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Port Dover's Cycle of Life

They celebrated their 50th “Friday the 13th” get-together in Port Dover in August, an event that saw the population of the Norfolk County town swell from 6,000 to as many as 200,000, with more than 30,000 motorcycles venturing in and out during the perfect summer weekend.

It was the only Friday the 13th of the year, and there’s only one in 2011 (in May). But while some businesses actually close down during those days, they can’t come often enough for many merchants. A detailed study in 2008—one that certified Port Dover for a Guinness World Record—officially “tagged” 11,982 motorcycles for the June event. With an average of $206 in local expenses per person, per day, that translated into a grand total of $2,468,292 in revenue for everyone from T-shirt vendors to gas stations.

A survey of bikers—94 percent of whom hailed from Canada with four percent from the U.S.—also indicated that there was an average of five return trips a year. If they returned the reported number of day trips and overnight stays to Norfolk County, they would have contributed another $6,132,542 to the economy in 2008. Therefore, including that June 13th, the total economic impact would have been $8,600,834 in motorcycle tourism alone for that year. But that was just the “official” number. The estimated motorcycle total was believed to have been twice the tagged number. Those 24,000 bikers, therefore, would have brought an estimated $5 million to that single Friday the 13th event, resulting in a total spinoff of $17,227,008 of biker-related revenues through the year for Port Dover. These statistics also do not take into account all of the extra tourists, which were estimated at 120,000. Not does it discuss the positive effects of tourism emerging from extensive media coverage of each event.

Among the more dramatic examples of the impact of these rare calendar days to local businesses is the town’s most popular watering hole, the Norfolk Tavern, which notes one-day average sales 25 kegs of beer within the tavern and another 115 kegs in the tent outside during summer-month Friday the 13ths. For the uninitiated, there are 7.5 cases of beer per keg. That translates into approximately 25,000 glasses of beer. And at $4.50 a pop, that’s $113,000 a day in beer sales alone for that one establishment.

There’s also, of course, a price to be paid in infrastructure preparations, which includes added security, although noteworthy incidents are rare, given the eclectic mix of age and demographics of today’s motorcycle enthusiasts, which include many white-collar professionals.

“The benefit of an event like this to the local businesses is the return visitor,” explains Port Dover Board of Trade office manager Jan Overend, “because we have something for everyone: a sandy beach, boat rides, Sea-Doo rentals, theatre, museum, trails, golf, horseback riding, shopping, entertainment, bars/pubs and restaurants, accommodations, camping, marinas, concerts in the park and other festivals—plus we’re affordable!”

Building on the popularity of the event (it has its own website: pd13.com), the area has also developed a “Cruise the Coast” motorcycle map with Haldimand and Elgin counties promoting motorcycle tourism. 

“We printed 10,000 maps for the Motorcycle Supershow last January in Toronto, and they were such a hit that we had to reprint 20,000 more,” says Cindy Vanderstar, the promotions coordinator for Norfolk County’s Tourism and Economic Development. “We constantly get calls and requests for these maps.”


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