Sports tourism was picked out last year by Expedia as a niche its hotel partners should focus on to drive more lucrative and frequent bookings from guests.
If the world’s largest online travel agent has spotted an opportunity you can be pretty sure there’s something in it for players of all sizes in the sector.
That’s certainly the view of Haifa-based sports tickets provider Sports Events 365, a partner to Expedia, that will be in London next week to exhibit at the annual Travel Technology Europe show at Olympia (Feb 21-22).
Sefi Donner, founder and chief executive, said sports tourism benefits from sitting at the intersection of a growing profile of sports events globally, thanks to the internet and digital TV, and demand for experiences.
Aligned with consumers’ greater propensity to travel more often thanks to the rise of the low cost carriers, the stars are aligned for travel firms to generate new business in a specialist but mainstream area.
Donner said although growth in the sports travel sector is out-performing tourism, which in turn is out-performing global economic growth, travel firms are only scratching the surface.
“People are looking for reasons to travel, they want an excuse to go somewhere and definitely watching a sports event is one of those reasons to go somewhere at a specific date,” he said.
“The internet is a great source of exposure. It’s easier than ever to find information about upcoming events.”
Sports Events 365 has developed a destination-based search engine that trade partners can integrate into their sites to allow customers to plan their trips based around sports matches.
Donner said agents can use this wealth of information to advise customers they know are interested in watching sports to travel at specific time so they can catch a particular game.
Agents can promote themselves as specialists and target specific sporting events in the knowledge that these may prompt people to travel and build packages around them.
Donner said: “Sports tourism is not just about the big events because when it comes to the big events sometimes prices in hotels are so expensive people prefer not to go.”
There’s no doubt, however, that recent years has seen an unprecedented spike in the public’s interest in experiencing the drama and excitement of major global sports events like the Olympics and international football tournaments.
This year, the Winter Olympics in PyeongChang, South Korea, and the Fifa World Cup in Russia will be the latest global showcases for sports tourism.
But there’s also a very long-tail of potential attractions. For Brits travelling to favourite short-haul destinations in Spain, Portugal and Italy it’s never been easier to add in a ticket to see the Madrid Clasico, Rome’s Derby della Capitale, or experience the atmosphere in Barcelona’s Camp Nou.
Donner said agents exploiting this demand need to have assurance about the availability of tickets and also rely on the expertise of a supplier that knows the sector well.
Not all games, for instance, are hard scheduled for a specific date and could be subject to being switched, so advice about when to book flights so that customers do not miss the game is vital.
“When an agent books a package with flights, hotel and a sports ticket they can’t afford to fail and have a situation where the supplier lets them down,” Donner said. “We are willing to lose money, but we will never lose a customer. We will get that ticket to the agent.”
As well as working with Expedia Sports Events 365 is also a preferred supplier to the Advantage Travel Partnership independent travel agency consortium in the UK.
Donner said these relationships are growing but given the interest in sports among the British and the numbers that travel to mainland Europe he expects to see more bookings.
“Perhaps it’s something to do with our marketing. We probably have not spent enough to promote and grow and visit agencies in the UK.
“In many cases travel agencies in the UK look for event in the UK and then it’s just expensive hospitality packages. Perhaps they do not realise that our strength is regular tickets for events outside of the UK.
“I think the key for the agent is to start being active, do mailings, go to customers and tell them on your website that you can always come to us and let them know you are an expert.”
Expedia told hoteliers at last year’s partner conference in Las Vegas that sports tourists tend to spend more, stay longer, book earlier and travel in larger groups.
There is also a strong affiliation with corporate travellers and the growing trend of mixed leisure and business or so-called “bleisure” trips.
Donner agreed, but added it was not advisable to pigeon hole the typical sports tourist who might range from a sun and sea holidaymaker adding a €40 football match ticket to five star luxury fully inclusive golfing fanatics.
Agent partners can white label the Sports Events 365 search and booking interface or access its API to develop their own service. The firm works with a number of technology partners globally but firms could also use their own in-house teams. It also has an app on the Sabre Red App Centre.
Commissions start at 7% but better deals are available for more frequent bookers. Donner said: “It’s important to remember that for every £100 spent with us there may be £500 or £600 available selling other products and services because the package is based on our product.”
Sports Events 365 has plans to expand its offering to packaging up its own trips and hopes to be able to announce something in the next couple of months.
The firm hopes to open new offices in Japan and China where it is important to do business face to face before possibly looking to establish a base in London.
Its B2C website is available in 19 languages and B2B in seven including English and the supplier offers 60,000 events a year in 150 countries. Last year it sold more than 50,000 tickets, 4% of which were to UK customers.
Donner said the firm’s ambition is that every person who travels and is a sports fan remembers to check before they go anywhere if there is a chance to combine a ticket for game while they are in destination.
“That’s my long term goal,” he said. “We are moving towards it, but we are moving very slowly. That’s why we want more and more partnerships so on more and more websites this option will be visible.”