There is a story which tells that for many years, there used to be sign above Picadilly Circus saying "Either exports go up, or Britain goes down". I'm no expert on London, and I've never seen the sign, but the sentiment is quite right.
Regardless of what financiers and politicians may want you to believe, economics is actually quite simple to understand: if you spend more than what you earn, you'll get poorer and if you earn more than what you spend, you'll get richer.
When a country imports anything, it is spending, and when it exports, it is earning. Simple!
When we go abroad for our holidays, to Britain we are spending, and when foreigners come here for a holiday, we are earning.
In Europe there are many millions of people that each year are looking at various holiday destinations. Some destinations, such as Turkey, will always be popular due to its climate. Even within the EU there are hot, almost tropical holiday destinations, and these are very popular.
Clearly the UK cannot offer what Ibiza or the south of France can, so that must mean we cannot compete for any share of the tourist market, doesn't it? Well, no, that isn't quite how it works. See, not everybody wants to holiday in sweltering heat. Just ask the Laplanders - they seem to have carved out quite a lucrative niche market!
We do have a great deal to offer tourists, though. From our areas of outstanding natural beauty, to our history (ancient and more recent) and indeed even the different cultures that are to be found across Britain.
But we have very little to offer cycle tourists. Except adrenaline junkies who think it's fun to share a narrow road like the A386 with large articulated lorries - believe me, I don't find that fun!
Of course, like most people from Britain, you probably don't think cycle tourism is worth much. Certainly our entire hospitality sector down here in Plymouth seems to behave as if cycle tourism is worthless. You may therefore be surprised for how big a market it actually is: it is worth 44 BILLION Euros each year!
Just think about that for a moment, will you? Britain's deficit, according to most recent figures, suddenly seems low at a mere £14.4 billion! And yes, there is a difference in value between Sterling and the Euro, yet even with that taken into consideration, we're still looking at a market worth £35 BILLION annually! That's big!
Now, the problem is one of competition: there are lots of countries, or even regions of countries, competing for the same share of cycle tourists. Given the superb cycling infrastructure some European countries have, why would anybody want to come cycling here instead? If you had to choose where to go on your cycling holiday, would you choose Britain, or the Netherlands?
Of course, it isn't all doom and gloom. Some European countries have drivers that are as aggressive towards cyclists as drivers in the UK generally tend to be. Many cyclists have complained of drivers in parts of Spain, and in Italy, to name just two.
Sadly there is doom and gloom part: go to the Plymouth continental ferry port by bicycle, then start cycling away from there. Remember, you're NOT allowed to ride on the pavement! And yes, I'm being deadly serious. If you're in the hospitality sector, if you are in local government, or if you simply want your city, county or country to do better financially, then get on a bike and go find out first-hand how uninviting we make things for cyclists.
Yes, yes. I know YOU won't ever go on a cycling holiday, but catch up, will you! I thought we'd established that there is a MASSIVE market out there! The question is what will YOU do to ensure Plymouth, or even the UK gets a fair bite of the apple?
Now there's an old saying that goes like this: If we do what we've always done, we'll get what we always got. Clearly doing what we've always done is not an option. So again I ask you, what will you do?
Do you run a B&B? If so, do you cater for cyclists? That doesn't simply mean having a shed to shove the bikes in. Think of things like a dry room, where cyclists' wet stuff can rapidly dry. Be creative!
Are you a shopkeeper? Is there somewhere decent for cyclists to lock their bikes up while they shop in your store? And no, I don't mean one of those horrid wheel-bender cycle stands. Have you campaigned for decent cycle paths past your shop, and if not, why not? Don't you know that cyclists make better and more profitable customers than drivers? Remember, you're trying to attract additional custom, which will show on your bottom line, so make it inviting and easy for cyclists to shop at your store.
Are you a road engineer? Get out of your car and on a bike, then see for yourself how stupid and woefully inadequate the cycling infrastructure you perhaps helped put in place actually is. Then ask yourself if the infrastructure that exists is sufficiently good to attract European cyclists. Be honest with yourself, and think outside of your own limited view of the world. Look at the bigger picture, then ask yourself what you can do to improve things.
Are you a councilor, especially one that claims to have high aspirations for your county, parish, city or town? Then stop thinking about what is good for you and start thinking creatively. Start looking at the enormous potential for economic returns on decent cycling infrastructure. Make your area safer, more pleasant AND more financially prosperous!
We've tried the same things for ages and ages, with the same disappointing results. NOW is the time to stop doing things the old way and to find new ways to improve things for cycling. In doing so, you will do your community a whole lot of good, and collectively we may just end up doing enough to attract large numbers of European cycling tourists to our shores.