Spotlight on: the growth of sports tourism

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Estimated to be worth US$800bn globally, sports tourism is showing no sign of slowing down. As more people take active breaks, Click. looks at what the hospitality industry is doing to meet the needs of this growing market

Whether they’re on two wheels, two feet, in a kayak or a climbing harness, sporty holidaymakers are creating a booming business. Sports tourism is one segment of the market that’s as healthy as ever – and growing every year.

France is the world’s second-largest destination for cycling tourism, after Germany, and it’s certainly one of the most dynamic. According to the Comité National du Tourisme à Vélo, the sector contributed about €2bn to the French economy in 2016. It’s not surprising that the country that hosts the world’s most exciting pro cycle race has about 13,600km of bike routes – with more to come.

With such infrastructure in place, accommodation providers have been quick to cater to the needs of their two-wheeled visitors. La Provence à Velo, a site run by the Vaucluse regional tourist board, lists not only hoteliers and B&B owners but also cycling routes, events and companies that arrange luggage transfers.

Olivier Brochery runs Bed and Bike, a B&B near the village of Venasque – a handy two-hour bike ride from Mont Ventoux, one of the most notorious climbs in the Tour de France. “Bed and Bike is dedicated entirely to cycling tourism, with everything from secure bike storage and a mechanical workshop to cleaning facilities,” he says. “Not only that, but we also offer guided rides and maps as well as technical and nutritional advice. Listening to our guests is essential if we want to keep their loyalty. We are constantly keeping their expectations and needs in mind.”

Maintaining customer loyalty

In the Canadian Rockies, a region most associated with winter sports has a summer scene that in reality attracts more visitors. Three million people visit Whistler every year, but while 1.6 million arrived in the winter, the summertime figure edges ahead to 1.8 million. Most come for the hiking as well as biking in Whistler Bike Park, the number one lift-accessed bike park in the world. Then there’s canoeing, kayaking and golf in any of the four award-winning golf courses.

Whistler’s hoteliers long ago learned that guests on sports holidays have particular needs. Elise Tomalty, Communications Manager at Nita Lake Lodge, says: “Our goal is for guests to return to everyday life feeling relaxed and refreshed while having experienced all the adventure that Whistler offers. We have complimentary stand-up paddle boards, kayaks and canoes, accessible via our exclusive guest dock. We also have a large fleet of hotel bikes for guests to explore Whistler’s Valley Trail.” 

Man wakeboarding
Photo: credit to Steven Welch


To build and maintain customer loyalty, the lodge offers clients a special return guest rate. The lodge’s Whistler competitors are just as keen to keep their sports-minded guests happy, including the Aava Whistler Hotel. In trying to be the region’s “most bike-friendly hotel”, it offers free 24/7 bike valet and rental, secure storage, washing and tuning stations, and even free use of a GoPro camera.

Types of sports tourism

European sports lovers who want as many activities in one place head to AREA 47 in Austria’s Ötztal Valley in the Tirol region. The range of activities is quite dizzying, ranging from rafting, caving, climbing and canyoning to wakeboarding and mountain biking. Unlike other adventure playgrounds, AREA 47 combines sports and activities with centralised accommodation in lodges, tepees and dorms.

“The uniqueness of AREA 47 is that our guests can experience a large variety of activities, board and lodging combined at one place and without experience or bringing their own equipment,” says Susanne Schilcher, AREA 47’s Head of Marketing. “We are constantly working on our offers and more than 35 activities to keep it attractive and exciting for guests that are visiting us regularly.

“We also create new events and attractive offers that meet the current outdoor and sport trends and fit the expectations of our target group. Even with small changes and improvements, we are able to raise the satisfaction and keep it appealing for our guests. We have quite a large number of repeat businesses – not only individual travellers but also companies that repeat their annual incentive trip at AREA 47 due to our high number of different sport offers.”

While AREA 47’s accommodation is quite basic, Schilcher doesn’t consider that to be an issue for guests. “Our accommodation facilities are all equipped simply and very functional with no extra luxury. We believe that the accommodation is part of the outdoor experience,” she says. “Since our guests get all the required equipment from us, they do not need to take it to the rooms. And staff members take care of the bike washing and clothing washing. However, we are always thinking about extra offers for our guests.”

Catering to a guest’s sporty side can also impact the overall perception they have of a property, with a positive experience increasing the likelihood of them returning. Research has found that over half of tourists (58%) travelling for sport are extremely likely to return to a destination on a leisure trip, highlighting the benefits of sports tourism.

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Hero image: credit to Max Libertine

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Cycling tourism contributed €2bn to the French economy in 2016
France has about 13,600km of cycling routes throughout the country, with more to come
Three million people visit Whistler every year
Summer visitors to Whistler outnumber winter ones by 1.8 million to 1.6 million
AREA 47 in Austria’s Tirol region has more than 35 activities for sports-loving visitors