Recently I was able to attend Destination International’s CEO conference in Tampa. It was a great event and it was good to get out on the road and meet with many old friends in person. During one of the presentations, the state tourism directors from both Florida and California led a discussion about their respective states and what a tourism recovery looks like. They talked about opening up boarders for the international leisure traveler and when they thought things would get back to pre-pandemic levels. One thing they didn’t mention? Sports tourism.
This was pretty disturbing to me honestly. Given that sports tourism has been carrying the entire tourism industry through the pandemic, it is odd that many destinations have ignored that fact and are thinking that the tourism industry will be “business as usual” in the future. Given that Florida hosted the Super Bowl and the NBA bubble over the past year, and California is hosting the Women’s US Open this week and the Men’s US Open over Father’s Day weekend, I’m baffled as to how sports tourism was ignored in this presentation.
Going a bit further, it’s my belief that several of our national and regional tourism associations are underrepresented when it comes to having sports tourism professionals involved with their leadership groups. In nearly every destination we have worked with over the last nine years, sports tourism is the largest market for group bookings. Yet in many of those organizations, the sports department doesn’t get resources allocated to them on par with the other tourism verticals, which doesn’t make sense.
In any business, if one department is driving (say) half of your sales, you should allocate half of the organization’s marketing dollars and resources to it, right? We find that in many cases, even when sports tourism drives 50-60 percent of the destination’s room nights, more marketing dollars are allocated to the meetings and leisure markets. In one case, when we were hired for a sports tourism strategic planning project, we found out that this destination’s one person sports department was out booking all four of the other tourism sales people combined. Yet the sports department was only getting 20% of the organization’s resources to go out and market the destination.
Sports tourism has been leading the recovery of our nation, and in many ways, it has served as the tourism industry’s one consistent performer (pandemic or no pandemic). It’s time that sports tourism be treated as the key business driver that it has been for the past three decades in our country. Tourism organizations need to provide a seat at the table for sports tourism professionals to have a voice. Resources need to be allocated to sports tourism commensurate with the business that it brings to a community. This position may not be popular, however it’s just smart business to do so.
One of the great presentations at the conference last week, data was shared that points to 2023-2024 as the time when tourism will rebound back to 2019 levels. Sports tourism is already back in many destinations, so why are we so hesitant to double down on this vital market? Why do some destinations keep pouring money into trade publications and print ads targeting the meetings market? Sports is a guaranteed business driver, while the pandemic has gutted the meetings market, maybe for good. People are realizing they don’t need to meet in person as much as we did in the past. It’s inefficient and takes us away from our families for extended periods of time. In sports we have to travel to compete, you can’t Zoom a soccer tournament.
Remember how important sports tourism has been for your destination, your company, and the athletes and families of those you serve. Give sports tourism a voice, provide the right resources, drive business to your community.
Jon Schmieder is the Founder of the Huddle Up Group LLC, a sports industry consulting company led by award winning executives. Schmieder has 25 years of experience in leading sports tourism and events organizations through strategic growth and increased community collaboration. The Huddle Up Group has worked with more than 200 sports organizations and destinations on over 150 strategic projects. In 2017 the Huddle Up Group was given the Superior Service Award, the highest honor a consulting firm can earn from the National Association of Sports Commissions. We can be reached at Jon@HuddleUpGroup.com or 602.369.6955. To receive the weekly “Monday Huddle Up” visit www.HuddleUpGroup.com or sign up at www.tinyletter.com/JonSchmieder.