In England as fans become increasingly hopeful that 'football is coming home', Sally White has been looking at the big and lucrative business of sports travel

Sports travel has been big business for years - the World Tourism Organisation (WTO) says it is the fastest growing sector in global tourism, expected to rise at over 40% a year between now and 2021. Yet the unprecedented numbers and range of departure points for the 2018 Football World Cup seem to have concentrated minds on the billions changing hands.

A multitude of sports travel world fairs are being launched this year and deals are getting higher profiles! While it is footie that has grabbed the headlines, fans are travelling more for rugby, tennis, racing, sailing and athletics, too. Travelling with them are sports’ sponsoring partners.

While it is footie that has grabbed the headlines, fans are travelling more for rugby, tennis, racing, sailing and athletics, too

A barometer of fans’ interest in their football teams are 2018’s 1,493% jump in Russian hotel-search volumes in Middle East and North Africa countries and the 402% spike in inflight services there to major Russian cities. These figures are quoted by Wego, the Singapore-based travel search engine. “Wego has recorded a 16-fold increase in interest for World-Cup-led hotel searches,” announced MD Mamoun Hmedan a few weeks ago.

As consultant Deloitte’s point out in its 2018 Sports Industry Lineup, sports teams have begun to expand the definition of the “season-ticket holder”. They are evolving their ticket packages and offerings to engage a broader continuum of fans and “innovative ticket packages will compete with the couch for fan attention”.

Wheeling and dealing

Deals announced in the last few weeks include one from Millennium & Copthorne Hotels (M&C). Chelsea FC has agreed a new partnership with M&C, becoming the London club’s official hotel partner. A three-year expanded global partnership follows an existing relationship between the two brands over the past decade. According to the club, the new agreement will have a multi-regional focus on Europe, China, South East Asia, North America and Middle East.

Tottenham Hotspur has signed Hotels.com as its official accommodation partner. Hotels.com now has a four-year agreement as the Club’s Official Accommodation Partner as part of its ongoing commitment to customers, which, of course, include football fans. Fran Jones, Head of Partnerships, Tottenham Hotspur, said: “As a Club, we are privileged to have millions of supporters across the world who travel far and wide to support the team.”

As a Club, we are privileged to have millions of supporters across the world who travel far and wide to support the team

Tottenham Hotspur

M&C joins France’s AccorHotels, which has been strongly committed to football for years. Its booking portal supports the French National team, the French Youth team, the French Women’s team, the Coupe de France and amateur football, too. Given that there are two million individual French Football Federation members and 17,000 teams, this seems a highly sensible move!

Accor also supports tennis and golf. Partnerships in its group include that of Novotel with golf – it has been a partner with Novotel Perrier Open de France since 1999 – and its ibis family of hotels is tied to the Tour de France. Major upcoming events are the Olympic and Paralympic Games of 2024.

Round in Australia, the hotel and resort operator Mantra has partnered with NRL Touch Football (a variant on American football and mostly amateur.) Members receive a 10% discount on bookings including on already-discounted rates*.

Driving loyalty

Outside of football, Marriott International has turned its attention to athletics, becoming the official hotel partner of the US National Collegiate Athletic Association.The three-year deal gives Marriott marketing, media and activation rights during all NCAA events, alongside media sponsors. It should yield the hotelier thousands of room-nights and high-profile exposure but also provide coveted insider access to NCAA events to Marriott loyalty program members.

Major sporting events need huge accommodation capacity, a market that HotelPlanner.com has aimed for

Major sporting events need huge accommodation capacity, a market that HotelPlanner.com has aimed for by expanding via links in various sectors. It has become a partner for the US Clipper Race, among others. The Florida-based group says it is the world’s largest seller of online group hotel bookings, and sells packages for major sporting events and concerts that include tickets plus hotel rooms with multiple hotel options.

“For that, there is the opportunity (through) working with distribution partners, especially if it is a really big event like the Super Bowl and consumers are going to need inventory within, say, a 30-mile radius,” it adds.

Sports tourists are now so varied, as the WTO says, and their demands continue to widen, so opportunity exists for just about all regional and national destinations. And for even more deals!

EyeforTravel North America 2018

October 2018, Las Vegas

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