tourism & city branding

Sport Tourism: An ever-growing sector with high potential for cities

Jul 3, 2021

“Cities and municipalities should consider the appropriate mix of major events and more local and recurrent events.”
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By Young Hoon Kim, Ph.D, Professor, Department of Hospitality and Tourism Management University of North Texas, USA, and John Nauright, Ph.D Dean, Richard J. Bolte, Sr. School of Business Mount St. Mary’s University, Maryland, USA

Definition of sport tourism

As defined by Gibson (1998, p. 49), sport tourism is a “leisurebased travel that takes individuals temporarily outside of their home communities to participate and/or watch physical activities or to venerate attractions associated with physical activities”. Human beings are born to travel to fulfil their motivational needs and sports can be one of the reasons and tourism will be one of the ways to satisfy those leisure activities (e.g., trail with family or attending sport events). In theory, it is a naturally generated social phenomenon to satisfy human’s physical and psychological desire through travel or vice versa. Each domain (i.e., sports and tourism) is one of the most significant areas which impact our life from many perspectives, such as social, economy, political, and many more. In particular, Zauhar emphasised (2004, p.13), “the points of contact between sport and tourism have increased dramatically – the mutual benefits for both are quite perceptible and the relationships very compatible. In fact, the term ‘sports tourism’ has been coined to better understand the use of sport as a touristic endeavour”.

The impact of COVID-19 on the sport tourism industry

Unsurprisingly, COVID-19 has significantly impacted both sport and tourism industries. Since its original break in Wuhan, China on 21 December 2019, it led to the world pandemic declared by the World Health Organisation (WHO) on 11 March 2020. There was no way to stop this disaster and its global spread across every continent. Although our life has been getting better after vaccine and some medical treatment, it is still a question to get back to our “new” normal. The impact on global sports tourism and income from events has run into billions of dollars of lost revenue. The impact has been particularly hard for smaller scale events and lower-level leagues that do not have protection from significant television, streaming and advertising revenues. It is the key solution for major sport cities to get back to the “new” normal by recovering from the down-turn stage after being negatively impacted by COVID-19. However, it is a great opportunity for specific sport tourism sectors, such as e-sports and golf industry.

Role of cities in sport tourism

As Kim et al. (2018) pointed out in their research, “a destination brand with strong equity leads to greater commitment in the form of loyalty and willingness to revisit the destination” (p. 1196). Not only for its image developed by sports tourists but also it is critical to prepare the destinations (i.e., cities) for sustainable growth. While sport tourists select and look for a city (i.e., destination) to experience “unique” sport tourism components (e.g., physical activities or sport events), most cities are not primarily designed for sport tourism except some cases (Settimi, 2020). In addition, it is strongly recommended to partnership with educational institutions to maximise the outcomes as well as sustainable development for cities (i.e., destination) (Kim et al., 2018). The specific following suggestions can be emphasised for sport cities:

• Accessibility (e.g., transportation and highway access)

• Basic sports facilities

• Hotel and lodging facilities

• Local government (city) involvement

Sport tourism trends

Hosting of major events (spectators) is still a successful way for cities to develop their sport tourism strategy

Sport tourism strategy will lead sport cities to the next level by approaching destination as a travel package or products which eventually increase the brand equity of destination. Thus, systematic recovery strategies are keenly needed to prevent from unexpected health-related disasters in the future (e.g., pandemic). In addition, foreseeing framework and business structure will help cities to prepare for next stage.

The development of active sport tourism should be looked at closely

Probably, the 2020 Olympics in Japan will be the best case for cities or city cluster to examine the critical cases how to react and follow up. The given lists below will be considered and discussed:

• Organise a special committee under the IOC to monitor,

• Require pre-examination systems to evaluate the current condition,

• Establish disaster-related control centre,

• Provide the stages and steps to react the outbreaks,

• Follow-up strategies to minimise the damages,

• Assess the post-Olympics, and

• Report and share the results to the public.


While global sport tourism has been damaged in the short term by the COVID-19 pandemic, immediate return of spectators and plans for new events and seasons suggests the upward trends of the latter 2010s will continue by 2022 and into 2023 and beyond. Regional events could become more important, as spectators do not travel as far. Cities and municipalities should consider the appropriate mix of major events and more local and recurrent events.


Kim, Y. H., Li, H., & Nauright, J. (2018). A destination development by building a brand image and sport event tourism: a case of Sport City USA. Sport in Society, 21(8), 1196-1203. Gibson, H. J. (1998). Sport tourism: A critical analysis of research. Sport Management Review, 1, 45-76. Settimi, C. 2020, July 17). America’s best sports cities 2020. Retrieved from americas-best-sports-cities-2020/?sh=6c36d2bedaef Zauhar, J. (2004). Historical perspectives of sports tourism. Journal of Sport & Tourism, 9(1), 5-101.

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