Events and sport tourism:

The role of digital technology in the COVID recovery

December 1, 2022

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Colin Stewart

Our analysis suggests that the global travel market is poised to return to pre-pandemic valuations by 2023 and reach USD 909bn by 2025. Colin Stewart, the co-founder of Quantum Consultancy, provides insight into how travel and event companies will add value to the tourist experience, incentivize demand, and leverage technology in a post-pandemic world.

Having spent the past 10 years working in sport and entertainment, several of those with a focus on the economic and touristic impact of events, it has become part of the daily routine to monitor the progress and reopening of this industry as we continue to manage and recover from the COVID-19 pandemic. In particular, the success of vaccine programmes, testing and the reopening of air travel has been welcome progress, enabling many international events to proceed with cautious optimism.

Following significant disruption throughout 2020 and into 2021, the impressive continuous growth in the global sport tourism market was stopped in its tracks. However, as 'one of the fastest growing sectors' in the travel industry, according to World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), it has been forecast that the value of the market will recover by 2022 and reach $1.8 trillion by 2030, growing at a compound annual growth rate of 16.1% from 2021 to 2030, according to a report published by Allied Market Research.

From what I have seen throughout this ongoing recovery and prior to the pandemic is that technology has been the most underdeveloped, yet most lucrative, opportunity for this sector in the past decade.

We are currently seeing an incredible transformation of the travel industry thanks to new and existing technologies finding a use case in the sector. Never have we been so spoilt for choice with online booking services offering us discounts and deals for holidays.

But why do these same services tailored specifically to sport remain a niche with limited options resulting in inflated costs?

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A silver lining from the pandemic has been the acceleration of the adoption of technologies within sport with a plethora of new tech-based solutions coming to market to better serve sports fans, event organisers, clubs and athletes. From virtual meeting solutions to direct-to-consumer broadcasting, these new and innovative services have been at the forefront of ensuring sports survival during these tough times. The technologies behind these services have cemented their place in the toolkits of international sports federations, rights owners, event organisers and host cities, ready to revert to, or use in addition to, the traditional options we were all so familiar with pre-pandemic.

When it comes to sports events, similar technologies have generally been utilised, those solutions that increase efficiency, and help relieve budgetary pressures; and those that generate revenue.

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The first has provided us with several SaaS solutions which support organisers of events to better manage things like risk registers, their workforce requirements, accreditation access, ticketing, and venue planning to name but a few essential services.

The second, which is arguably the biggest financial challenge faced by sports administrators at this time, has seen the rise of new revenue-generating projects. A good example of this is the growing interest in areas like non-fungible tokens (NFTs) and fan tokens, which aim to provide a whole new experience to sports fans and a new reason for them to part with their hard-earned cash in return for exclusive benefits and bragging rights. Ultimately, this is a revenue-generating exercise for pre-existing IP rights.

When it comes to sport tourism, being able to attract out-of-town visitors to major events or activities such as cycling, golf, hiking and the rest will benefit the local economy, providing direct benefits to the community, in turn supporting economic recovery. It will be the ability to grab the attention of sport tourists that will determine how quickly and successfully the sector can recover and subsequently benefit the communities receiving the visitors.

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Whether this is loyal football fans, following their team wherever they play, or those playing at competing golf resorts along the Spanish Riviera, there is a requirement for a deep understanding of what tourists want in order to tailor a unique experience which cannot be turned down.

Considering the overall value proposition made to the potential tourist, the customer journey when travelling for sport has been ever evolving, and is an important aspect is an important aspect of revenue-generation as well as loyalty and revisit potential. The combination of different experiences built around the main event or activity has been shown to improve the overall experience and increase the likelihood of them returning and recommending the trip to friends and family. Even the Romans created added value by combining sport with musical entertainment to enhance the spectator experience at the Colosseum!

Utilising new and existing technologies specifically in the sport tourism sector, coupled with pent up demand for travel, can be the catalyst required to communicate the perfect value proposition, tailored to the individual, which can be booked at the touch of a button.

In these uncertain times one thing we do know for sure is that sport tourists love to travel, they’ll spend considerable sums of money to do so as soon as they can do it, but will event organisers, destinations and tour operators be ready to capitalise?