League of their own

With the countdown underway for both the Paris Olympics and the UEFA European Championship, Stuart Forster looks at how agents can capitalise on global sporting events

Sports tourism is a fast-growing sector. Globally, increasing numbers of people are spectating or participating in sporting events while travelling. In some cases, people book travel specifically to attend major championships, games or races while others look to attend sporting events as an add-on to their holidays.

The United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) predicts sports tourism will grow 17.5% between 2023 and 2030. Sports tourism already accounts for approximately 10% of tourism-related spending around the world and over half (51%) of Brits say they are interested in travelling for a sporting event this year.

This figure rises to 58% amongst Millennials and Gen Z, according to the new American Express Global Travel Trends Report, with Formula 1, football and tennis leading the way. For travel agents, it represents a sector with potential for enhanced sales.

Live sport and travel

“Our research shows there’s a huge appetite for people to combine their love of travel with their love of live sport and that 2024 is set to offer a slew of events at home and abroad,” says James Kavanagh, Global Leisure CEO at Flight Centre Travel Group.

“We’ve had record bookings from football fans travelling to Germany for what is set to be a spectacular European Championship this summer,” comments Jade Kirwan, Head of Communications at Ryanair, which has added more than 4,000 extra seats from London and Manchester to Cologne, Dortmund and Frankfurt to cope with travel demand from England football fans.

Scotland is also in the UEFA European Championship, which begins on June 14 in Munich and concludes on July 14 in Berlin.

Dan Gathercole, Managing Director at First Class Holidays, has a sports industry background so is well aware of the sector’s potential: “Global sporting events can attract an affluent customer who has a strong desire to travel. For long haul in particular, you are not going to go all the way to Australia, South Africa, the Caribbean or North America just to see that specific sporting event, therefore tailormade has a big part to play in the selling of global sporting events. Events like The Ashes [cricket], Lions [rugby] tour, Masters [golf] and World Cup all present huge selling opportunities that the industry should capitalise on more.”

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Belgian Grand Prix

Leger Holidays is offering a four-day escorted coach break to the prestigious Belgian Grand Prix as part of Leger’s Live Events collection.

The tour, which departs July 26 2024, includes coach travel from the UK with local joining points, three nights at a three-star hotel with continental breakfast, transfers to the race circuit and admission on both the Qualifying Day and Race Day.

Agents can take advantage of a special trade-only discount of £769pp, instead of the consumer direct price of £789pp.

Ashley Dellow, Leger Shearings Group’s Head of Retail Sales, said: “Leger Holidays’ Live Events collection has some excellent events scheduled for 2024, with motorsports being among the most popular. These appeal to all ages, and travelling is made so easy when you choose a fully escorted break; simply join the coach at a local joining point, be transported there and back with no hassle, no driving, no airports, or need to lug luggage around, and with an escort to take care of all the logistics.”

American sports tourism

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Superbowl with MVP Travel
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F1 racecar

In common with other travel industry niches they sell, agents must have a good understanding of the product being sold, according to Ben Mortimer, Managing Director at MVP Travel, whose focus is American sports.

“Sports tourism is burgeoning because people want to enjoy more experiences, rather than just travel to a destination and do the traditional sightseeing things. Like anything else, the experience needs to be authentic and exciting for the client in order to appeal and sell,” he says, noting that attending pre-game activities and parties with local fans adds to the authenticity.

Mortimer has observed interest in American football grow in the wake of musician Taylor Swift’s romance with Travis Kelce of the NFL’s Kansas City Chiefs. Along with the Kentucky Derby, the Super Bowl – which will be held in New Orleans in February 2025 and Santa Clara, California, in 2026 – tends to attract an older audience, while NFL packages draw younger, predominantly male clients, many of whom have tighter budgets.

MVP Travel’s U.S. Open tennis packages are proving popular. The tournament is in New York City from August 26 to September 8. There’s also high demand for WWE WrestleMania packages featuring a pre-event tailgate party and meet-and-greet events with former wrestling stars.

Sport-themed attractions such as the Muhammad Ali Center, Louisville Slugger Museum and Factory (where baseball bats are made) plus the Kentucky Derby Museum and horse racing at Churchill Downs draw tourists to Louisville throughout the year. Yet it’s the first Saturday in May that sees a major visitor spike, as Stacey Yates, Chief Marketing Officer of Louisville Tourism explains: “Kentucky Derby weekend is certainly a bucket list event for many…a global event that brings a diverse audience to experience the city at its most special time of year. When attending the Derby, visitors have a myriad of choices for lodging and dining, to fit various budgets, but there are certainly other times of the year to get a Derby feel at non-surge pricing.”

Cricket in the sun

Baseball is a popular summer spectator sport in the U.S., which along with the West Indies will host the 2024 ICC T20 Cricket World Cup. The tournament begins with a contest between the USA and Canada in Dallas on June 2 while the final is in Bridgetown, Barbados, on June 29. England, Scotland and Ireland are all competing, boosting opportunities to sell holidays in Barbados, Antigua, St Lucia and New York.

“Our marketing efforts focus on offering a hybrid experience that perfectly combines sports and tourism for those visitors looking to enjoy both from one holiday destination. We know that when these travellers come to Barbados they want to indulge their passion for the sport while taking in the culture and local cuisine,” says Kamal Springer, Manager for Sports Tourism at Barbados Tourism Marketing Inc. (BTMI).
“The island is leveraging these events to not only showcase its ability to host events of this magnitude but also invite attendees to embrace its rich culture and heritage,” says Cheryl Carter, BTMI’s UK Director.

Not every sportsperson or team can be guaranteed victory but providing clients with carefully curated holidays featuring elements of sporting tourism mean that both you and them can be winners.

Sporting events to sell

2024 Olympic Games: Taking place in Paris from July 26 to August 11, followed by the 2024 Summer Paralympics that will run August 28 to September 8, this year’s Olympics sees the first opening ceremony outside of a stadium. A flotilla of boats will parade along the River Seine. Agents can book hospitality and travel packages through onlocationexp.com

2024 Formula 1 Grand Prix cruises: Celestyal Cruises is offering three-day grandstand tickets for the Qatar (November 29- December 1) and Abu Dhabi (December 6-8) race weekends, with complimentary transfers to and from the 1260-guest Celestyal Journey, from £1,199pp. They are available to guests aboard the seven- and 14-night Desert Days and Grand Prix cruises, which are scheduled around the end-of-season races. celestyal.com

2025 Lions Tour of Australia: Kicking off in Perth on June 29 and continuing until August 2 in Sydney, Lions fixtures present rugby fans with nine reasons to head Down Under. For agents, they bring opportunities to sell stays in six cities, including Melbourne which also hosts the Australian Open tennis tournament from January 12-26. lionstour.comausopen.com

Where to book it  

Priced from £3,095pp, a four-night package to the U.S. Grand Prix in Austin, Texas, in October includes return flights from Heathrow, private transfers, four nights’ accommodation with breakfast at the Holiday Inn Austin-Town Lake hotel, transfers to the Circuit of the Americas and a general admission pass for the race weekend. mvptravel.co.uk