Several hospitality industry leaders interviewed recently regarding the state of the travel industry agreed that the sports-related travel segment is one of the few bright spots on the travel-industry horizon. The roundtable session included Loews Hotels Chairman & CEO Jonathan Tisch; Roger Dow, president & CEO of the United States Travel Association; Michael Gehrisch, president & CEO of the Destination Marketing Association International; J. Stephen Perry, president & CEO of the New Orleans Metropolitan Convention & Visitors Bureau; and Maura Allen Gast, Executive Director of the Irving (Texas) Convention & Visitors Bureau. The session was moderated by Timothy Schneider, publisher of SportsTravel magazine.
According to the roundtable participants, sports-related travel has fared well during the economic downturn. Compared to other sources of group business, the sports-related market continues to perform strongly.
“We believe in the power of sports,” said Tisch, whose Loews Hotel chain includes 17 properties and whose family co-owns the NFL’s New York Giants. “The world of sports can be an enormous motivator in terms of travel and tourism.”
“I was just down in Virginia Beach and they do 60,000 room nights a year in sports,” added the U.S. Travel Association’s Dow. “It’s just such a huge opportunity because these people still have tournaments; they still have their games, whether it be kids’ sports, high school, college or pro sports. It’s a very big opportunity that smart people are trying to capture.”
“The sporting events we’ve landed in the last few years are worth more than $2 billion in direct visitor spending, so that’s extraordinary,” said Perry. New Orleans will host the TEAMS Conference & Expo -the world’s largest gathering of sports-event organizers- October 13-17, 2009.
Perry, who last month helped New Orleans secure the right to host Super Bowl XLVII in 2013, also explained how hosting sporting events can help destinations attract corporate meetings: “ESPN sets up at the Super Bowl for a week and all the announcers and talent on air are talking about where they went to eat and how much fun they had, so what you get is a massive influx of dollars and massive exposure to corporate audiences whose executives have a good time and consider that city as a good place they’d enjoy coming back to for corporate meetings.”
“In a destination dominated by corporate travel, the only things we can point to that have been relatively stable are the association groups and the sports groups,” said Irving CVB’s Gast, who currently serves as the chairperson of Destination Marketing Association International. “Those groups have helped us defend our long-term plans of building a convention center that’s meant to service corporate bookings.”
“The comments of our roundtable participants echo those of many people in the travel industry that we’ve spoken with during the past six months,” said Schneider. “In times like these, destinations and hotels need to target the markets that are most likely to produce business for them and two of the best markets to be targeting right now are association meetings and sports-related travel.”
The complete roundtable discussion will appear in the July issues of SportsTravel and Association News magazines as part of a special section produced in conjunction with Destination Marketing Association International titled “Why Meetings Matter.”