Scoring Big: How Sport Tourism Impacts the Global Hotel Industry

stadium Seats  

June 27, 2024By Joe Vargas | Senior Vice President and General Manager, Infor Hospitality

Note: This article first appeared in Hospitalitynet.

The sports tourism sector is poised for dramatic growth over the next five years. Understanding this sector and ensuring that your hotel operations are ready is the key to success.

Sports tourism, as it’s called, is one of the fastest-growing sectors in the travel industry, according to the United Nations World Tourism Organization. Hotel room rates on Super Bowl weekend soared 257% compared to 2023, the biggest year-over-year spike for a first-time host city in NFL history. According to hotel data and analytics firm STR, Southern Nevada’s 172,707 rooms (at 393 hotels) charged a record average of $768 from Feb. 9-11.

The 2024 Olympics are just around the corner, and some might say that they are the pinnacle of all sporting events worldwide. A total of 15.3 million visitors are expected to visit the capital of France during the Olympic and Paralympic Games. Every type of traveler, experienced and novice, high-touch luxury guests, and hostel guests - will visit the city several weeks before, during, and after the games.

From the hospitality industry's perspective, this means millions of room nights and restaurant visits during this quadrennial event.

Accor Hotels announced in 2021 that it would become the official partner of the 2024 Olympic and Paralympic Games in France, a significant development in the country’s hospitality industry. As demonstrated by their recent partnership, a strong bond between Accor and Paris event organizers has been evident since the bidding phase.

In other high-profile sports, Hilton sponsors the McLaren Formula 1 Team, Wyndham sponsors a PGA tournament, and IHG is the preferred hotel sponsor of Major League Baseball.

Travel + Leisure Co. and Sports Illustrated Resorts announced plans to open a network of sports-themed resorts in American college towns. The first one is scheduled to open in Tuscaloosa, Alabama — home to the University of Alabama — in late 2025.

In the past five years, sports tourism has been gaining steam, and now, it is a primary focus for many countries, regions, and local municipalities. Whether it is a local baseball, football, cricket, or hockey game, hotel companies and destinations are seeing the true importance of sports tourism. Also, sporting events of various kinds and sizes attract tourists as participants or spectators, and destinations can feature their local flavors to distinguish themselves and provide authentic local experiences.

The market is massive and only stands to grow

Sporting events clearly contribute to the economy, with travelers spending money on hotel stays, local food, gas for their vehicles, local shopping, and visiting other tourist spots. And let's not forget the accommodation of participants, including players and officials. Reports show that they stay an average of 2.9 days longer than other tourists and spend an average of 20% more per day than regular tourists.

When it comes to the lodging industry, more rooms sold at a higher price point means greater profitability if managed correctly. The UNWTO states that Sports tourism generates around 10% of the world’s expenditure on tourism. It has an estimated growth rate of 17.5% between 2023-2030, moving masses intra and intercontinentally.

The one caveat stated above is that more rooms sold at a higher ADR do not always translate to increased profitability for a hotel. Yes, sports tourists spend a great deal of money, but your hotel's operational efficiency will always impact your profit margins.

Sports tourism also helps to promote social, economic, and environmental action, accelerates development, and can leave a long-lasting positive impact. More financial support for this sector is projected to accelerate expansion, with many governments promoting sports holiday destinations to domestic and international tourists to boost their foreign exchange revenues.

Don’t Forget Event Tourism

Event Tourism also is increasing in popularity with concerts and non-sporting events taking center stage. The best example of this is Taylor Swift. Yes, we all have heard about the impact of her concerts on specific locations and the economic benefits that they have on a destination, but travelers are also spending a great deal of money on flights just to get to the concerts. It is as if she is not only a local economic driver but also travelers spend huge amounts both pre and post event in travel related activities.

Other areas that event tourism are beneficially affecting destinations and the local economy are cultural and festival fairs, city-wide business events, spiritual and religious tourism and trade shows. The increase of event tourism in concert with sports tourism should be top of mind for our hoteliers to maximize their revenue potential and always be aware of changing event trends.

Game-changing Technology

So, what can the hotel industry do to ensure that they are efficiently capturing the major share of the sports tourism dollar while delivering optimal service? Technology and well-trained property staff are the best ways for hoteliers to increase the bottom line.

The suitable implementation of modern technology has become a key differentiator. Whether focusing on a unified approach (all systems delivered and installed primarily from a single vendor) or best of breed (different vendors and different solutions), how you decide to research, purchase, and install technology is key to maximizing efficiencies and driving profitability.

Finding the right mix between technology and service delivered by front-line staff can be difficult, but this is why your technology partner is here. They are here to assist you in the best way they can so your hotel can drive optimal revenues with the least operational cost impacts.

Embracing and promoting sustainable and eco-friendly practices presents an opportunity to attract environmentally conscious sports tourists and contribute to the overall growth of responsible and sustainable sports tourism.

Investment in sports infrastructure, including stadiums and training facilities, enhances the appeal of destinations and their associated hotels. State-of-the-art facilities attract sports tourists and contribute to the market's overall growth. The emergence of niche segments like adventure sports tourism and sports wellness retreats caters to specific preferences, diversifying the market and attracting a broader range of travelers seeking specialized experiences.

Fans of local US sports now have greater visibility and a greater understanding of sports from outside their region. Premier League and MLS soccer in the US continue to grow their respective fan bases, and even cricket is starting to gain visibility within the US market. Even small, local sporting events such as hockey tournaments now drive tourism dollars to the cities hosting these types of competitions.

Sports tourism is an amazing sector that the entire hospitality industry can leverage to drive more revenues. Each hotel operator must ensure that they maximize their profitability by implementing technology in concert with their staff and delivering optimal guest service.

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