Bringing more action to physical activities is appealing to an increasing number of sports lovers, especially in the outdoor segment. Whitewater kayaking, mountain biking and climbing, for example, attracted nearly 14 million Americans combined in 2017, up from about 10 million a decade earlier.
While only 10% of outdoor types in the US travel more than 50 miles from home to take part in sports and recreation, that is still a significant market of nearly 15 million participants. Another considerable fact is that Americans spend a staggering $700 billion a year on travelling for outdoor sports and recreation, including lodging, airfare and other costs.
As these data suggest, active sport tourism can be an attractive market for hotels and resorts, but they must first define what they actually regard as sports as opposed to leisure or fitness activities – for example, in terms of intensity and performance. Categories may overlap, but differentiation is key to properly position a resort and efficiently target customers. Furthermore, ascertaining the impact the sports offerings will have on the financial performance of the real estate (Wellbeing Hospitality approach) is vital in identifying the precise sporting activities to offer.
Travelling for extreme sports, often categorized as a type of adventure tourism, may involve low-risk ‘soft’ activities requiring little experience, like hiking or biking, and ‘hard’ activities, such as trekking or rock climbing, which require skills and pose substantial risks.
Avid participants in extreme sports are passionate about what they do, they seek performance-driven experiences and need to be challenged by their activities, both physically and mentally. To target this customer group, tourism service providers are advised to highlight the challenges they can offer and provide detailed information on the activity, including difficulty levels and safety measures.
Sports enthusiasts also seek comfortable accommodation, potentially with an opportunity to unwind in a spa after an active day. They often prefer lodging options with special facilities and services tailored to their respective sports. Hotels and resorts need to consider these expectations when drawing up development plans and launching new offerings.
In an example, the Iberostar Playa de Muro seafront resort in Mallorca provides a storage facility for up to 1,200 bikes, runs a repair workshop and a fitness studio for cyclists and also offers special menus and sport massages. Services like these can reduce reliance on the peak summer season as races hotel guests participate in often take place in late fall or winter.
Venturing into active sports tourism can also help operators optimize how real estate is used. Whitney Peak Hotel in Reno has opened a 50-meter climbing wall on the side of its building, showing that a city hotel can also attract sports lovers with an innovative and creative idea.
Other benefits include diversifying hotel revenues and boosting Trevpar by selling and renting sports gear. This retail market is huge: Americans spend $12.5 billion a year on snow sports (gear, accessories and vehicles) and over twice that amount on trail and water sports each.
Resorts often organize special trainings with world-class athletes, but many of these programs are geared toward beginners and fans. There are exceptions: the Four Season Resort Hualalai in Hawaii holds intense five-day triathlon camps with six-time Ironman world champion Dave Scott. The personalized training includes pre-camp consultation, nutrition plan with meals and video analysis.
Several hotels and resorts target the pros by offering the latest technology in sports science. The La Manga Club in Cartagena, which operates football, golf and tennis facilities, has introduced intermittent hypoxia training to help guests improve their physical performance. Breathing through a mask, participants are exposed to low-oxygen air for short intervals.
The recently opened Elite Athlete Centre and Hotel in the UK went further in employing cutting edge technology. Its 20 high-altitude rooms simulate low-oxygen conditions to accelerate the production of red blood cells, allowing athletes to literally strengthen their muscles in their sleep. The system goes from sea level to 5,000 meters, the altitude of base camps on Mount Everest.
These premium services may appeal to some advanced amateurs, such as top company executives keen on sports. Let’s not forget that 72% of business travellers are actively involved in one or more sports and one in three base their choice of hotel partially on available sport options. But the main targets of high-tech facilities are professional athletes and sports teams looking for training bases.
Sometimes spotting a market opportunity is all it takes to win lucrative contracts with sports teams. The Protea Hotel Polokwane Ranch Resort in South Africa started to serve football teams after the nearby stadium, originally built for the FIFA World Cup in 2010, began hosting other major matches. As there were no suitable training facilities in the area, the resort built two pitches and opened a high-performance center to satisfy newly emerging demand.
About the author: Roger A. Allen, RLA Group CEO
Roger is the founder of Resources for Leisure Assets (RLA) and brings a no-nonsense approach to the leisure industry, that is based on a proven track record of representing owners and operators best interests. Roger has worked with many of the leading hotel operating brands and most influential hotel owners and developers around the world. Furthermore, successful ongoing engagements with government entities and high net worth individuals keep him fully engaged with the day to day project development responsibilities.