Cape Town – The love of a sport discipline, whether as participant or spectator can be a powerful driving force in travel decision-making, but it makes sense to make more out of your sport travel by finding out what’s on offer where you’re going, says Danny Bryer, area director for sales at Protea Hotels by Marriott.

In the same way that the tennis championships at Wimbledon are viewed as an aspirational goal for travel, many world-class events are the prompts that get people booking and packing.

“Sport people around the globe are big travellers. Participating in international or regional tournaments, matches and events can translate to weeks away at a time,” says Bryer.

“Besides the participants and their support crews, spectators travelling to watch sport events can also contribute millions to the economy.”

Over five thousand fans of the English cricket team – the Barmy Army – descended on South Africa in 2015, for instance. Benefiting from an exchange-rate fluctuation at the time, they were big spenders.

One report announced that they’d completely emptied a bar of stock within a few minutes. More importantly, their whirlwind visit was said to have boosted the economy by an estimated R140m.

In 2017 there were 4 000 international registrations for the Cape Town Cycle Tour, for a total of 35 000 riders. Hotels and other places of accommodation reported high occupancy rates, and, according to the race organisers, the event injects more than R500m into the Western Cape economy every year, as well as raising millions for charitable undertakings and cycling development which has a significant impact to those in need, both regionally and beyond.

Additionally, in 2016 the Absa Cape Epic contributed R300m to the economy and the Cape Rouleur attracts 160 pro, former pro, celebrity, and amateur riders from 16 countries across Africa, America, Australasia and Europe. These three events alone are nudging towards a R1bn annual contribution.

Local inter-provincial schools’ tournaments get kids into travel, whether for soccer, rugby, cricket, hockey, tennis, athletics or any number of other disciplines, says Bryer. Adults travel specifically to enjoy destinations where sport is part of the lifestyle.

He says the 2010 FIFA World Cup transformed international perceptions about travel in SA.

Travel plans

“For South African sport lovers, the prospect of international travel can be daunting, particularly when the exchange rate is bobbing and weaving. It makes sense to seek out ways of adding value to your trip,” says Bryer.

“There are sport tour companies that provide packages to big events, but you can also look to value-adds such as loyalty programmes. Frequent travellers benefit from these.”

He suggests that a long-term view be taken: for participants in events and spectators, entrance fees and tickets must be booked way in advance – likewise, accommodation and transport options must be secured. Tour operators may bulk-book these to facilitate ease of access.

An added benefit may be additional leisure tours to explore the destination, as it’s not always just about the event itself.

“If you’re going to play a sport or watch one, and you have to travel internationally or great distances to do so, you can add days onto your trip to enjoy the local experiences or even to set up business meetings to coincide with your stay,” says Bryer.

“Big events attract huge volumes of spectators, so in order to get the best rates, book early.”

This article was first published by Fin24 on 15 August 2017.