Sport and tourism are interrelated and complementary since sports generally involve a considerable amount of traveling to play and compete in different destinations and countries. Famous sport events such as the Olympic Games or soccer, rugby and ice hockey championships can be considered as powerful tourism attractions, making a very positive contribution to the tourism image of the host destination.
Sports tourism refers to travel in which travelers go to another destination to either observe or participate in a sport event while staying apart from the tourists’ usual environment. According to UNWTO, sports tourism is one of the fastest-growing sectors in tourism as more and more tourists are interested in sport activities during their trips whether sports are the main objective of their travel or not.
As sport events of various types and sizes attract tourists as participants or spectators, destinations can add local features to these events in order to provide authentic local experiences and stand out from others. Mega sport events such as the Olympics and World Cups can be a catalyst for tourism development if successfully leveraged for destination branding, infrastructure development and other socio-economic benefits.
What can sport tourism bring?
Tourism can contribute to sustainable development if properly developed and managed. As a segment of tourism, sport tourism also helps achieve sustainable development in a distinct way from its characteristics.
The comparative strength of sport tourism lies in the engagement in physical activities, opportunities for interactions, and high development potential almost anywhere (small events or light activities like walking in particular).
Besides the economic benefits in job and income opportunities and revenue from visitor spending, sport tourism can also bring:
- Competitiveness for the host destination
Sport tourism can enhance a destination’s attractiveness and competitiveness by expanding the destination’s tourism offer. This helps increase a length of stay and spending of visitors. Sport tourism products and sport events can contribute to dispersal of tourists spatially and temporally when they are organized in a less-visited area of the destination or in off-peak season.
- Promoting mutual understanding
Sport tourism provides encounters between people of diverse cultural backgrounds from all over the world and let them interact with each other through sport activities. It can foster friendship and mutual understanding, laying the foundation of more peaceful societies. It also helps the locals and visitors have friendly relationships through sport and other activities.
- Enhancing awareness and encouraging environmental preservation
Nature-based sport tourism provides opportunities to directly experience and enjoy nature but it much relies on the very presence of natural resources. Global warming has negative impacts on snow sport tourism; loss of biodiversity affects diving; and loss of fauna and flora degrades enjoyment of hiking and trekking.
Thanks to this close relationship with the natural environment, sport tourism can play an important role to enhance awareness of nature’s value and importance of its protection, and to encourage measures for environmental preservation among travelers, the locals and the tourism industry.
What destinations should consider to develop sport tourism effectively?
When a sport event is planned, its type and size need to be appropriate based on the capacity and characteristics of the destination. Authorities should also consider the timing and venue of a sport event in line with the objectives of the event. In order to distinguish the event from others, it is important to add their local flavors into it. For example, destinations can try combining sport activities with local culture and gastronomy and offering tourists an opportunity to interact with the locals.
Furthermore, destination management may offer incentives like coupons and vouchers so that participants spend more at local shops, restaurants and other services. Since sport events are good opportunities for destination promotion through media, their public relations campaigns should be concentrated on more. If the event is held regularly, it is possible to achieve long-term positive impacts.
Whatever sport tourism is developed, safety is the most important. Sport activities must be programmed with minimum risk and participants need to be informed of the risk and safety measures so they can act responsibly. Instructors and guides need to go through necessary trainings so that they know how to act in an emergency, and visitors, employees and businesses should also be appropriately insured.
- Partnerships and community involvement
To develop sport tourism successfully requires close collaboration among stakeholders in sport (including sport commission) and tourism sectors (including private and public sectors). The involvement of the communities is also crucial for sport tourism to benefit the destination as well as enhance the welfare of the locals and the disadvantaged. Engaging local people is crucial in various ways since it enables them to act for tourism development and improvement of quality of life of their own.
- Support of the locals
Hiring local people, encouraging local entrepreneurs and utilizing local products help minimize economic leakage and maximize local benefits. Employees for sport tourism are often required to have special skills, especially as instructors and guides. Therefore, training opportunities need to be provided for local people. It is preferable that new or expanded business opportunities brought in by sport tourism are materialized by local SMEs and it is necessary to provide them with business advice and microfinance.
- Applying technology
Sport tourism should take advantage of the latest technology and innovation such as artificial intelligence (AI), augmented reality (AR), or virtual reality (VR), which can make experiences in sport tourism more exciting and entertaining. Stadia and arenas have begun “smartization” utilizing applications and wearable devices to improve audience’s convenience. Sport events and museums can enhance visitor experiences with help of technology. It is also expected that innovation creates new gears for the disabled to enjoy sport activities.
- Combining sport tourism with other tourism resources
Sport tourists have a tendency to experience other attractions during their stay at a destination. Participants of a sport event, especially non-competitive ones, usually take advantage of the event opportunity to discover other tourist attractions at the destination. Therefore, it is important to combine sport tourism with other tourism resources and promote them together, which helps distinguish a destination from others and bring more benefits to a destination as a whole.