There exists a huge growth opportunity for sports tourism in India
With a shift in customer awareness and desire for health-driven vacations post-pandemic, as well as with acceleration in global sports events, India is expected to create its niche in the space of Sports Tourism. The big names as well as new players in the arena of selling tourism and travel are therefore seen to develop separate streams to tap the untapped potential of sports tourism.
Monish Shah, Founder & Chief Business Officer, DreamSetGo, talks to T3 stating that in terms of international visitor arrivals to India in 2019, India was placed 34th globally, with sports tourism being a potential growth sector for industry. However, pandemic-led restrictions slowed down the growth and companies had to innovate new ways to stay relevant. The sports tourism market was still one of the first to push for the revival of the tourism sector.
DreamSetGo facilitated over 5000+ Indian sports travelers to major sporting events like the ICC Men’s T20 World Cup, F1, Wimbledon, and the FIFA World Cup, and witnessed a noticeable increase in demand for corporate and MICE with a sporty twist. “Today corporates are looking to reward employees and build high loyalty with incentive travel experiences, such as MICE with a sports element. In 2022, we facilitated 15–20% of the 20,000 Indian cricket fans that visited Australia for the T20 World Cup. We strongly believe that there’s a huge unmet potential for outbound luxury sports travel in India.”, Shah added.
Indicating a progressing shape in 2023, Sandeep Sharma, Founder, SportzTank, referred towards excellent growth in both active and passive sports tourism in 2023. With a plethora of sports events happening ahead in 2023 like IPL, Cricket World Cup, Wimbledon, French Open, Tour De France, Women’s FIFA World Cup, World Snooker Championship, Golf Cup etc, it is expected that the sports tourism segment will grow with 18% CAGR this decade. He opines that Indians have identified sports tourism as one of the best ways to get engaged with wellness during tours. “So, it’s like going on a healthy vacation. We have already started receiving more entries this year for Sports Tourism, especially for South Africa and Caribbean Islands,” he stated.
Gainwell Sports witnessed an upward growth as the official hospitality agent for the ICC T20 World Cup Australia 2022 and conducted VIP experiences such as exclusive meet and greets with celebrities like Sunil Gavaskar and Brett Lee. “This year is set to take that to even newer heights with the ICC Cricket World Cup set to be played in India itself. Sports travel is no longer a new concept or an exception for Indian travelers – individual sports fans and MICE groups to these events are mainstream now. Major corporations are desperate to be the first to roll out incentive schemes to their dealer and distributor networks,” Maanav Saraf, Director, Gainwell Travel, added.
To tap the untapped potential, investment in infrastructure will be key, Shah reiterated. He stated that while cricket and football continue to dominate interest in urban areas, sports like kabaddi, wrestling, and hockey enjoy significant rural interest but offer little to no accessibility to consumers.
The need of the hour is to push for greater collaboration between private-government and develop sports tourism in India with a long-term strategy that involves infrastructure development, marketing, and skill development. By tapping into its rich sports culture, India can gradually position itself as a premier sports tourism destination.
According to Sharma, Tier 2 & 3 cities are deprived of awareness on sports tourism. Large operators must involve exclusive sports tourism packages. He further states that Government needs to take larger steps to make India a Sports Nation. “We need to make one State as the Sports Tourism State and that must be equipped with the required infrastructure for all sports, and plan sports month where global sports tourists can be invited for a huge impact on the nation’s economy.”
Saraf opines that the popular selling in India is just the mainstream sports such as cricket and a bit of football. The market for more niche/high-value sports viz. tennis grand slams, Formula 1 races, Olympics, etc has humongous potential and India is still barely scratching the surface. “If you look at USA or Europe for a relative comparison, India is still far behind. Considering we’re the most populated country in the world now, we’re a very important source market for sports events all over the world and the gap is a great opportunity for brands like ours which are making these experiences available and affordable for sports fans”, he adds.
DreamSetGo is looking to bridging the gap between the Indian sports fan and the world’s largest global sporting events. The plan is to curate innovative offerings to cater to the discerning requirements of HNIs, UHNIs, corporates and business travelers, and individual travelers. “We wish to provide greater access to global sporting events, beyond cricket. By exploring exclusive partnerships for India, we are continuing to build our portfolio, aligning ourselves with premier sports travel properties that our Indian audience can experience”, Shah added.
DreamSetGo also plans to work with several international sports organizations and expand existing portfolio, and grow business alongside partners, Dream Capital. Focusing on the ‘MICE’ segment – tapping the top 10-15 percentile of traveler profiles, the objectives are to expand reach considerably. Besides MICE, Shah expects the premium sports travel segment to grow by 200% in 2023. DreamSetGo is planning to offer money-can’t-buy experiences with premium hospitality access, legend meet and greets, and private charters with sports legends, building a premium travel segment for HNIs and HNI groups in India.
Shah highlights the partnership with the Olympic Games – Paris 2024, Rugby World Cup, F1, English Premier League, offering great tailwind opportunities for cross-border sports tourism industry to flourish. “Furthermore, we expect over 10,000 people to buy sports experiences through DreamSetGo in 2023”, opines Shah.
SportzTank is focused on building itineraries with ‘wow’ factor. Sharma also indicated on inviting legendary international players to India and putting sports camps in Mumbai. Besides, SportzTank has sponsored the Women’s Snooker World Champion (under 21) – Varshaa Sanjeev for World Snooker Championship in Thailand. There are also plans to get associated with more partners & work together in this domain.
Talking about the roadmap, Saraf says Gainwell Sports has been looking to grow internationally by shifting dependence from cricket or football to motorsports, tennis, Rugby and golf. Gainwell’s aim is to bring maximum value to the customer, with a focus to grow customer base across Middle East Asia, Europe, and USA by investing in international sports rights and technology. Gainwell is also looking at partnering with leading as well as MICE B2B travel companies across India offering them a holistic sports travel solution for all events through technology.
Marketing & Promotion
Sports fans and travelers are an extremely connected community and good word-of-mouth/referrals are our top growth drivers, according to Shah. The power of one happy traveler sharing a positive experience about DreamSetGo with his peers is said to be the core of their marketing mix. Besides, there is focus on social media and engaging with corporates among other hygiene marketing practices.
SportzTank is looking forward to participating in various international sports expos in India and abroad, along with putting the best foot forward on social media platforms. SportzTank is also focused on getting associated with sports legends and making them a part of their existing program, enabling their coaching tactics in adding value to their programs. “We want to bring a flavor of Sustainability in Sports Tourism like promoting sustainable transportation and reducing waste and adhere to various SDG’s”, adds Sharma.
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There exists a huge growth opportunity for sports tourism in India