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    Sports tourism has undoubtedly become one of the fastest-growing niche segments of the tourism industry in recent years.  Both participation and attendance at sports events can and do have a significant impact on the destination city or country they are visiting, and this trend is set to grow.

    Rewind ten years and it was a very different story.  In the build up to EURO2004 our primary concern as an operator was to ensure that supporters watched England play 90 minutes of football without having to worry about their travel arrangements – job done! Ten years later and as we prepare to take hundreds of England supporters on privately chartered aircraft direct into the heart of the Amazonian Rainforest we’re offering an unrivalled destination sporting holiday experience with unbeatable memories. No longer is sports tourism just about sport.

    Customers are seeking an experience! Creating innovative product which adds value to the consumer is vital for success.  At EURO2012 in the Ukraine - through listening to its customers, we were well aware of the value adds needed to drive through a successful programme. Unique presentations from pioneering sporting performance analysts, cultural city tours, Q&A sessions with sporting celebrities, and, inclusive social events for all supporters gave us the product differentiation it needed.

    Major sporting events quite often take place in non- traditional tourist destinations – very few supporters would have ever considered visiting Ukraine prior to EURO2012 or Sochi prior to the winter Olympics. These destinations represent their own unique challenges, so investment in commercially minded industry specialists and local experts with on-the-ground knowledge is crucial to ensure customers get the most out of their experience.

    The London 2012 Olympics opening ceremony reminded us that the World Wide Web was actually invented by a Brit and it has revolutionalised the way we do business across the globe.  The continued rise of the savvy consumer who researches product and information at the touch of the button has helped shape the way the industry does its business and the nature in which it builds, sells and operates tours. Tour operator’s packages continue to offer value and security which can’t be replicated independently but more than ever we have to continually evolve to stay ahead of the game.

    For the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil, over 90% of Thomson Sport bookings will now be made online via the industry’s first mobile ready digital platform. As discerning customers manage increasingly busy lifestyles they require access to product 24/7 on the move via mobile devices. Distribution of quality product is the principle consideration in delivering successful growth. During EURO2012, as soon as Rooney scored his 48th minute goal against Ukraine in Donetsk, supporters in the stadium instantly started to book future packages via their mobile devices.  Embracing technology is imperative to deliver sustainable platform for growth.

    And it doesn’t stop there. The evolution of Sports Tourism now stretches to ambitious rights holders, sporting bodies and federations who understand that tour operating is an intrinsic opportunity to grow their brands from participation; spectating and a commercial perspective. More than ever, tour operating offers rights holders the opportunity to grow revenues whilst increasing brand presence and customer recognition.  Protective of the rights holders brands, sound commercial models now understand that a strong ROI for the operator generates tangible benefits for the rights holder but most importantly for the customer.

    One thing’s for sure - Sports Tourism is great news for any traveller as it has become so much more than watching a game. It’s all about seeing it and living it, enjoying every moment of the event, the destination, the culture and taking away a lifetime of memories. Why not join the adventure!


    By Tom Forshaw, Managing Director of Thomson Sport . 


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