- The recently concluded ICC Men’s World Cup 2023 marks a pivotal moment for India’s tourism. Played across the country in several states and gateway cities in India, the sporting carnival attracted a diverse global audience. The event not only spotlighted India’s cultural and destination riches, but also highlighted the tremendous opportunity that the segment presents.
- “With India’s G20 Presidency, we are positioned like never before to showcase our nation’s cultural heritage, our unique and differentiated travel offerings, and our safe and tourist-friendly destinations” – Puneet Chhatwal
- Cricket is one of the most popular sports in India, and the thrill of watching topcricketing out on the field during the World Cup matches is a compelling reason for millions of cricket enthusiasts to travel ” – Santosh Kumar
- Ahmedabad has witnessed an impressive 800% increase in bookings, followed by Dharamshala with a 488% rise, and Lucknow with a 340% surge. Bookings in Chennai and Delhi has also grown significantly. Cricket fans looked for varied alternate accommodation options ” – Rajesh Magow
In the contemporary travel landscape, a distinct niche has emerged as a global phenomenon amid various travel facets like medical and religious tourism – sports tourism. This burgeoning segment has garnered exceptional attention, offering sports enthusiasts a unique chance to explore diverse destinations and immerse themselves in local cultures while actively participating in live sporting events, reflecting a dynamic fusion of passion for sports and a desire for immersive travel experiences.
Over the last decade, various leagues in different sports, including the Indian Premier League, Pro Kabaddi League, Indian Super League, and others, have come into existence indicating the immense excitement for sports. As both domestic and international sports fans gather in India to witness these matches live, the resultant surge significantly contributes to the growth of the country’s travel and hospitality sectors.
Spotlighting the recently concluded ICC Men’s Cricket World Cup 2023, which marked a pivotal moment for India’s tourism, not only attracted a diverse global audience but also highlighted India’s cultural and infrastructural richness, solidifying its position as a premier destination on the world stage.
But the question is, is India geared up to capitalize on this growing segment? Considering the situation in the USA or Europe for a relative comparison, India is still far behind. Unlike the developmental initiatives taken to boost medical and religious tourism segments, India’s potential in sports tourism remains unutilized. Considering India’s current population and India’s position as a very important source market for sports events all over the world, there is still a huge gap as well as a great opportunity for travel brands catering to this segment.
Over the years and amidst dwindling ticketing commissions, many ticketing agencies have diversified into tour operations across inbound, outbound and domestic tourism. The burgeoning travel behind carnivals also presents tremendous opportunity to take advantage of and grow into this segment.
G20 Windfall: A Case Study
The recently concluded, G20 Presidency was not only a great opportunity to showcase the country, but it also proved to be a big business opportunity for the country’s hospitality sector. The year-long Presidency that ended on November 30, 2023, gave country opportunity to host more than 200 meetings in almost 60 cities across all the States and Union Territories in the country. Every meeting in those 60 cities were attended by hundreds of national and international delegates, creating tremendous demand for transport and accommodation in these cities. Most of the times, the hotels in the host cities were sold-out.
Tourism centered meetings were organised at destinations like Rann of Kutch in Gujarat, Siliguri and Darjeeling in West Bengal, Srinagar in Jammu & Kashmir and Goa. These meetings not only created destinations visibility but tourism business too, particularly that of tourist transport, accommodation and leisure products like sightseeing.
In fact, stakeholders from the sector believe that G20 events were one of the key catalysts in creating demand and helping the country record strong recovery, better than most of the destinations in the Asia-Pacific region. In fact, region wise, at just over 60% for the January-September 2023 period, Asia-Pacif has been the slowest in international tourism recovery. However, led by India, the South Asia region, a sub-region of Asia-Pacific, has recorded 95 per cent in tourism recovery.
The G20 meetings at different locations in the country ensured that the hospitality sector across the 60 odd destinations that hosted the meetings remained busy. Addressing shareholders, Puneet Chhatwal, MD and CEO, Indian Hotels Company Ltd (IHCL) had said that the country is deservedly claiming its position on the world tourism stage with its presidency of the G20 providing the perfect platform. “With India’s G20 Presidency, we are positioned like never before to showcase our nation’s cultural heritage, our unique and differentiated travel offerings, and our safe and tourist-friendly destinations.
According to Sudesh Kumar Poddar, President, the Federation of Hotels and Restaurants Associations of India (FHRAI), “The G20 presidency has been a great opportunity. It has come as a big boost to the whole tourism industry. Not only hotels, but even restaurants, tour operators, and transport operators are befitting from it”, while further adding “That is the one part of the story. The other part is that we have been able to showcase our attractions to the delegates coming from so many nations. This has created awareness that will bring more business in the future.”
According to Poddar, average occupancy in star categories hotels has increased between 10 and 15% due to the Presidency, and he sees a further increase in demand for hotels in the coming months due to the Presidency. In his view, due to the G20 presidency, foreign investment in India’s hotel sector will also increase as foreign delegates are noticing the huge investment opportunities in the sector.”
Sports Tourism Potential
Sports can potentially create a far greater windfall than an inter-governmental events like G20 Presidency and is a far greater destination showcase opportunity also. Sports is sought-out and reaches a much bigger audience than government to government event like G20. However if an like G20 can create such demand and growth opportunities, Sports can unleash a far greater windfall in economic activity for industry, stakeholders and the country. And it is high time that the Government, policy makers as well as the industry looked at the Sports Tourism opportunity and took adequate steps towards leveraging it’s benefits.
“Sports tourism is a rapidly growing sector in India with a substantial impact on domestic and international travel”, mentioned Santosh Kumar, Country Manager for India, Sri Lanka, Maldives and Indonesia at Booking.com. “Cricket is one of the most popular sports in India, and the thrill of watching top-cricketing out on the field during the World Cup matches is a compelling reason for millions of cricket enthusiasts to travel.”
According to the Booking.com Travel Confidence Index, 56% of Indians look forward to attending a live or major event including sports tournaments this year. “Sporting events like the ICC Men’s Cricket World Cup 2023 served as significant drivers for tourism, attracting tourists, stimulating the local economy, creating employment opportunities and driving investment in infrastructure (stadiums, restaurants etc.) that can be enjoyed by both the local population and tourists”, Kumar added.
On the same lines, Rajesh Magow, Co-founder and Group CEO, MakeMyTrip said, “Bookings for accommodation facilities, including hotels and homestays, in all cities where the Indian cricket team was slated to play, exhibited a significant uptrend. A firm trend line emerged that most consumers traditionally opted to reserve their accommodations closer to check-in dates. Having said that, a few cities clearly demonstrated that the cricket extravaganza will uplift domestic travel.”
For MakeMyTrip, matchday bookings in Ahmedabad experienced an uptick, with a 200% increase in accommodation bookings, including hotel and homestays, over the city’s average daily room night bookings in August 2023. Reservations in Dharamshala on the match date escalated by an astounding 605% above the on-platform daily average in Aug 2023. “Meanwhile, bookings for India match dates in Lucknow increased 50% for the same comparative and grew alongside other centers closer to match dates. Notably, homestays, traditionally favored in leisure destinations, enjoyed strong interest across all cities hosting matches”, revealed Magow.
He further added, “Ahmedabad has witnessed an impressive 800% increase in bookings, followed by Dharamshala with a 488% rise, and Lucknow with a 340% surge. Bookings in Chennai and Delhi has also grown significantly. Cricket fans looked for varied alternate accommodation options. Cricket fans also traveled in groups as >8 pax bookings have increased by 12%.”
According to him, the advance purchase window for homestays had increased in cities hosting matches. Previously, only 13% of bookings were made in advance (30+ days prior to check-in), as compared to 22% for the cricket tournament. October check-in bookings also demonstrated longer average lengths of stay, particularly in hostels and homestays, with hostels increasing from 1.6 to 2.3 nights and Homestays from 2.1 to 2.4 nights, mentioned Magow.
According to Booking.com data, host cities in India for the ICC Men’s Cricket World Cup 2023 saw a surge in demand. From October 1 to November 20, 2023, five of the top ten most searched domestic flight destinations in India are match cities: Delhi, Mumbai, Bengaluru, Kolkata and Ahmedabad. Additionally, seven of the top 10 most searched domestic destinations for accommodations by Indian travelers during this period include the host cities: New Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata, Ahmedabad, Bengaluru, Chennai, and Hyderabad. Besides hotels, cricket enthusiasts also explored alternative accommodations during the matches such as homestays, guest houses, and apartments.
Building Capacities & Promotional Strategy
As India hosted the season’s grandest event, ICC Men’s Cricket World Cup 2023, accommodation options were seen to dwindle fast in the host cities, with prices soaring to unprecedented heights for hotels and guesthouses alike. With the resurgence of corporate travel, MICE events, leisure, and the Cricket World Cup, the demand for hotel rooms in key cities surged substantially.
Considering the tourism surge for the Cricket World Cup, MakeMyTrip unlocked the strategy of building consideration for Homestays and Villas as shared space to meet the uptick in demand. To supplement the same, MakeMyTrip strengthened supply across all match venues, with a specific focus on Ahmedabad, where inventory increased by 31%, followed by Dharamshala (15%) and Lucknow (14%). Also, MakeMyTrip took a unique approach of indulging popular cricket superfans from across the globe as quality assurance ambassadors. Superfans tested and validated MakeMyTrip’s curated homestays and villas in the campaign.
Booking.com, the official Accommodation Partner for ICC Men’s Cricket World Cup 2023, launched a global integrated campaign, ‘Howzat for your perfect stay’ featuring Indian team captain Rohit Sharma along with renowned international cricketers Jos Buttler, captain of the England cricket team and Australian all-rounder Glenn Maxwell. The campaign was being showcased in stadiums, on the ground and across various social and digital channels, including TV, Disney+ Hotstar, and more.