Sports tourism gets bigger than all others in the sector

Published on : Thursday, March 15, 2018

Sports tourismIn September last year, an innocuous tweet about the football World Cup managed to trend on thousands of timelines. It read, “If you get your Mrs pregnant now, then by the time it’s born in nine months, you get a freaky little two weeks paternity leave for World Cup 2018.”

Though the proposition may sound far-fetched, it isn’t uncommon for sport lovers to plan their lives around such events. And for most of them, the annual holiday and the big sports event of the year often end up becoming the same thing. With over a million tourists expected to visit Russia this year (according to the Russian Deputy Prime Minister Vitaly Mutko), sports tourism, or travel that involves either observing or participating in a sports event, has become bigger than ever before.

It represented an annual business of $10.47 billion in 2016, according to the National Association of Sports Commissions, and is said to be one of the fastest-growing sectors of the global travel industry.

Naturally, the trend is being reflected among Indian tourists as well, with a record number expected to visit Russia for the football World Cup (which begins June 14). For some of them, the country would otherwise rank low on their list of must-visit destinations. But the atmosphere, with a million other football fans, is not one that can be easily passed up.


“The World Cup in Russia, for me, is a bit of both,” explains Swaroop Subramanian, when asked if the sport takes precedence over the country. “Experiencing the World Cup culture first-hand is the reason why I’m going to Russia. But visiting places such as Moscow, St Petersburg and even the city of Kazan, is equally important to me,” he adds.

Fanatic Sports, a Kolkata-based company, specialises in sports ticketing, hospitality and experiential travel to some of the world’s biggest sporting events. Founded by football fan Raghav Gupta, the idea for the company came to him after he discovered how difficult it was for a fan to travel to a major sports event outside the country.

“After watching matches in India, a cricket fan dreams of watching the Ashes at the Lord’s or a big match among 90,000 other fans at MCG (Melbourne Cricket Ground). What they do outside these stadiums comes second to them,” Gupta says, adding that a majority of his customers are still cricket fans, followed closely by football supporters.

For others, a sports event gives them a chance to discover experiences they never thought would be possible. “Most sports, other than cricket, take just two or three hours of the day,” points out Pulasta Dhar, a sports commentator who has attended several tournaments. He ranks tennis and football as the two most “tourist-friendly” games.


“When you have so much free time after the games, you end up exploring the city. Instead of sitting in a hotel room, I prefer to go watch the teams practise. That’s how I watched Portugal and Holland up close and got autographs signed by the teams.”

While cricket is the main attraction for tourists from other countries, “India falls far behind in other sports and their tourism,” says Rishi Narain, a board member of the India Golf Industry Association.

“Thailand has developed into a major golf tourism destination in a span of 20 years. As a country, we need to bring in tournaments and major players, because the amount of money a golf lover spends on a holiday is much more than other sports.”

He sites the case of a team of 20 American millionaires and golfers who recently flew in to Kolkata on a private jet to participate in the iconic Royal Calcutta Golf Club tournament.


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