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Akis Tsolis: Conclusions and Facts from Recent Sports Tourism Congresses

Akis Tsolis, the CEO of ActiveMedia Group, presents many new and interesting facts from the sports tourism conferences that he recently attended.

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Few weeks ago, experts and academics in sports tourism debated over two days on current and future trends in the sector and underlined the key role of sport for the development of a more sustainable and inclusive tourism. 

The first World Sports Tourism Congress (25-26 November, Lloret de Mar, Spain) focused on the unique capacity of the sector to promote sustainable and inclusive development, diversification and public-private partnership. The Congress was organized by the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) and the Catalan Tourism Agency (ACT), an Affiliate Member of the UNWTO. Among the 61 foreign participants from 21 countries there were of course people from ActiveMedia Group which has a background of more than 20 years in Sports Tourism Events. 

Mr. Zurab Pololikashvili, UNWTO Secretary-General, stated that “An encouraging example is the gradual return of major sporting events, which is a major driver of the restart of tourism.”

The first world sports tourism conference was back in 2001 but had the name Sports & Tourism and was held in Barcelona. 

While in Greece the Front Runners 3.0 Sports Management Web Conference that took place in 2021 had important topics about Sports Tourism and the one in 2022 at the end of March will have even more. 

Some great challenges were discussed from day one, ranging from the impact of COVID-19 and current trends in tourism demand and in the tourism market, to trends in sports, innovation in major sports events, diversity and inclusion, and public-private governance strategies. Digital transformation of the sector and the phenomenon of e-sports, the promotion of digital marketing, the environmental framework and new research in Sports Tourism were also discussed.

Narcís Ferrer, director of the Catalan Tourism Agency, presented the list of 10 conclusions as a legacy left by the congress, which includes the following points: 

  1. Importance of sports tourism in the reactivation of post-pandemic world tourism.
  2. Importance of generating greater synergy in the tourism and sports binomial
  3. Relevance of having inclusion and diversity values in these two sectors.
  4. The role of local communities
  5. A more aware sports tourism
  6. Trends in the demand for sports tourism
  7. Innovation
  8. Sustainability
  9. Trends in sports tourism marketing
  10. Research

We could not be happier in our company. During pandemic we partnered with the Sports Management Society of Deree – The American College of Greece to explore the relationship between sports tourism and sustainable and inclusive development and how sports tourism can serve as a tool for tourism dispersal, differentiation and deseasonalization. As we have announced the first research in Sports Tourism Events started in 2021 with three major Sport Tourism Events: the biggest mountain running race “Zagori Mountain Running”, the one and only “The Authentic Marathon Swim” & the top Wellness Event in Europe, “Navarino Challenge”.

Wellness and quality of life are guides of sustainable local development in many of the Sports Tourism Events we co-organize with local municipalities or hotels. Do not forget destinations are formed by citizens; therefore, everything that is done for sports tourism ends up producing retribution in the future for the destination and its inhabitants. While last year we emphasized more in diversity and inclusion as a pivotal element of development. The values that sport represents are also projected in the practice of tourism for everyone. The goal of universal accessibility not only makes us fairer but also more competitive.

In some major sports tourism events in Greece the importance of amateur sports tourist was emphasised. New demands require proposals adapted to their experience as sports tourists. New targets were identified, such as the solo traveller, family trips, multi-generational travellers and travellers seeking immersive experiences.

Few weeks ago, in Navarino Challenge 2021 we had the chance to discuss some of the preliminary insights of this research. Profile of the participants, to include demographic and behavioural characteristics, financial impact, future intentions, etc. were discussed. GTP was among the media that were present and very soon you will read some of the very interesting results of this research that we did together with Dr. Leivadi Stella & Dr. Tzoumaka Eugenia.

ActiveMedia Group CEO Akis Tsolis.

Back to the 1st World Sports Tourism Congress and if you wonder why in Catalonia, here is the answer from the Minister of Business and Labour Roger Torrent: “Sport tourism plays a strategic role for Catalonia. We estimate that this section of tourism generates 270 million euros of direct economic impact, 133 million euros of indirect economic impact, and 155 million euros of induced economic impact”.

Take a quick look in some amazing videos from top Sports Spanish & Worldwide Personalities

Just few days later, the Cyprus Sports Organization held the Sports Tourism Conference in Nicosia where I had the pleasure to participate, and some great topics & notes were:

– What is Sports Tourism (22% of the European travel packages in 2019 concerned Sports Tourism!) as presented by Dr. Giorgos Kosta

– Brand, Brand Awareness and Brand associations in Sports Tourism from Dr. Kostantinos Alexandri

– Stakeholders in Sports Tourism “Private sector is providing sport tourism services not the Government, not the Local Authorities or Regions or neither Olympic Committee or any other committees. The Ministry of Tourism or Sports should be supportive or helpful, but the private sector will run Sports Tourism” as Dr. Kartakoullis stated.

– Above all the participants agreed that Cyprus can be attractive to sports tourism tourists in the near future, and they need “all to see the big picture”.

If you think these are not so important let me inform you that there is already a committee in the island between Ministry of Tourism & Ministry of Sports (!!) while Cyprus has a strategic plan until 2030! Now we can discuss various things but not about the work of the Cyprus Sports Tourism Organization because they have one and this was their first congress after pandemic as more will follow. Above all, in a perfectly organized conference (with all safety and health measures) I saw Ministers, Local Authorities, members from federations (!) and even their presidents, hotels, academics, and the private sector. All stakeholders and not just few of them like we do in Greece.
Do not forget Sports Tourism was not included in any funds for Tourism companies that were affected from Coronavirus in Greece. Cyprus also took measures to reinforce the tourism economy as we did. As an example, that was discussed during the congress, was the fact that the Domestic tourism (tourism involving residents of one country traveling only within that country) which of course the Government like Greece supported, generated 12-13 million euros instead of the 1.2 billion of Inbound Tourism they had during the same months.

Problems are almost the same with Greece. Energy, flights connections, Covid19, etc., but they were all there and participated in a Sports Tourism Congress. Even the Sports Federations. Take a look in https://2021.front-runners.gr/ and see for example in the networking list how many employees from federations joined us.

Rik Pitino very wisely said “When I will stop learning then I will stop leading” and in my opinion his amazing speech was just one of the great things we offered for free just like the Cyprus Sports Organization did.

We had also the chance to learn some amazing things about Golf and a great coming project in Cyprus. We have more than 10,5 million people playing golf across Europe! Did you know that?

If I am not wrong with the two new Golf Courses at Costa Navarino we have the same Golf Courses with Cyprus, eleven (11) but they are 1.2 million people, and we are 10.2 million while Sweden with 10,5 million has 650 GOLF COURSES! When Scotland has 594 courses (5 million people). News that are known to all of us involving with Golf Events the last decade.

If you think good golf news stops here wait to read this:
DP World, a Dubai-based multinational logistics company, will become the new title sponsor of the European Tour group’s main men’s golf tour from the start of the 2022 season. In 2022, the tour will feature a minimum of 47 tournaments in 27 different countries, including new events in the UAE, Japan, South Africa, Belgium and Cyprus! Yes, the schedule says 3-6 November/Cyprus Open (Aphrodite Hills Resort, Paphos, Cyprus)!

As a conclusion we can say that more and more tourists are interested in sport activities during their trips whether sports are the main objective of their travel or not. Sport events of various kinds and sizes attract tourists as participants or spectators and destinations try to add local flavors to distinguish themselves and provide authentic local experiences. Sports events can be a catalyst for tourism development if successfully leveraged in terms of destination, branding, infrastructure development and other economic and social benefits.

The Journey in Sports Tourism starts again!

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