Sports Tourism… The Silent Sector That’s Starting To Shout – Rebecca Hopkins

July 25, 2014

Earlier this week I moderated a panel for the PR industry on Sports Tourism; it was widely agreed that it was the ‘silent sector’ in sport. Testament to this was the extended debate amongst the organizers deciding whether the event should be themed Sports Tourism or Destination Marketing. What is clear is that it is playing a central role in sparking the recovery of global tourism. Sports tourists are high-spending and stay longer, often stimulating other forms of tourism in their wake.

For the sports sector, sports tourism is often associated with host city bidding, often being seen as the flip side of that coin; if cities host a major sports event, fans will come to it. Whilst this is not an insignificant part of the world of sports tourism, not least of all financially, there is a lot more to this growing sector than that.

As the Sports Tourism specialist on the panel, Gerry Dawson, Director of Destination Marketing BSL, explained ‘There are many reasons for the sport tourism boom. Traditional sun and sea vacations were the mainstay of the industry but these are being replaced by active sport related holidays. Today we see a proliferation of flight and destination options alongside a new breed of tourists keen to attend an ever-increasing calendar of readily accessible mega sporting events.’

Despite flat global growth in tourism revenue between 2008 and 2010, sports related tourism moved from c.8% to 11.5% of total spend, seeing it rank as the fastest growing element in the global tourism sector. The World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) estimated that total global tourism receipts in 2012 were £638 billion, with sport related tourism estimated at c.15% or £95bn.

These figures haven’t been achieved simply through major events, a significant contributing element is travel involving spectating or participating in something much smaller or localized. After all, events of all sizes can animate a city, just look at something like the Kinsale 7s or Limassol Marathon.

 It isn’t just the athletes who dictate the scale of an event, increasingly the importance of volunteers is becoming a critical factor. Whilst these people are usually local, with major events the volunteer workforce is as likely to be in-bound tourists, keen to play a part in history.

Sport tourism is now a tool to make and achieve many things – from generating significant revenues, creating thousands of new jobs, regenerating urban infrastructure and to develop or reappraise entire destinations. Additionally brands are getting in on the act, with major organizations sponsoring or staging events in order to get even closer to their target markets.

As sport’s influence on society increases, its economic influence will extend accordingly too. Sports tourism is a burgeoning area and clearly still has healthy future growth potential.

Rebecca Hopkins is Managing Director of ENS Ltd, a London-based sports agency tasked with promoting and protecting brands in sport. They specialize in sports PR, crisis management and online public relations.

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