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Be a sport and travel

Be a sport and travel

India, with its huge millennial population, will change the sports tourism industry globally in the future, says Rakshit Desai

India’s victory in the 1983 Cricket World Cup is etched in the memory of each one of us who was old enough to understand the sport and its significance. Similar emotions were attached with the wins in 2011 and 2015. The fundamental difference between these memories is that the nostalgia for the 1983 victory is attached to the sound of radio commentary whereas by 2011 and 2015 viewers had the television screen to watch the game and the crowd cheering from the stadium.

The way India experiences sports has changed drastically from then to now.  It is no more about big screens or live scores on mobile feed. Instead it is about experiencing the sport live in a stadium and being part of the thundering cheer. This phenomenon among sports aficionados has brought two vital industries together, sports and tourism. According to Orbis Research’s report, sports is the fastest-growing sector in the global tourism industry, estimated to be worth US$800 billion globally.

Travel in current times is no longer restricted to clichéd beaches, mountains or local sightseeing. Millennials want to go beyond the obvious and opt for experiences that offer something fresh. The idea behind sports tourism is to explore a new destination while witnessing live sporting events like the Wimbledon, Grand Prix, Olympics, Commonwealth Games, FIFA World Cup, Cricket World Cup, English Premier League, and more.

The experience of sitting with 80,000 football fans to witness the 2018 FIFA World Cup Final match at Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow is not an ordinary one and the new generation craves for the extraordinary.

Sports tourism was considered a luxury in the past but things have changed now. With increased spending capacity, affordable flight tickets and accommodation, fans are travelling all over the world to witness these events. With the 2019 Cricket World Cup in England and Wales, fans are already preparing to catch it live. From buying match tickets to booking flights and applying for leaves fans are already planning their lives around such big events.

Furthermore, many countries, especially the ones hosting big sports events, relax their visa regulations and offer bonus travel privileges on such occasions. For the ongoing FIFA World Cup, Russia is offering visa-free entry and free train travel for World Cup ticket holders, making it the opportune time to explore its lesser known cities between the matches. During the 2015 Cricket World Cup, New Zealand and Australia, co-hosts of the tournament, permitted fans to travel between the two countries with just one visa.

Such specialised offerings are an icing on the cake, widening the opportunity to explore more. After all, boosting economy, tourism, cultural exchange and improving relationships between nations have always been the motives behind sports events.

With the Indian tourism industry at an inflection point, much of its growth could be attributed to rising income, technology, social media and influence of globalisation among millennials. In the domestic market, sports tourism is fuelled by tournaments like the Indian Premier League, Indian Super League, Pro Kabaddi League etc.

Moreover, it is now affordable and hassle-free for a Chennaite to go to Mumbai’s Wankhede Stadium to the Chennai Super Kings in all their glory. Moreover, sports tourism is no longer limited with the entry of other sporting leagues like UBA Pro Basketball League  making the industry bigger than ever.

With a huge of the world’s millennial population, India holds the key to change domestic as well as international sports tourism industry in the future. In the last few years, the focus from cricket has moved to other sports such as badminton, tennis and even hockey. Surely, Tokyo (2020 Olympics) and England (2022 Commonwealth Games) will be the next must-visit destinations on the map.

(The author is a travel industry expert)

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