Emerging from the shadows of the nation’s favourite sport, cricket, India’s sport tourism market – inbound and outbound – has evolved with increasing demand for F1, golf, tennis and football, offering great potential to the travel trade to sell interesting packages to the growing tribe of sports fans
Over the years, the travel and tourism industry has seen itself broadening as people no longer look at it as just a family vacation. Similar to the boom in corporate travel and MICE segment due to globalisation, more people are now also travelling to attend sports events across the globe. This has eventually established ‘sports tourism’ as a unique segment in the travel and tourism industry. A relatively new concept, people travelling to attend sports events dates back to the ancient Olympic Games. The segment has now become a tool to stimulate tourism in a destination. In the recent years, sport and tourism professionals have realised the significant potential of sport tourism and are actively putting efforts on this market niche. Sports tourism is a fast growing sector of the global travel industry.
Travelling for sports requires a larger budget when compared to other segments of tourism. However, with rising disposable income and an increase in the amount of leisure time, Indians have been observed travelling for major sports events such as Formula 1, tennis, badminton among others. This boom in the travel and tourism industry has resulted in setting up of sport-specialist travel agencies and international tourism boards promoting their countries’ sport events in a big way. Commenting on the market scenario, Rajeev Kale, president and country head (leisure travel and MICE), Thomas Cook India, says, “Sports tourism, once considered a niche segment, is today witnessing impactful growth in the Indian market context and not surprising given that cricket for most of us is a religion. The Indian consumer is hungry for travel, and sports tourism offers another unique opportunity with that all critical brag factor fuelling demand, and of course the sheer diversity is certainly a plus point. The media blitz and glamour quotient of mega sporting events like the Olympic Games, tennis, F1-GP, French/US open, the FIFA World Cup or the Cricket World Cup have played a key role in the steadily increasing popularity, and sports tourism is expected to contribute to a significant growth in the international tourism market.”
Despite the popularity of cricket among the Indian audience, there is an emerging trend of outbound travel from India to destinations offering Formula 1, golf, tennis, football and badminton experiences alongside adventure sports. A pioneer in sports tourism space in India, Cutting Edge Events started its journey of blending sports and leisure at the 2003 Cricket World Cup and provides personalised, tailor-made experiences. Cutting Edge Events has also been appointed as the exclusive hospitality sales agent of Match Hospitality in India for the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia. The company was also the participating tour operator for the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa and hospitality sales agent of Match Hospitality in India for the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil. “Tourist traffic has been increasing year-on-year. We saw a huge jump in tourist traffic, from the South Africa World Cup to the Brazil World Cup. The numbers grew almost four-five times. Just to give an example the value of match ticket sales in 2010 FIFA World Cup was around US$ 600,000 and for the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil the match ticket sales from India was around US$ 9.5 million, which is nearly a jump of 10 times in the sales figures. We expect a similar increase for Russia as well, given the proximity and better connectivity with India,” shares Mayank Khandwala, co-founder of Cutting Edge Events.
Shedding more light on the outbound market from India, Guldeep Singh Sahni, president, Outbound Tour Operators’ Association of India, states, “With 27 to 38 per cent of youth in the age bracket of 15-35 years being the travellers in and out of India, sports tourism is high in demand and most sought after activity. The younger traveller wants to explore the world not just for its locations but for the adventure activities that location offers. Abu Dhabi tourism figures went up ever since Yas Island came into existence with Formula 1 races and other sports activities. Recent ICC Champions Trophy 2017 in England and Wales shows how sports tourism benefits a country’s tourism. Wimbledon entry tickets get sold one year in advance. Of late we have seen a rise in number of travellers during soccer matches, ” adding that ICC Champions Trophy 2017 matches in England and Wales saw huge number of visitors from India to not only these regions, but even other parts of the UK and Europe. Last Commonwealth Games saw high volumes of visitors to Scotland and surroundings. Tour operators now keep an eye on the international sports events and plan their packages and inventory around it.
India possesses significant potential in the tourism industry. According to a 2014 report by India China Economic and Cultural Council titled, ‘Sports Tourism in India’, the country’s sports tourism is also carving a niche for itself in Indian tourism industry, attracting many adventurers to grab flights to India. The historical and geographical diversities of India open up great avenues for adventure sports and activities. With adequate support from relevant authorities, sports tourism in India is gaining prominence and popularity. People from different parts of the globe have started looking towards India as a world class holiday destination with top of the line sporting infrastructure. Sports tourism in India is also being encouraged by the tourism providers in India. Recent trends at Thomas Cook India also indicate that sports tourism is not just restricted to cricket; events such as Pro Kabaddi League and Indian Super League too are seeing increasing uptake from a domestic perspective.
The government needs to make significant investment on infrastructure. “Without that, there will be no improvement in sports tourism segment in India. The safety aspect also plays a crucial role and it has to be looked into. India is still a cricket-centric country, and cricket holds the top spot. As most people perceive, there’s too much of cricket activities, but the essence of the game needs to be revived. The football stadiums in India are not at par with the ones in other countries. The sports ministry has to uplift certain areas of infrastructure, training facilities and budgeting for participation in international events. There is a very huge untapped market in sports tourism segment and it is not a regularised travel segment. A lot of Indians travel extensively for tennis, FIFA, Grand Prix and Moto GP and a lot of bespoke experiences for instance, MiG-21 flying experience in Russia, Formula 1 racing experience in France and more. Even small countries have such facilities, which is included in the itineraries. We have a vast potential for everything, which is unfortunately not systematically utilised by the sports industry,” points out Marzban Antia, MD, Avesta Travel & Tours and co founder, Fans on Stands, who is also VP, Travel Agents’ Association of India.
India is slowly growing in the sector with an emerging generation which is well informed on various sports. Anant Roongta, director, Fanatic Sports, comments, “While sports tourism in India is a new concept, we are seeing a huge demand from the high net worth individuals (HNIs), fully independent traveller (FITs) and corporates. No one is willing to go to the same boring old places but take a new experience while on vacation. That is when they look towards sports tourism.” Roongta further mentions that India has seen a drastic rise in sports travel due to events like IPL, ISL, Pro Kabbadi League, etc. The company does fly in corporates from countries like England and South Africa for IPL but majorly caters to the demand from the domestic market. Roongta adds, “India has come a long way in terms of stadiums and facilities but better infrastructure facilities and services can surely take the experience to the international level.”
India boasts of an array of golf courses across regions and in order to highlight them some key industry people formed the India Golf Tourism Association (IGTA). The non profit organisation headed by its president Rajan Sehgal from Arrival Air Services, has been working to promote golf tourism in the country along with the ministry of tourism. Sehgal comments, “India has one of the best golf courses right from Jammu and Kashmir to Kerala. Most Indian states receive more than 300 days of sunlight annually which is the best golfing weather. We are grateful to the ministry of tourism for the Golf Tourism Policy, which is a positive step for the members to promote golf tourism.”
He further adds, “We organised International Golf Tourism Summits in association with Federation of Indian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (FICCI) or PHD Chamber of Commerce with the support of the ministry where we we invited foreign golf tour operators from various parts of the world. We will also be hosting a Golf Tourism Show in the month of October or November this year to highlight India’s services in the sector.” A golf traveller spends 40-45 per cent more then the normal tourist and takes two to three golfing holidays in a year. Whenever a golfer travels with his golf bag he plays three to four rounds of golf which means average stay is five nights, mentions Sehgal.
International tourism boards have been promoting sports during their promotional campaigns and road shows in markets. Sports tourism has emerged as a widespread phenomenon in many countries. It not just offers economic benefits to local communities, but also helps generate enormous economic activity through various other forms of expenditure through both sporting as well as non-sporting events. “At Tourism Australia, we have worked with prominent cricketers and sports influencers such as Harsha Bhogle, Brett Lee, Glenn McGrath, Adam Gilchrist among many others to promote tourism in the country. We’ve driven advocacy campaigns on digital media, after welcoming Harsha Bhogle, that worked extremely well for us,” states Nishant Kashikar, country manager, India and Gulf, Tourism Australia.
Bahrain International Circuit is a unique selling point for overall tourism in Bahrain. It is a major event in Bahrain and attracts a large proportion of travellers from across the world. The destination sees a huge traffic from the European countries, however, it has witnessed growth from the India market over the years as Indians are gaining more interest in Formula 1. “The Formula 1 event is very important for us and generates a significant amount of revenue for the destination, with around 40,000-50,000 people attending it. Formula 1 is a major sports offering in Bahrain, but we also promote numerous other activities in the region. To promote the sports tourism offerings in the India further, our strategy includes tie-ups with sports tour specialists in cities such as Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai and Bengaluru,” says Sunil Mathapati, country manager – India, Bahrain Tourism & Exhibition Authority
Sport-specialist Fans on Stands has been enabling sport experiences for over seven years and has curated itineraries for mega events globally. Arun Raghu, co-founder, Fans on Stands, elaborates, “Whenever a mega sporting event happens, there is a mega imbalance from a demand and supply perspective. Sports fans are constantly running against availability and our strength lies in the ability to stitch things up in the right manner to deliver seamless experience. We have had a strong learning curve supported by a wide global network and that makes us a formidable team in the market. We as a company don’t believe in making bundled standardised package due to margin opportunity and force it on the customers even though it might not suit their requirements. We don’t operate in the inbound space. With reference to outbound, we have in the past in partnership with tourism boards as well as independently drive awareness campaigns on the sports tourism experience opportunities.”
The game ahead
Cutting Edge is planning to increase the network of offices within India as well as abroad as the potential for growth in sports tourism is tremendous. “We feel we have still barely scratched the surface. The sports tourism sector in India is growing exponentially and has tremendous potential. This potential can be harnessed by the tourism sector in India if the sports ministry and tourism ministry jointly work to promote sports events in India. This will lead to an influx of tourists who will visit India not just for the sports event but are likely to add on other tourist attractions to their India visit as well. Ultimately it will lead to revenue growth for the tourism segment and hence it is imperative for the ministry to look into this area and come up with a strategic plan to promote India as a sports tourism destination as well,” stated Khandwala.
The only way to make India a preferred golf destination and compete with countries like Thailand, Vietnam, Malaysia, etc, is continuous support from the ministry and its overseas offices, believes Sehgal. “Sports plays an important role in promoting a country on the international platform and each player goes as an ambassador and creates awareness about his/her country. We need to market India as a golf destination by conducting regular golf tourism summits, panel discussions and invite golf writers to see our resources,” he reiterates. Antia points out that Indian tourism boards do not participate in promoting sports tourism as much as the foreign countries. Most of the international tourism boards in India promote sports primarily. Sports include events which travellers look forward to and India should also work in this area.
Speaking on the outbound front, Sahni expresses, “There will be a tremendous growth in the coming years for sports tourism. Lots of enquiries are generated with sports tourism activities or during sports events. Soccer and base ball is catching interest out of India.”