Farhad Divecha, managing director and founder of AccuraCast identifies sports tourism as an area that all travel firms can benefit from as the panedmic recovery takes hold.
The perception of sports travel is a complex one.
Years of TV scenes showing extreme football fans donning their favourite team’s shirt with a beer in hand, singing rude chants seems to be the image conjured up when most people think of sports tourism. But it’s more than this.
In fact, in 2018, the global sports tourism market was valued at €1.5 billion and was expected to grow to almost €7 billion by 2023; an average annual growth rate of 36%i.
And it’s not planning on stopping. So surely, there must be more to it than a group of mates flying to Europe once a year?
Just like food, architecture, religion, holidays and languages, sports can very much be a part of a destination’s culture.
While football is a great example of this, demonstrating its place in British culture perfectly, let’s not forget the likes of the Hong Kong Rugby 7s, UFC Fight Island in Abu Dhabi, the Monaco Grand Prix and Superbowl in the US, to name just a few.
And just like every other facet of culture, it’s an important part of the destination that should be celebrated and promoted, particularly after the last 12 months the travel industry has been subjected to.
Since the pandemic hit last March, travel marketers have been, quite admirably, thinking outside the box when it comes to tourism.
How exactly can we market travel when we can’t travel? While they’ve done a fantastic job where possible, with virtual tours, at home hotel kits, and flightless flights, now is the time to look ahead.
There’s finally light at the end of the tunnel and travel will return – with a bang. As will sporting events. So, imagine the impact that can be made when combining the two.
There are travel companies out there that focus completely on sports travel – Gullivers Sports Travel being one of the better-known ones.
There are also airlines and hotels that cater very well to the sports tourist. But what about tour operators?
The UK’s largest tour operator, TUI, recently said that bookings increased six-fold the day that the Prime Minister announced plans to slowly ease the national lockdown in Februaryii.
Similarly, Thomas Cook said that traffic on its website increased 75%iii.
While this is incredibly positive news for tour operators, I can’t help but think they’re missing a trick by not including sports travel more widely in their packages, search functions and general marketing.
Wellness tourism and sustainable tourism have been embraced by these brands, so why not sports too? It’s clearly not a fleeting trend and is here to stay.
Half of the battle is won when it comes to sports travel.
Usually, travel companies must start from the beginning marketing a trip to a consumer, convincing them to use their brand over another when they do finally book.
With sports tourists, those first steps are eliminated automatically.
We know exactly where the traveller will be heading, so brands can focus solely on tailoring the perfect trip for the customer.
After all, few travel overseas to watch England play in the World Cup final, for example (wishful thinking, granted) and then head straight back home without visiting a single local sight after the final whistle is blown?
They may stay on, visit local tourist sites and depending on the end result, will want to either celebrate or commiserate in these brand new, undiscovered surroundings before returning home.
It’s not just tour operators that stand to benefit, but also venues. Think Camp Nou in Barcelona and Lord’s Cricket Ground in London – both of which offer tours tailored not only to their fans but also visitors to the area.
The evolution of sports tourism, I believe, is two-fold.
The first is overcoming the perception of it from loud, lager-loving, football louts to quite literally, anyone.
Be it a group of friends, a single traveller, a family of four or even a retired couple.
As long as sports live on, the opportunity for sports tourism is endless, and now is the time, more than ever, for travel marketers to get on board.
You can either embrace sports tourism and knock it out the park – or risk scoring an own goal.
The ball really is in your court.
i CBI Ministry of Foreign Affairs: https://www.cbi.eu/market-information/tourism/sport-tourism/market-potential