Mountain-bike-tourism-driven economic development?

Provocate likes the idea of the Indianapolis Museum of Art’s event March 22: a screening of “With My Own 2 Wheels,” a film about how bicycles can contribute to empowerment around the world; a discussion with a panel of bike enthusiasts; then an invitation to break out into action-oriented table discussions. We liked it so much that made it one of our first picks for our feature for the Indianapolis Star, Live Local, Think Global.  But in the last day or two it has gotten a lot more interesting, more original, and perhaps more important.

The long term goal of the Haiti Mountain Bike VolunTourism Project is to establish a sustainable adventure tourism industry in Haiti, operated and serviced by local Haitian micro-enterprise businesses in partnership with the international adventure and ecotourism industry.

It started — as so many interesting, original and important initiatives do — with Amy King being invited to join the post-film panel. Back in January Amy was part of an adventure scouting trip to to Haiti led by the cause-oriented travel company travelcology: adventure for good, which has a project called “Mountain Bike Ayiti.” It’s a great idea, making this most raw and gorgeous of countries open to Western tourists who are attracted by the challenge and willing to help promote sustainable income-generating projects.

[jbutton link=http://www.mtbayiti.org/ color=”black”]Watch the Promo Trailer for Mountain Bike Ayiti[/jbutton]

For example: Amy notes that preparing for the Haiti Ascent Mountain Bike Stage Race (one of the world’s most mountainous mountain bike races) this coming winter is employing  a Haitian adventure tour company for logistics, a Haitian artist for logo design, Haitian Boy Scouts for trail prep, and a local bike outfitter.  This could be just the start of an infrastructure supporting Haiti emerging as a major tourism destination, which could be its main economic hope for the future.

Already it’s possible to see the post-film conversation at the IMA taking new directions on March 22nd.  People will drift to tables where they can brainstorm about how to turn the discussion into real solutions to problems. At least one of those tables will be asking global questions about bikes and empowerment. What Mountain Bike Ayiti is doing is different from the five stories of personal empowerment via bikes that the crowd will see in the film.

Mountain-biking tourism could be an engine of economic development for Haiti. (That’s also different than the series of lectures and discussions about international biking that have happening around Indy the past few months … they’ve been Willie Weir and guys like him who look at biking in poor countries as a kind of exotica, not asking how building an infrastructure for biking tourists can help pull people out of poverty.) Groups such as World Bicycle Relief (which helped make and distribute With My Own 2 Wheels) and Wheels4Life do a great job of getting cheap bikes under the seats of people in poor countries. But what Amy can talk about to the Toby-load of biking enthusiasts March 22nd will be a different proposition: let’s get tools, helmets, and spare parts into the hands of Haitians. Let’s work with various Haitian educational institutions to get training in bike repair and English lessons into the heads of Haitians. We could have some concrete projects for the bike-nuts at IMA to get behind next week.