What Is Sports Tourism?

There’s been a lot of buzz lately in the travel industry about “gig-tripping,” as fans of Taylor Swift and other musical artists plan vacations all around the world just for the live concert experience.

Meanwhile, another experience-driven trend is also on the rise: sports tourism. Whether you’re an athlete yourself or just a big fan, you might want to consider this approach to travel.

So what exactly is sports tourism, and what does it involve? Below, industry experts break down the benefits and downsides.

What is sports tourism?

“‘Sports tourism’ refers to when individuals plan their travel tied to specific sporting events, typically to spectate but, depending on the event, it could include participation as well,” said Carolyn Addison, the head of product at travel company Black Tomato. “Some of the classic examples are the Olympics and we’ve often seen this type of travel for events like F1 [Formula One racing] or the Tour de France.”

Sports tourism can sometimes involve venturing to a different city to watch a regular-season away game for your favorite team. Or you might travel to participate in your own athletic endeavor, like a marathon or team competition.

“Sports tourism ranges all the way from youth sports to professional leagues,” said Nate Hardesty, the managing director of the Thompson Austin and Tommie Austin hotels in Texas. “For instance, we see so many families traveling around the country for tournaments that it’s become their spring break or summer trip. The same goes for collegiate and professional sports. We see so many fans follow their teams around the country and take the opportunity to check out the destination while they are here.”

If you live in a popular sports market, it might be easier to get good tickets to your team’s away game in another city. Some people also just like to merge their love of travel and sports into one experience.

Although taking a trip for a sporting event is not a brand-new phenomenon, more fans seem eager to have these kinds of experiences after being forced to stay at home amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

“People have been traveling for sports for years,” Hardesty noted. “However, experiential tourism has skyrocketed post-COVID.”

The popularity of shows like “Formula 1: Drive To Survive,” which gives a behind-the-scenes look at the world of auto racing, and “Welcome to Wrexham,” a docuseries about a Welsh soccer team, has also sparked greater interest in professional sports experiences.

The sports documentary movement has now expanded to golf with “Full Swing,” as well as to football with “Quarterback.” And with the buzz around the new sports drama “Challengers,” perhaps we’ll see more travelers planning trips around big tennis tournaments.

Racing fans travel from around the world to attend Formula One events.

Peter J Fox via Getty Images

Racing fans travel from around the world to attend Formula One events.

What are the benefits?

“We find that planning a trip around a sporting event gives a nice framework and intention to an itinerary,” Addison said. “Special events can also be a compelling way to interact with locals in a way that feels spontaneous and unforced.”

She pointed to the powerful energy in crowds at big events and the opportunity to bond with people who have similar interests. Sports tourism might take you to an exciting destination you wouldn’t have otherwise visited.

“You’re crafting your trip around a pivotal core memory and occasion which is supplemented by other local attractions, creating a comprehensive travel experience,” added Nikki Glass, the general manager at The Sawyer in Sacramento, California.

She noted that many sports tourism destinations have made efforts to ramp up various attractions and offerings around sporting events to give fans a multifaceted travel experience.

“These travelers tend to stay in their destination for extended periods to immerse themselves in the cultural tapestry and urban milieu, from vibrant dining scenes to museums and green spaces,” Glass said. “Sports tourists are tapping into it all.”

What are the downsides?

“There can be some additional challenges around planning travel during a major event,” Addison said. “Crowds and traffic can make the overall travel experience less enjoyable, and properties often impose higher rates and/or longer minimum stays.”

She emphasized the importance of advance planning to secure hotel reservations, airfare and tickets for sporting events.

“Sometimes the availability will be tight, and you need to book as soon as you can to get the best available rate,” echoed Lisa Bush, the director of sales and marketing at Thompson Nashville in Tennessee. “The last-minute booker usually learns that procrastination is not the best.”

Expect longer wait times and higher costs for things like accommodation and transportation. If you plan a trip based around sports tourism, you might find yourself in overcrowded areas that aren’t always equipped to deal with a surge of people. And you may have to put in extra effort to get an authentic local experience during times when so many tourists have taken over a destination.

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