Economy Affecting Motorcycle Rallies

Publish Date: 
Jan 23, 2008
By Holly J. Wagner

Vendor presence was fairly steady at last year's TourExpo, says Americade VP Christian Dutcher.

"We seemed to buck the trend of many other rallies, and slightly grew in '07," he says, adding, "2007 was 25th event, and there's always strong interest in an anniversary year. We also marketed the event more aggressively than prior years. We're also providing more services to our attendees, like shuttle buses to bring them to various parts of the rally."

Vendors at the Honda Hoot in Kentucky have remained steady for the last couple of years: 201 in 2006 and 200 last year. "The Honda Hoot vendor fees are among the lowest for a national rally," says Walt Miller, business manager for The Hoot.

Hoot attendance was up a bit, to 16,468 in 2007 from 15,751 in '06. Miller says the right vendor mix is key to an event's success.

"We do our best to have a good mix of vendors whose products cross most motorcycle segment lines, including non-motorcycle related vendors," Miller says. "It's heresy to say it, but many attendees do not live and breathe motorcycles 24 hours a day."

Rallies Spread As Dollars Stretch
The annual Black Hills Rally in and around Sturgis, S.D., draws about 800 to 900 vendors a year. Attendance was up slightly in 2007 (507,000) vs. 2006 (457,000).

But the downturn in the U.S. economy is forcing many rally organizers to brace for possible lower numbers this summer:

  • "With the changes forecast for the industry, things are going to start to slow down a little. You may not have growth, and you may be backing away from some of the crowds you were getting in the '90s," Sturgis Rally Director Pepper Massey-Swan says.
  • "We are prepared for whatever comes, and we are hoping we will get as many visitors as last year. We are seeing an improvement in the quality as well as the quantity of vendors," says Kevin Killian of the Daytona-Halifax Chamber of Commerce.
  • "We are increasing our promotional activities further, but given the economic slowdown that is widely forecast, we'll be pleased if we match the 2007 numbers," says Americade's Dutcher.

Organizers expect attendees to stretch their dollars in a number of ways. "The cost of fuel is going to start having a greater impact on what people do. The mad money is drying up. You are not seeing a decline in fuel prices this winter like we have in past years," Copeland says. While Myrtle Beach Bike Week draws about 350,000 people a year, visitors seem to be shortening their visits by one day.

"The attendance was about the same, but people did not stay as long as they did before" in 2007, Copeland says. "People only have so much money to spend. You about have to drop a day somewhere to accommodate the increase in cost, or increase your budget."