as walkers or runners, the social, health or cultural wellbeing benefits of the forest, or the Rotorua Trails Trust whose volunteers maintain the trails.
Te Arawa representative Gina Mohi said: "I see that we are going to have 300 FTE jobs coming out of this but you know we have just had a report on homelessness. There are big social issues going on and then there are wonderful economic benefits and they just don't seem to meet, and that to me is a big issue."
She also said the study should have done more to acknowledge iwi who had shared the forest.
"What underpins this whole industry is that generosity of the iwi," she said.
Councillor Bentley said he was concerned too many council reports were being based on "guesstimates".
"At times when we are making decisions on future spending, I do not think best guesstimates are quite good enough."
Council strategy adviser Sean Callis said the estimates were "conservative" because the counters could not cover all forest entrances, nor could they cover the cyclists who entered on shuttle buses, nor could the study cover the total effects of Crankworx.
"If you drew a Venn diagram there would be overlap between the total spending attributed to Crankworx and the total spending attributed to this [Whakarewarewa Forest] study."
The study would help the council complete applications to the Government's Provincial Growth Fund.
Planet Bike hire and tours owner Lennore Osborne said it was "encouraging to see the figures and for Rotorua to realise its value".
She said the family business had watched mountain biking evolve in the district in the past 20 years.
"I describe it as Rotorua's snow, or that people come to Rotorua to surf the dirt."
Rotorua Mountain Bike Club president Matthew Hunt, who is also part of the Rotorua Trails Trust, said he was not at all surprised by the findings.
"Yes the spending is more than council had previously thought, but the sport has grown so much in the last five to 10 years here, especially since Crankworx came to town."
Club secretary Barbara Jenks held similar views.
"It [the forest] is rated so highly, people want to be there and it is so easy to get there safely from anywhere in the city. The hotels and motels have really come on board. Most of them offer facilities for locked up bike storage and bike cleaning and washing areas."
A brief history:
1993 – First Rotorua trails built by local mountain bike enthusiast Fredrick Christensen and community service workers.
1994 – Rotorua Mountain Bike Club started.
2006 – UCI Mountain Bike and Trials World Championships held in August.
2008 – Treaty settlement gives recreational access to Whakarewarewa Forest for duration of Crown Industry's time there.
2014 – Trails Trust established to maintain existing trails and create new ones.
2015 – Crankworx World Tour expands to Rotorua.