The popularity of recreational running is on the rise around the world, according to research, with the number of participants surging by 58% over the last ten years. At the same time, the number of people travelling to attend an event is increasing and finish times have become slower – suggesting that people are running races more for the experience than to achieve a particular running time or mark a milestone age.
Marathon participation, in particular, increased by 49% between 2008 and 2018, and hotels located nearby to routes experiencing the benefits.
When it comes to destination marathons, Big Sur International is hard to beat. Held every April along a rugged stretch of Pacific Ocean coastline in California, the event sells out months in advance, along with a half-marathon in November.
The Portola Hotel & Spa is located adjacent to the race headquarters, and rooms sell out in what would normally be the low season. “People fly in from all over the world for the weekend,” says General Manager, Janine Chicourrat. The hotel offers early morning coffee, bananas and bagels for runners, as well as late check-out so they can shower after the race.
Another destination that hosts a variety of running events is New York. “All three of our hotels tend to sell out over marathon weekend with a diverse group of guests from all over the world,” says Matthew Hurlburt, Area Director of Operations for New York at Kimpton Hotels & Restaurants. Depending on the hotel, Kimpton offers a range of amenities, from welcome kits with marathon essentials to ice baths and subway cards to get to and from the start and finish lines.
Proximity to a marathon can offer opportunities for promotion, too. The Los Angeles Marathon finishes just past the Fairmont Miramar Hotel & Bungalows, and the hotel stations a fruit cart on the corner for spectators and post-runners alike. The Mandarin Oriental Boston hosts a Runner’s Recovery Lounge in the lobby that’s open to both guests and visitors.
The rise of the parkrun
Another running event that’s become a global phenomenon over the past 16 years is parkrun. Every Saturday morning in parks and open spaces around the world – currently around 1,700 locations in 23 countries – participants gather to run 5km (3.1 miles), a distance that’s achievable for beginners yet challenging for more experienced runners. Six million people have registered with parkrun to date.
The popularity of parkrun has given rise to the “parkrun tourist”. Officially, this means anyone who has completed 20 runs in different locations, but many people complete one of the unofficial challenges that have sprung up around the event, such as the Alphabeteers, where a parkrun must be completed for each letter of the alphabet, and The Bailey, 100 runs in 100 different locations.
Richard Gower is an enthusiastic parkrun tourist who has completed more than 250 runs over the past six years. “I usually do around 40 a year, and for the past two years it’s been in a different location most of the time,” he says.
The hotel he selects depends on whether he’s travelling with his wife or friends, and this is a common scenario with the other parkrun tourists he knows. “If I’m with my wife, we’ll have a weekend away and I’ll book a boutique hotel within half an hour’s drive of the run. If I’m going for a boys’ weekend or with other parkrunners, we’ll stay somewhere cheaper and within walking distance.”
Not many properties advertise themselves to parkrun tourists, he says – people tend to ask each other for recommendations on dedicated Facebook groups. “A hotel close to a parkrun could get involved by hosting the post-event coffee and cake,” he suggests. Offering early breakfasts and late check-outs are also ways hotels can appeal to this segment.
One hotel that is attracting the parkrun market is Cascade Country Manor, a boutique hotel in South Africa’s scenic Winelands region just outside Cape Town. Owner Maika Goetze is a parkrun enthusiast herself and placed an introductory offer on her website offering free accommodation the night before the run, plus breakfast and transport.
She soon found that her offer was attracting guests searching online as she was the only hotel in the region advertising to parkrun tourists. “For us, it’s a way to entice visitors to spend a weekend exploring all the area has to offer,” she says. “Guests can have dinner at the hotel the night before, do the parkrun early on Saturday morning and spend the rest of the day either on a wine tour or having a spa treatment with us.” Most guests stay an extra night, and she anticipates that special offers like this will boost occupancy rates in the low season.
- The number of participants running marathons has increased by nearly 50% in the past decade, with many travelling to attend an event
- Parkrun is also increasing in popularity every year, with parkrun tourists officially those who have completed more than 20 different runs – although many complete far more
- Hotels can attract these niche groups by offering discounts, shuttle service, early breakfast or late check-outs
- This, in turn, can encourage guests from this market to stay an extra night while boosting occupancy rates in the low seasons