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For sports fans, the years don’t get any better than 2018. With the PyeongChang Olympic Winter Games behind us and the FIFA World Cup about to kick off in Russia, international sports events exemplify the best in humanity through competition and camaraderie. And the world loves to watch on television, online and for the fortunate, in person.
If you’re the type of person who combines a love of sports with insatiable wanderlust, sports tourism is a wonderful way to spectate or play while seeing the world. Sports tourism, defined as travel for observing or participating in a sporting event, is also a red-hot sector of the travel industry, accounting for more than $7.68 billion in annual business globally.
So, what’s the draw when it’s perfectly convenient to watch your favorite sporting event from the comfort of home or a local bar? Why should you let a tournament or championship dictate your travel itinerary?
For starters, few thrills rival watching a live event in the company of thousands of fellow spectators. The atmosphere, intensity and energy of attending in person can’t be duplicated on a broadcast.
Call it the magical being there factor. You can easily watch and soon forget a sporting event on TV, but a lifelong memory is formed when you’re there soaking up the action with all five senses. You feel it.
Another benefit of sports tourism is the opportunity to immerse in the surroundings of your destination. The world is continuously growing, and smaller and previously far-flung places like our favorite Cuba or the United Arab Emirates are more accessible than ever. Attending a baseball game in Havana or a cricket match in Dubai are experiences unique to the location.
You’re nearly guaranteed a first-class experience as host countries and cities often go above and beyond to prepare amenities. They also seek to build a strong social bond with sports tourists to encourage return visits. The local infrastructure of hotels, transportation systems, communication networks and airports are often developed in advance of the global spotlight.
For instance, a high-speed train system was built in Russia connecting 11 cities, including Moscow, in preparation for the 2018 FIFA World Cup. The state-of-the-art trains will transport fans to the stadiums where matches are held. It also empowers visitors with the irresistible opportunity to incorporate social and cultural experiences into their stay by providing access to historical sites, restaurants, art and music venues as well as public gathering spaces.
A third reason and perhaps the most compelling to become a sports tourist is the serendipitous randomness of the destination when you travel to a sporting event. Arranging your travel around an event you wish to attend might pair you with a city or region you wouldn’t visit otherwise. You get to play explorer in a place you may know nothing about, allowing spontaneous meetings and adventure to happen organically.
In this way, you could find yourself in London to catch tennis at Wimbledon, jet-setting to a poker live tournament event destination or stepping foot on the beautiful beaches of Monte Carlo while you visit for the Formula One Monaco Grand Prix.
Whether your supported team wins or loses, you emerge victorious when you travel as a sports tourist. Combine the being there thrill of attending your favorite sporting event with meeting new people, immersing in a different culture and taking in foreign sights, and you’ll leave with an incredible experience. Don’t forget to take a lot of photos and send a postcard back home.