From high school football tournaments to the World Cup, sports-related travel is a major driver for local and national economies in the United States and around the world. Avid sports fans, eager to travel after staying close to home during COVID-19, are investing big bucks to be part of the action.
A state of the industry report released in May by the Sports Event & Tourism Association (Sports ETA) found that as consumers return to booking travel, sports-related travel for amateur sports and college rebounded faster than leisure travel. Data shows that this sector saw huge gains in 2021 – to the tune of $39.7 billion in direct economic impact. The survey, conducted by Tourism Economics and sponsored by Northstar Meetings Group, found more than 175 million people traveled for amateur or college sports in 2021, up 82% from the 96 million who did. in 2020.
“In the United States, we have seen incredible growth, especially in youth and amateur sports, which for years have been considered nearly recession-proof – even during the worst economic downturns,” says Jason Gewirtz, editor and publisher. of Sports travel magazine.
“And there’s a built-in fandom with fans of a college team, especially if you went to college. Most people are willing to travel or go back to campus for a game.
Gewirtz notes that when people started thinking about gathering again, some of the first things were outdoor youth sports tournaments. “Parents were more than happy to shell out the money to follow their kids to league games,” he adds.
“We have seen convention centers in major cities across the country whose first events were not conventions or meetings, but volleyball tournaments. Indoor sports tournaments drew, in some cases, tens of thousands of people. We were hearing reports from cities whose entire hotel inventory was filled with nothing but youth sports,” says Gewirtz.
“It has given a lot of confidence to the sports tourism industry, and I think many destinations have realized the importance of sports as a driver of travel when it comes to filling hotel rooms and places to stay. ‘add to the local economy.’
ETA Sports President and CEO Alan Kidd adds that with some of the CARES money that municipalities have secured, the development and construction of youth sports facilities across America over of the past year have accelerated.
“A huge amount of inventory has come online, which has created jobs and opportunities. Then, as states started to open up and 2021 rolled around, we saw real improvement in the second half of the year,” says Kidd.
“The expansion of youth tournament travel teams in every sport has exceeded everyone’s projections and we now expect 2022 to exceed our benchmark numbers from 2019, which is an extremely rapid redeployment of capital in the sport. And with the expansion of some of the television rights for amateurs, colleges and professionals, you’re going to have more and more exposure across the country in sports.
Travel advisors say professional sports tourism market is booming
Fans of football, F1, golf and basketball have flocked to destinations near and far to immerse themselves in sporting events, says Anbritt Stengele, founder and president of Chicago-based Sports Traveler, which specializes in event tickets, hotel rooms and VIP travel packages to sold-out sporting events around the world.
“Sporty travelers are the most passionate of all travellers. It doesn’t matter where the event takes place or how much the event costs; they want to see their team play, and it shows in the rebound we’re experiencing,” Stengele says.
“Since the stadiums opened, we’ve seen a huge upsurge in people who want to experience the sport live. The pandemic has reminded everyone that we’re not here forever and you want to see it all while you can. “
More customers are investing in must-do trips like the Kentucky Derby, Indy 500 and the Masters, adds Duane Penner, vice president of sales at Roadtrips, which focuses on booking luxury sports trips for major international events.
“Our love of travel and our passion for the sport is quite the combination in terms of creating memories. Being able to go to Augusta National is on every golf fan’s bucket list,” he says.
Changing patterns and trends are reflected in sports-related bookings
In terms of length of stays, additional pre- and post-event activities, and overall spend, the Stengele team sees more and more customers wanting experiences beyond the game or the race itself. same.
“People want to immerse themselves in everything that happens on game weekend. For example, we’ve expanded our Green Bay Packers packages to include a Packer Heritage Tour to see where the original Packers used to play , going behind the scenes at the stadium, to the Hall of Fame and on the field at Lambeau Field,” she says.
“Fifteen years ago we were throwing a tailgate party, and now we have an attendant wearing a cheese head doing a post-event tour of Green Bay to see all the city has to offer.”
Travelers arrive earlier to attend a Friday night dinner, spend Saturday with fellow fans and revel in Sunday’s game day festivities. Multi-day trips are also more common now with the Kentucky Derby.
“We do horse farm tours to see the equine industry and we do bourbon tasting,” says Stengele.
When attending a prestigious international sporting event, travelers often extend their trip to explore that part of the world afterwards, notes Penner.
“Almost everyone adds. People who went to the Olympics or the World Cup in an exotic place like Rio can then go to Corcovado, and the Amazon on the way back. The sporting event really becomes an impetus to discover a new destination,” says Penner.
“Monaco – an ideal travel destination at any time of year – is off the charts during the Grand Prix, with the glamour, thrills and excitement. And once in the South of France, many of our customers will add a river cruise or spend a week in Provence or the Cinque Terre in Italy.This is a product that more travel agents should have, as this is a new incremental business, and it often adds other nearby events or travel experiences.
The popularity of luxury sports tourism is also exemplified by NBA Experiences’ latest promotion: bespoke packages for Premier League games in the UAE, to be held in early October. Fans around the world can book personalized experiences, including behind-the-scenes tours, meals with legendary athletes, on-field photos and desert safaris.
Advisors are seeing an increase in customers requesting travel insurance for sports trips
“I’ve been doing this for 22 years and I can’t remember having as many conversations about travel insurance as I have had in the past two years. people are buying it more than ever,” Stengele notes.
While travel insurance was once considered an afterthought; now it becomes essential for people, she adds.
“Customers routinely ask for it at the point of sale and add it to their booking. These are huge investment trips. When people have saved their money to go to the Masters or the Derby, they want to be sure that if something happens and they can’t do it, it will be covered.
There is no doubt that having insurance against unforeseen events brings peace of mind and a level of security to the travel experience.
Penner adds that with luxury sports travel, the clientele tends to be older and wealthier, and many buy packages for major events two or three years in advance to secure their spot.
“More and more people are asking for travel insurance. You never want to have to use it, but it’s definitely important if you need to,” he says.