Sports travel continues to grow despite economic conditions, and why not? In good times and bad, there are games to be played and team photos to take. In fact, sports tourism growth is expected to outpace other travel types by five percent annually. Often families forego traditional summer vacations, opting instead to fill their time with competitions and tournaments. Many cities have realized sports tourism is a specialty that requires a special touch.
What is Sports Tourism?
If you’re visiting a destination, when your main purpose of travel involves sporting activities – including watching from the sidelines – consider it sports tourism.
Given the different types of sporting events and travelers themselves, we picked the following three key categories to talk about marketing factors to consider, and how destinations can appeal to each:
Sports Event Tourism
As the name suggests, this type of travel involves drawing a crowd for a game, series or tournament. Marquee events like the Olympic Games, bowl games, racing and all-star events immediately come to mind due to their size and media exposure. Event travel isn’t limited to the mega-sports. Consider this, the Minto US Open Pickleball Championships hosted 800 participants and 10,000 spectators over five days resulting in over 1,500 room nights.
The growth of non-traditional sports. One of the hottest draws is e-sports. Multi-player video game happenings have filled Madison Square Garden, Staples Center and Oakland’s Oracle Arena. “These tournaments are garnering more attendance than NBA games,” says Lawrence Hamm Jr., sports development manager at Destination DC. “Cities are going to be looking at what’s next for competition, not just traditional sports.”
“Plugged in” and “mobile-centric” describe participants, sports event planners and spectators. Getting their attention in the digital marketplace is a good place to start. During the event, consider geo-fencing to keep visitors informed, drive them to the best spots and encourage return visits. Location-based marketing is a great way to communicate to those within the perimeter of the gathering, at the airport or near event related accommodations.
Active Sports Tourism
People who travel to participate in a sport tend to be affluent and skew male. Of course, the sport in question heavily influences participation rates, gender, age and even income. Activities such as hiking, tennis, bowling and running have cross-gender appeal.
Active Sports Audience Consideration:
Investing in identity. When we say, “a place is a great sports town” we often mean cities with dedicated fans and great venues. Attractive sports destinations share some of the same traits. Your brand and assets matter. Bed-tax dollars get invested into venues, parks, and sports marketing to keep a competitive edge. Think about what your area offers. Is your natural terrain scenic and flat? The city of Baton Rouge blended those assets with the area’s unique culture, food and music to create The Louisiana Marathon. Aided by proper planning and social media the event has grown exponentially during its first three years.
Visiting a sports hall of fame or checking out the Louisville Slugger factory are classic examples of nostalgia travel. A related and growing sector is sports themed travel. The well-heeled traveler has been able to purchase their way into celebrity golf tournaments and charity events for years. Newer events have more mass appeal. Marketing machine NASCAR paired with the Norwegian Cruise Lines to launch the first official Legends of NASCAR cruise in 2017. In addition to a few left turns around the Bahamas, guests were treated to autograph sessions, parties and games with the drivers.
Nostalgic add-on appeal:
While this type of travel is appealing to day-trippers there are opportunities for overnight guests as well. An attractive destination or bundling passes with accommodations or other activities entice longer stays. Extending offers that appeal to the sentimental side or showing guests how they can take part in the action can be an effective way to add a night or two to the average stay. Travelers are looking for destinations that offer an extra day or two of activities and novel experiences.
Why Sports Tourism is Important
Sports tourism is rapidly growing and is showing no signs of slowing. In fact, Sports Facilities Advisory has identified it as the fastest growing segment of the travel industry. This kind of tourism brings in tens of thousands, even hundreds of thousands of guests. Those folks need to a place to rest, grab a bite to eat and somewhere to purchase team gear and souvenirs. That means more revenue to hotels, restaurants, facilities, and retailers alike, which in turn means more jobs and tax revenue. Money aside, sports tourism is good for the community in intangible ways, like sharing cultural traditions between the host community and visitors. Events foster interest in sports and healthy living within the community. Whether you are a traveler, a hospitality specialist or active member of your community, it is a great time to share in the sports tourism experience.