Major sports events are not a new phenomenon in Asia; Tokyo and Seoul have both hosted successful Olympic Games, the first Asian
Games was held 95 years ago and the South East Asian games has been on the calendar for 50 years.
However Asia’s travel and tourism industry is witnessing something new as Beijing gears up to host the Olympic Games in August 2008 –
this mega-event is now supported by a raft of new events and investment region-wide which are beginning to drive significant tourism
Abacus President and CEO Robert Bailey
said that Beijing has proved to be an inspiration for Asia and the travel industry has begun to see
just how powerful a driver of growth that sports tourism can be.
“Added to that, certain sports which used to be the preserve of Western countries also see the prospect of growth here in Asia and there is
a sort of gold rush as these codes seek greater exposure here,” he
said. “With a number of countries within the region now boasting first-class facilities and many more developing them, Asia is on track to be the
home of the away game.”
believes mega sporting events can generate more tourist business by spotlighting a host city and there are many opportunities for
travel agents to specialise in this emerging high-end niche segment as regional demand grows.
A study of sports tourists by the Sports Business Group found; “They are passionate, high-spending, enjoy new sporting experiences and
often stimulate other tourism. Their direct benefit to a destination is cash - their indirect benefit can be years of follow-on tourists.”
Playing to win in China
In August 2008 Asia will host
what is arguably the ultimate sports event – the Summer Olympics. It will involve thousands of athletes watched by an
army of officials and spectators and will be seen by around 95% of people worldwide with access to a television, according to some estimates.
Beijing and the Chinese government have invested billions in preparation. Around US$40 billion has been spent directly on Games
preparations including new sporting facilities and upgrading Beijing’s transportation, utilities and other infrastructure. A further US$200
billion is earmarked for the city’s air and water pollution problems.
As well as one million domestic tourists, Beijing is expecting 500,000 foreign tourists during the Olympic Games and these foreign visitors
will inject US$5.6 billion straight back into Beijing’s economy. Beijing’s hotels are almost fully booked over the Games period and guests are
paying record rates.
Abacus Vice-President for Content Marketing and North Asia, Patrick Lai
said that even after the Olympic Games is over Beijing and China
will continue to enjoy the benefits of hosting the games due to a number of factors.
“With the construction of ‘The Birds Nest’, Beijing’s 91,000-seat national stadium, the city now has a jewel in its sports hosting crown and
this and other Olympic facilities will bump Beijing to the top of the consideration list for other premium international and regional sporting
events,” said Mr Lai.
He also believes the introduction of a variety of new sports under the Olympic Games to the Chinese public will generate interest in and
demand for such new sports events to be hosted in China. With the population size and the abundance of corporate sponsorship
opportunity in China, this will become an important factor in the choice of venues by all major sports events
“Added to that, it is yet another type of travel that agents can add to their repertoire. Travel agents who specialise in dealing with the
complexity of arranging for their customers to attend major sports events in China and who manage to build up contacts and connection
with local organisers will be able to create an interesting new business segment for themselves. We also hear from agents that this is
particularly popular for corporate and incentive travel where sports events can be easily bundled with,”
Mr Lai added.
The 2008 Olympic Games will be closely followed in 2010 by mega events such as the Shanghai World Expo and Asian Games in
Guangzhou, in addition to existing major sports events like Formula 1, Tennis Masters Cup, and the HSBC Champions Golf Tournament
Lure of the East
While not every country in Asia
is in a position to be able to host an Olympics, the Beijing Olympics has been paralleled by the
increasing number of Asian cities injecting themselves on to the international circuit for other sports.
Driving the growth of sport tourism has been increased global interest in sporting events on the back of the massive expansion in satellite
and digital television coverage over the last 10 years.
Sports that have a traditional fan-base in western countries are becoming popular in Asia and, due to the population numbers, governing
bodies now view Asia as the new ‘frontier’ for growth.
1 Grand Prix has moved a number of the races from European or North American cities to cities in Asia and the races are now
held in Tokyo, Shanghai, Kuala Lumpur and soon Singapore.
Earlier this year, the English Premier League
toyed with a fantastical idea to play one round of the competition, or five matches, in cities outside of
England. The preferred choices were cities in North America and Asia. While this was rejected by football’s governing body FIFA, it revealed
that even the most popular domestic football league sees Asia as a growth area.
Two of the world’s most powerful rugby union nations, Australia and New Zealand, have agreed to play a first-class match in Hong Kong, in
Bailey said, “The pulling power of sports is such that true fans will overcome their fears of the new and different, to follow their teams in foreign fields.
Fan groups such as those seen at the Hong Kong
Sevens, Formula 1 and the cricket in Australasia are a taste of things to
Investing in the
Governments in Asia are
already responding to this push from sports codes by investing
on an unprecedented level.
the latest city to join the Formula 1 circuit is a perfect example. As well as transforming the Marina Bay area, and building tourism infrastructure such as a new airport terminal and a range of new
attractions, the Singapore Government is pledging a 60% grant to the Formula 1
organisers for each year of the race, estimated to be
US$66.8 million a year.
The Singapore Grand Prix is expected to attract 80,000 track-side spectators and another 500 million viewers worldwide via the television
broadcast, while the Singapore Tourism Board estimates the race will put US$72 million directly back into Singapore’s coffers.
As well as the hosting the Formula 1
event, Singapore is building a US$1.3 billion Sports Hub, with facilities such as the multi-purpose
stadium expected to attract a wide variety of international sporting events in future years.
In 2010 the inaugural Youth Olympic Games will be held in Singapore. Over and above the
Sin$75 million budget for the Games themselves,
the Singapore Tourism Board has indicated it will spend “hundreds of millions” to publicise the event and expects it to generate a minimum
of 180,000 visitor nights for Singapore, much of it sustained by overseas visitors.
Singapore’s Minister for Community Development, Youth and Sports, Dr Vivian Balakrishnan
said that by throwing its support behind the big
sporting events the republic is hoping to develop a whole, self-sustaining sport ‘ecosystem’ that will create 20,000 jobs and contribute
US$1.47 billion in GDP by 2015.
The Middle East is doing things on an even grander scale. In its imitable style of mega-developments, Dubai is building a self-contained 50
million square foot ‘sports city’ within the DubaiLand development to woo sporting events and the accompanying tourists to the emirate.
Dubai Sports City caters for almost every sport imaginable, including four stadia, a golf course designed by Ernie Els, elite training schools
including the first Manchester United Soccer School and the ICC Global Cricket Academy, a large gymnasium and an Olympic-length
In 2004, the gulf state of Qatar unveiled a US$15 billion tourism development plan that had a strong emphasis on sport. At the time
state had already hosted international tennis, golf event and squash competitions and was preparing to host the 2006 Asian Games.
Following that initial investment, Qatar now ranks among the best tourism destinations in the world according to the World Economic
Forum and has announced it is bidding for the 2016 Olympic Games and looking to host a Formula 1
Research company Euromonitor points out, “This approach dovetails nicely with efforts to promote itself as an international conference
and exhibition centre; both strategies represent two key pillars in Qatar’s plan to differentiate itself from its
At the farthest reaches of Asia Pacific, the host of the 2011 Rugby World Cup, New Zealand is simply refurbishing one of its stadiums for the
competition, which will bring an estimated 66,000 visitors to the country and US$400 million to the economy.
However the nation has created a ministerial position and joint taskforce to oversee the event, and even announced a specific “leveraging
and legacy” project to ensure the country squeezes every last benefit out of hosting what is the third most watched sporting event after the
Olympics and Football world cup.
Getting in on the action
Asia may be arriving a little later than the Middle East to the sports tourism ‘party’ but there is no doubting the commitment of many
government and travel industry professionals in the region. According to Abacus’ Robert Bailey this all points to the great potential for all industry players that sports tourism presents.
“Just as professionalism in sport has created a number of new jobs for players, coaches, officials and even doctors, the increase in sports
tourism has created new avenues for travel agencies to grow,” he said.
of India’s largest travel agencies, Kuoni India, founded its SOTC Sport Abroad division in 2003 just in time for the Cricket World Cup in South
Africa and has “never looked back”, according to Shyam Kartikeya, the head of SOTC Sport Abroad.
“Year after year we have only grown and have handled all major international events related to Cricket, Soccer, Formula
1, Olympics and
“As disposable incomes in India grow, people are exploring travel from a different perspective,” Mr Kartikeya
added. “Also the visibility of
certain sports has grown tremendously in past few years and it is only going to grow more in near future which will only lead to people
wanting to enjoy their favourite sport while they travel.”
SOTC Sport Abroad has been selected as the official India-region Ticket Partner for the Singapore Formula 1
Grand Prix this year and Mr
Kartikeya said cultivating official relationships with organisers is key for an agency wanting to capitalise on sports tourism.
“As a large agency, experienced in handling sporting events, being appointed the official travel agent for an event is an important first step
and we work hard to earn this status from the outset. From there, we prepare – blocking flights, hotels and tickets based on our previous
experience in this sector of the industry. It’s then down to marketing and connecting with the travellers through our 3,500 travel agents
across India,” he said.
Chief of Thailand’s Six Stars Travel agency, Duke
Bhornlerts, a self-confessed sports fan, said he was motivated to move into sports
tourism after a number of customers expressed a desire to travel overseas specifically to watch a sports game. Six Star Travel now sends
customers to the Australian Open, English Premier League games and Formula 1
Grand Prix races, among other events.
Mr Bhornlerts believes the demand for sport tourism will only grow in Thailand and across Asia.
“If Thailand and the rest of Asia do not want to lose out on this market, they will have to follow the example of other countries like Hong
Kong with the Rugby Sevens and
1 Grand Prix hosts Malaysia, China and Japan, and develop their own ‘brand’ of sports
tourism,” he said.
Six Stars Travel has responded to these opportunities by adding specialist travel services, including sports tours, to the usual range of
travel services it provides such as booking air tickets and accommodation, packages for free and independent travellers and arranging
Abacus’ Robert Bailey
said that as sports tourism in Asia matures, travel agents themselves will become very important to governments
and events organisers because of the distribution reach and complexity that is often involved.
“We see travel agents as being a critical element to Asia’s success in becoming a sports tourism hot-spot,”
said Robert Bailey, “and even
an exclusive event like the Singapore Formula 1 Grand Prix has called on the services of select, experienced travel agents to help
promote the event around the world.”
said that travel agents who want to get involved in sports tourism need to start getting more aggressive about their knowledge and
understanding of events happening in the region, and to seek to be involved as strategic partners well ahead of the event.
“Sports tourism has potential for great reward and the level of interest from the corporate sector and also government commitment and
investment around the region indicates sports events will continue to be a very strong driver of growth for Asia’s travel industry for the
foreseeable future,” said Robert Bailey.
“The extent to which travel agents get involved in sports tourism is really a matter of customer demand and personal preference. Right now,
the ball really is in their court.”
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