Leisure travel and cycling: the case of festivals

Check me the hell out, I’m being politically engaged.

I submitted the following brief piece to the All Party Parliamentary Cycling Group under their call for evidence, which is very very shortly now going forward to a proper, six session long parliamentary inquiry on the topic of: “Cycling is great. Let’s do more of it.”

Will it get used? God knows, probably not that important in the grand scheme of things but I will certainly wet my pants with excitement if it does.


Always wear a helmet when playing DJ Hero, kids

Summary: Cycling accounts for a very low level of both leisure and utility cycling. Leisure travel, particularly holidaying is only dominated by aviation for foreign holidays, not domestic, suggesting emissions reduction should also focus on encouraging non-car usage for domestic leisure travel. Data from a range of festivals shows currently unremarkable levels of cycling, although a few recent efforts have made modest yet successful ‘first steps’ which may provide valuable lessons for festivals, leisure travel and the role of cycling within this.

Leisure travel accounts for the greatest number of miles travelled on average, per person, per year. At an average of 2611 miles, this is near double that of the next highest category of commuting and nearly a third of the total of 6726 miles, or approximately ¼ of the distance around the world at the equator. We might jump to the conclusion that a great deal of these miles are accounted for by relatively few overseas holidays; presumably by air, presumably travelling to far away places, yet 78% of ‘leisure miles’ are accounted for by the car, compared 5% by ‘Other public transport[1]’, and finally to a rather sad 0.6% by bicycle.

‘Leisure travel’ is defined in these Department for Transport (2011) statistics as everything from visiting friends and relatives to domestic and foreign holidays[2]; however the Association of British Travel Agents consumer trends survey (2011) reveals 63% of Brits taking one foreign holiday and 34% taking more than one, of which over 70% of visits both to and from the UK were made by air travel. In addition to foreign travel, around 80% also took one or more domestic breaks. The ‘leisure miles’ include this high level of air travel, yet on average are still dominated by car travel.

The behavioural aspect of both leisure and utility transport choices has been researched thoroughly (Anable et al 2005 & 2006, Jensen 1999), revealing evidence behind commonly stated assumptions behind reliance on cars, particularly for leisure: their cultural, social and ‘status’ effects, and the balance of both instrumental (functional, rational) and affective (emotive, empowering) motivations.

Festivals, and for want of a better definition, other large scale participatory, cultural, mass-gatherings of all varieties, are large sources of domestic tourism in the UK. Urban-based festivals, such as the 11 Edinburgh Festivals that attracted a total audience of approximately 1m in 2010, and the 3 day long Notting Hill Carnival is estimated to attracted 1m or more. For Greenfield festivals, Festival Republic alone (Leeds & Reading, Latitude) claim to attract audiences of 500,000 per year, of a total audience of 3.4 million who UK Music estimated to have visited any music festival[3] in 2009.

Festivals present an interesting context for considering and intervening in leisure travel habits, as they are unconstrained by the day-to-day ‘permanence’ of visitor attractions, which has its own benefits and disadvantages. Transport is of particular interest, given that it is typically one of their largest sources of GHG emissions[4]: understandable when the product is naturally temporary and intangible. Julies Bicycle estimated that audience travel alone accounted for nearly 70% of the (mainly Greenfield music) festival sectors’ total emissions, and it is hard to imagine the overall picture for urban festivals being particularly different, despite the transport infrastructure.

Research carried out by Maughan & Fletcher (2008-2011) into the economic, social and environmental impact of festivals has produced a range of comparable data across a number of festivals in Leicester; and a range of editions, or years, of these festivals. The audience questionnaires used typically include travel choices and a point of origin to calculate distance travelled, that should be commensurable with the Department for Transport statistics given earlier.

DfT (2011)







Av. Miles

Av. Km

All travel by bicycle





All leisure travel by bicycle





Festivals (2008-11)
Summer Sundae Weekender

3 day, pop music

~7,000 per day





Big Session Festival

3 day, folk music

~4,000 per day





Leicester Comedy Festival

17 day, multi-venue

~40,000 total





Leicester Caribbean Carnival

1 day carnival

~20,000 total


(not calculated)



Greenlight Festival

1 day, single venue

~1,000 total


(not calculated)



The picture seems relatively similar to background levels of cycling, yet it is of note that levels remain similar across different types of festivals, although few could be described as ‘true’ Greenfield music festivals, given that they all take place in venues or on grounds/parks within Leicester. The exception is the Greenlight Festival, ‘Leicesters’ festival of sustainable living’ which presumably appeals to quite a specific, local audience already likely to be highly pro-cycling. This is not to suggest the other festivals are poor, in terms of overall emissions: all of the above cases also show relatively high levels of travel ‘on foot’ (from 7-30%).

While the data presented here only reflects a small slice of festivals, and an even smaller slice of leisure travel as a whole, it nevertheless provides some food for thought among researchers, festival organisers and those wishing to ‘Get Britain Cycling’. A recent Guardian article “Music festivals give headline slot to bike schemes”, detailed some of the incentives these festivals have used to encourage and enable what is often considerably long distance cycling among those who may be potentially new or infrequent cyclists[5]. In 2012, the Bestival ‘Bike to Bestival’ and Latitude ‘Tour de Latitude’ schemes both launched, offering organised rides of up to 100 miles in length, with luggage taken by a support vehicle. Both also raised money for charity, with each receiving over £10,000 from participants and other donors. Of course, the crucial figure: ‘How many people actually participated and cycled to these events?’ reveals plenty of scope left for growth: around 50 for Bestival and 150 for Latitude, of a total audience of up to 55,000 and 35,000 respectively: or 0.09 and 0.42 percent. Other festivals included in the article were also making efforts, WOMAD, Green Man, Glastonbury: ranging from secure lock-up facilities, vouchers for food, or access to enhanced facilities.

Despite these humble beginnings, both festivals are effectively investigating the features which add up to make cycling a more appealing choice for leisure travel. The focus of the discussion around these options, as presented to the audience, clearly emphasises travel “as” leisure not travel “for/to” leisure. The appeal focuses on ‘extending’ the festival experience, the communal, social aspects of group cycling, the health benefits (especially in the context of a typically ‘unhealthy’ festival). This is as well as being offered improved ‘tangibles’ such as camping and facilities, food and refreshments en route and the sense of achievement involved in the physical, and fundraising effort itself as well as a more subtle sense of being a member of a very exclusive group. Finally, the high profile given by the festivals to these schemes, and the associated press coverage will presumably have helped build awareness among the majority of the non-cycling audience, and it will be interesting to see the uptake of these schemes in future years.

Given the infrastructure available and distance from audience-to-venue, multi-venue urban-based festivals seem better placed to encourage cycling, although the larger festivals (typically Greenfield music festivals) might have an easier task of focusing efforts, providing support and  creating the necessary ‘buzz’ to drive (or rather ‘pedal’) these schemes. The factors involved make festivals a varied and interesting case for investigation, with a wide variation of event format, numbers of venues/sites and distances involved, and general audience levels and demographics.

The efforts to date may be seen as gimmicky, or even greenwashing, yet the reality of emissions caused by car-dominated domestic tourism suggests that their contribution is certainly worthy of some note. Julies Bicycle, despite the name, does not currently monitor cycling and walking to festivals within its existing emissions framework[6]. Given that these are both zero-emissions modes, it is not surprising they are not monitored: but their inclusion could help cycling to be genuinely considered by festivals, as well as better understanding what efforts have the greatest ultimate impact on numbers cycling. Furthermore, the platform given to cycling by festivals could be of real use in encouraging broader uptake, along the lines of various studies linking participation in ‘one-off’ cycling events to more frequent ‘year-round’ levels. (Bowles et al, 2006).

Festivals that encourage cycling can help put the ‘leisure’ back into ‘leisure travel’.


Anable, J et al, “A review of public attitudes to climate change and transport.”, Department for Transport, 2006

Anable, J et al, “All work and no play? The role of instrumental and affective factors in work and leisure journeys by different travel modes.”, Transportation Research, 2005 (163-181)

Bowles, HR et al, “Mass community cycling events: Who participates and is their behaviour influenced by participation?”, International Journal of Behavioural Nutrition and Physical Activity, 2006. Viewed online at http://www.ijbnpa.org/content/3/1/39 as of 7th December 2012.

“Cyclists take the green route to Bestival”, Times article, published 7th September 2012, viewed online at http://www.thetimes.co.uk/tto/public/cyclesafety/article3531738.ece as of 7th December 2012

“Destination Music”, UK Music, 2011

“Edinburgh Festivals Impact Study – Final report”, BOP Consulting, 2011

“Jam Packed: Part 1 Audience Travel Emissions from Festivals”, Julies Bicycle, 2009

Jensen, M, “Passion and heart in transport – a sociological analysis on transport behaviour.”, Transport Policy, 1999, (19-33)

Maughan & Fletcher, data from primary research, various published and unpublished reports to festival organisers 2008-2011, De Montfort University

“Music festivals give headline slot to bike schemes”, Guardian article, published 23rd April 2012, viewed online at http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/bike-blog/2012/apr/23/music-festivals-cycling-bike-blog as of 7th December 2012

“Transport Statistics Great Britain: 2011 edition”, Department for Transport, 2011

“Travel trends report”, Association for British Travel Agents, 2012

[1] Which is defined as “Non-local bus, taxi/minicab, air, ferries, light rail”

[2] It feels odd, yet necessary to also point out that ‘Shopping’ is not classed here as a Leisure activity.

[3] Those with a total attendance of over 5,000

[4] Audience transport is sometimes included or excluded from festival emissions reports: the question of ‘whose responsibility is it?’ comes up in discussion, as it is not directly controlled by organizers, even though it is a clear pre-requisite.

[5] Warren Howard, co-ordinator of Bike to Bestival was quoted as saying: “The best part of the whole event is the diaspora of people that come to challenge themselves.” suggesting that participants were not all dedicated or even frequent cyclists.

[6] In this report we are focusing specifically on festivals, though it should be noted Julies Bicycle work across the whole ‘creative industries’, including performing arts venues, galleries and more.

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