Sports-crazy Fans Bring Cheer to Travel Firms

The Economic Times - - Personal Finance & Economy - DIVYA SATHYA­NARAYANAN

Jay­deep Raval, an ar­dent fan of For­mula 1 rac­ing from Mum­bai, is busy plan­ning his trip to Abu Dhabi with three other like­minded people this Novem­ber to catch the Grand Prix live. “Pas­sion for this sport drives me to spend the money and watch the event live where the ex­cite­ment and thrill is at a dif­fer­ent level al­to­gether,” says the 34-year-old Fer­rari fan who is talk­ing to travel com­pa­nies to se­cure the best deal. Ac­cord­ing to travel com­pa­nies, trav­el­ling for sport­ing events with fam­ily and friends is com­ing of age in In­dia with more and more sports lovers com­ing for­ward to spend big bucks to watch the thrills and spills of the world’s big­gest sport­ing events such as the foot­ball world cup, Olympics and Wim­ble­don. Sens­ing the ris­ing op­por­tu­nity, many travel com­pa­nies have set up sports di­vi­sions to lure this niche seg­ment in In­dia with cus­tomised deals. Sports tourism or trav­el­ling to watch a sport­ing event has grown by around 30% over the last 5-6 years, said Karan Anand, head-re­la­tion­ships at Cox & Kings. The travel and tour op­er­a­tor is sell­ing cus­tomised pack­ages for the foot­ball World Cup in Brazil with prices start from $1,150 and go up to $25,050. And many In­dian fam­i­lies will be spend­ing that kind of money to watch the beau­ti­ful game in the land of foot­ball. Anand said there is an in­crease of 15-20% in trav­ellers go­ing for FIFA 2014 in Brazil com­pared to South Africa in 2010. Ra­jen­dra Go­gri, 54, is tak­ing his fam­ily on a two-week tour to Brazil to watch the World Cup. Go­gri, who heads a Mum­bai-based listed chemical man­u­fac­tur­ing com­pany, was among some se­lect In­di­ans who made it to the Lon­don Olympics 2012. “The high point of the travel was see­ing our coun­try win­ning the sil­ver medal and the feel­ing wouldn't have been the same watch­ing it on TV,” he said.

Soc­cer en­thu­si­asts, like Go­gri, are not trav­el­ling to Brazil to watch the World Cup alone. “Foot­ball afi­ciona­dos and en­thu­si­asts from In­dia have shown strong in­ter­est not merely to wit­ness this global event live, but equally to ex­plore the de­light­ful di­ver­sity of Brazil and South Amer­ica,” said Shibani Phad­kar, se­nior vice pres­i­dent — prod­ucts and op­er­a­tions, leisure travel (out­bound), at Thomas Cook In­dia. Mean­while, sev­eral foot­ball fans who have booked their tick­ets for the World Cup through All In­dia Foot­ball Fed­er­a­tion (AIFF) are still to se­cure their visa, ac­cord­ing to a me­dia re­port. While the Brazil­ian con­sulate has in­sisted on ap­pli­cants pro­duc­ing a copy of their tick­ets be­fore is­su­ing visa, AIFF has yet to col­lect the tick­ets from FIFA, the in­ter­na­tional foot­ball gov­ern­ing body. FIFA has asked the In­dian as­so­ci­a­tion to col­lect the tick­ets — to­talling 263 — through a rep­re­sen­ta­tive from ei­ther Brazil or Manch­ester. An AIFF rep­re­sen­ta­tive has left for Rio de Janeiro to col­lect the tick­ets, but sev­eral fans — es­pe­cially those who have booked tick­ets for the open­ing cer­e­mony on June 12 in Sao Paulo — are un­sure if they will get visa in time. Brazil’s min­istry of tourism es­ti­mates 3.7 mil­lion people will travel through­out Brazil dur­ing the 2014 FIFA World Cup.

Many sports fans pre­fer tour pack­ages rather than man­ag­ing on their own, par­tic­u­larly in events such as World Cup where one maybe trav­el­ling across cities. In fact, F1 fan Raval said it was a travel pack­age advertisement that trig­gered his first trip to watch F1. “Then there has been no rac­ing event that we missed live,” he said. Cen­trumDirect, which owns Club 7 Hol­i­days, has opened a sports tourism arm to fo­cus on all the ma­jor in­ter­na­tional sport­ing events hap­pen­ing from 2014 on­wards. “There is a lot of lo­gis­tics in­volved, es­pe­cially for the first timers who are trav­el­ling over­seas for a par­tic­u­lar sport,” said T C Gu­ruprasad, MD at Cen­trumDirect, which of­fers door-to-door pack­ages in­clud­ing air tick­ets, ho­tel stay, event tick­ets, sight­see­ing and trans­porta­tion. While most sport lovers travel to wit­ness their favourite game, some travel to play theirs. An avid golfer, Shashi Ki­ran Shetty trav­els to dif­fer­ent coun­tries to play the game he loves. “I travel to coun­tries like Florida and Cal­i­for­nia in US where the in­fra­struc­ture for golf is well de­vel­oped,” says Shetty, 57, who heads a listed lo­gis­tics firm, head­quar­tered in Mum­bai. While sports tourism is a still a niche seg­ment, travel com­pa­nies ex­pect the seg­ment to be an im­por­tant rev­enue gen­er­a­tor in the com­ing years. “The rev­enue from sports tourism is grow­ing by 10-12% year-on-year and this is set to in­crease with the grow­ing aware­ness about in­ter­na­tional events,” said Vishal Suri, CEO — tour op­er­at­ing at Kuoni In­dia. Ac­cord­ing to tourism an­a­lysts, the sports tourism in­dus­try is worth an es­ti­mated 450 bil­lion glob­ally and in the next three years, In­dia is ex­pected to grab around 20% of the mar­ket share of sports tourism in Asia.

Oper­a­tors say trav­el­ling abroad to watch a sport­ing event has grown by around 30% over the last 5-6 years

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