Athletic Tourism Market

category - tourism
sector - travel & hospitality
type - market focus
Market Focus
Combatting sedentary lifestyles, the travel industry is making a play for active travellers by placing sports and fitness at the heart of their offerings

Tourists are swapping fly-and-flop mentalities for active experiences that cater for surging interest in wellbeing, sports and fitness.

During a year of enforced isolation, would-be travellers had to look elsewhere for the hit of endorphins travel brings. In the US, 70% picked up new hobbies that would benefit their future travel plans (source: Exodus Travels).

Now they're back on the road, travellers are opting for longer, slower trips in which they have more time to spend focusing on their active hobbies. Luxury sports hotel Quinta do Lago in Portugal’s Algarve is now seeing guests stay for upwards of six months, allowing them to hone in on their golf, tennis or swimming techniques.

This unlocks a number of opportunities for tourism and hospitality players eager to win over guests with sport-fuelled leisure trips of a lifetime.

Hobby hospitality

Highlighting the opportunity for travel brands to incorporate newfound physical hobbies into the tourism experience, Exodus Travel marketing and PR director Robin Brooks explains: 'It’s been heartening to see so many people taking their passion for global exploration and turning it inward – adopting new hobbies... They’re taking this time to learn new skills and interests that can inform their future travel experiences.'

Taking a niche approach, some hotels are being developed around a single hobby, such as the boutique Californian property The Courts, which places guests in luxe trailers surrounding four tennis courts. Others are incorporating sports into their seasonal programming – the TWA Hotel in New York has installed a rink for roller skating in the summer and ice skating in the winter.

When it comes to marketing a destination, the Qatar National Tourism Council (QNTC) is cleverly tapping the skiers snowboarders blocked from slopes by travel restrictions, positioning it as an exciting chance to try sandboarding. 'There is strong pent-up demand for adventure among travellers,' says Berthold Trenkel, chief operating officer at QNTC. 'We invite those who enjoy the exhilaration of the slopes to seek their adrenalin rush on the desert dunes this year.'

Meanwhile, Thailand's tourism authority (TAT) launched its Stay Play Safe campaign to boost domestic sports tourism among expats, starting with a series of golf tournaments. While typically known as a beach and city break destination, Thailand has more than 250 golf courses. 'Two of the largest markets for international golf visitation are Japan and Korea,' explains a TAT spokesperson.

Published by:

30 August 2021

Author: Stefanie Waldek, Holly Friend and Livvy Houghton

Image: Colours by Derek Pedrós explores the movement of dancers through colour, form, shape and rhythm


TWA Hotel in New York

Pro-formance programs

Hotels are turning to professional athletes and coaches to add a new dimension of wellness to their on-site fitness programs.

In the surfing paradise of Costa Rica, novices can now learn from professionals at Marriott's El Mangroove luxury hotel. Inspired by local Costa Ricans using downtime during the pandemic to learn new hobbies, it has launched a program connecting professional surfers with guests. Through the program, these surfers help guests develop new skills, combining in-pool aquatic fitness training with in-ocean surf sessions.

'We loved seeing how many brand-new local surfers came to us to learn to surf, and so we decided to build a program for guests once travel began to pick back up,' says Jairo Torres Villicaña, marketing and sales director for El Mangroove.

It isn't the only hotel investing in professional coaches. When Sensei Porcupine Creek opens in California in early 2022, its wellness packages will include sports performance coaches who help guests achieve personal fitness goals. Then there's the new sports and fitness hotel brand Siro, slated to open in Montenegro in 2023, whose advisory board comprises professional athletes who will travel between its properties to oversee activity programming.

Extreme excursions

Building on our Resilience Culture macrotrend, next-gen hospitality brands are taking active travel to the extreme, leveraging our year of homebody living to market a new breed of stamina-boosting retreats.

One of the more extreme options from Mandarin Oriental's new Inner Strength – Outer Strength retreats is a triathlon on the Caribbean island of Canouan. The hotel has marked training trails for the traditional three events of swimming, cycling, and running, alongside modified island activities such as kayaking sprints, held year-round on the resort’s 1,200-acre property.

Aman has also debuted a series of adventurous sports retreats called Fitness for the Future. From rock climbing in Italy’s Dolomites to desert and mountain sports in Morocco’s Atlas Mountains, each are branded as 'transformative sports retreats to heal and strengthen body, mind, spirit.'

‘We loved seeing how many brand-new local surfers came to us to learn to surf, so we decided to build a program for guests’
Jairo Torres Villicaña, marketing and sales director, El Mangroove

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