French tourism chiefs have been in Devon to see how the county is successfully promoting cycling tourism.
The group of 32 business people were given a tour of some of the county's cycle trails in a visit arranged through the Cycle West project, which has helped connect cycle routes in Devon and South West England with Brittany and Normandy.
The visit was an opportunity to highlight how Devon County Council is establishing a county-wide network and how it is working with Brittany and Normandy on the Cycle West project's cross-Channel Velodyssey Devon-Bretagne route, which stretches from Ilfracombe to Plymouth and onto Redon in France.
The final section of this route was opened last month with the opening of Drake's Trail between Tavistock and Plymouth, which includes the route's centrepiece, Gem Bridge.
The visitors viewed the £2.1 million bridge and the nearby Grenofen Tunnel as part of their fact-finding trip.
The visit follows Devon County Council's recent success in winning the award for Best All Round Scheme for Tourism from the Devon Federation of Small Businesses, in recognition of its £13 million investment in cycle trails in the county over the past three years. Councillor Stuart Hughes, Devon County Council Cabinet Member for Highways and Transportation, said: "I don't think anyone would have thought ten years ago that the French would be visiting us to see how we promote cycling in Devon, but we have earned a reputation as a premier destination for cycling tourism. It shows just how far we've come and the strides we have made.
"We've made a commitment to improve our network of cycle trails across the county and it is enabling hundreds of thousands of cyclists and walkers to explore Devon. Cycling in Britain is booming due to success at the Olympics and Bradley Wiggins winning the Tour de France. The Devon stage of The Tour of Britain also clearly demonstrated the support for cycling in the county."
Councillor Will Mumford, Devon County Council Cabinet Member for Economy, Enterprise, Employment and European issues, said: "The popularity of some of our cycle trails in Devon has helped establish a number of new businesses, such as cycle hire, and food and accommodation businesses have also benefited. Cycling is big business and our economy is starting to reap the rewards of the County Council's investment. That can only grow as we develop and complete more trails. The fact we have this business contingent from Europe shows the potential."
The French visitors were taken to Okehampton Station where local business Okehampton Adventure is planning to make the town a centre of excellence for cycling. They also cycled part of The Granite Way, to see the impact of the route on developing local businesses, enjoyed a Red Coat Tour in Exeter, and met with the Heart of Devon Tourism Partnership, who highlighted the positive effect the increased cycle infrastructure in Devon has had on the tourism economy.
Isabelle Parfitt, CYCLE WEST Project Manager, said: "The visit was a great opportunity to show French business owners the tourist offer in Devon and demonstrate the continuity of the network of CYCLE WEST routes on the other side of the channel; they were very impressed by what they saw here. A further visit taking professional service providers from the South West to France will be organised in 2013."