Sport is taking tourism to a new global level


Living in an age of technology where travel and communications have improved with dizzying speed, the world has transformed to a global village. In it, tourism is fast reaching its zenith of success, with Youth Sports earning over US$ 7 billion in travel alone.

According to the statistics portal Statistica, the global sports market total revenue in 2005 was US$46.5 billion. In 2017, this revenue is expected to be US$ 90.9 billion. Statistics also show that around 75.3 million adults have attended organized sports events in the past 5 years and that 2/5ths of US adults are sports travelers.

Tourism can be local or international. Generally, when countries speak of tourism, the implied focus is on foreign tourists. Apart from this basic differentiation, tourism today has diversified to levels unimaginable a few decades ago.

One of the fastest growing kinds of tourism today is Sports Tourism, which denotes travel involving either being an observer or participant of a sporting event. Travel and Tourism expert Heather j. Gibson has defined Sports Tourism as “leisure-based travel that takes individuals temporarily outside of their home communities to play, watch physical activities or venerate attractions associated with these activities.”

Professor Paul De Knop of the Vrije Universiteit Brussel in Brussels, was among the first people to introduce the concept of Sports Tourism during a presentation at the Wingate University in Israel in 1986. De Knop refined the concept in 1990, and identified three types of active sport vacations. As he says, there is the “pure sport holiday” where the main focus is participating in a sport such as skiing or golfing. Then, there is the “vacation,” where sport is not the primary purpose, but vacationers utilize sports facilities in their holiday environment. There is also the “private sporting holiday,” where people participate in informal “pick-up” games like beach volleyball.

Professor of Marketing at the University of Canterbury, C. Michael Hall, in 1992, drew attention to Sports Tourism, by identifying it as a significant factor that propels tourists to visit any particular country or area. He identified three tourism domains that influence travelers. The first is hallmark events, such as World Cup 2018. Events such the World cup and Olympics are held every four years in a different city in the world. These mega events are probably the most strongly linked to sports-related tourism. Hall identified the second domain as outdoor recreation or adventure tourism, and the third as tourism associated with health and fitness.

Travel and Tourism experts define Sports Tourism in different ways. Profs Sean Gammon and Tom Robinson define Sports Tourism as Hard Sports Tourism and Soft Sports Tourism, The “hard” definition of sport tourism refers to sheer numbers of people participating at competitive sport events such as Olympics or the World people visit places and regions mainly because of such events being held there.  Sports Tourism is described as “soft,” when people travel away from home to participate in recreational sporting, or engage in leisure sporting pursuits such as hiking, skiing or canoeing. The US and Europe have some the best ranked, quality golf courses where golfers take pride in visiting. These could also be defined as “soft” Sport Tourism events.

From a tourism angle, sports is seen as a passive “spectator sports” and an active “participatory sports.” Spectator sports are part of the entertainment industry. College athletes in American universities are known to be in “edutainment” as they are entertainers as well as students. Athletic games function as emotion and stress relievers, and provide people with “safe” or ‘non-controversial” topics of conversation at social gatherings. Participatory sports like swimming or jogging may not have a competitive facet to them, but in all of them, the participants need to enhance their skill level and stamina. Spectator as well as participatory sports are important for the wellbeing of a community and its tourism industry today.

In fact, in contemporary society, sports is a year-round event, and travelling several hours to get to a destination is described as “close” or “routine.” Parents of sports-playing kids spend significant time researching hotels and restaurants close to event sites, as well as other attractions and things to do after the games are over for the day. In that way, a bit of fun is added onto a participatory sporting event.   In a survey conducted by the Sporting Goods Manufacturers Association (SGMA) on behalf of the National Association of Sports Commission (NASC) in 2008, families of amateur athletes were quizzed on a variety of topics related to sports tourism – from hotel accommodations to other travel-related expenditure. Accommodations was the most expensive on the list with an average cost of $171 spent per household. People who went for soccer events paid more on hotels than the tickets to enter the event. Families traveled the longest distance one way for events like football, baseball and ice hockey. And so, family vacations tend to get transformed into “Sport-cations.”

Sports have become the new kid on the block for tourism, and it is indeed going places, at least in the foreseeable future, with positive outcomes for families and communities. As one of the founding Fathers of the United States, Benjamin Franklin said, “Write injuries in dust, benefits in marble.”

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