Sports Tourism and the Development of Sports Events
Tourism and travelling is expected to grow by five percent each year up to 2020; the forecast for sports tourism is ten percent per year. Cities and regions across the globe are presently entered into honourable combat for these tourists, their money, and the inherent growth potential that follow in their wake. The winners will be those cities/regions that can fathom the fundamental motive power of sports tourism, and most successfully can utilize the potential of sports as tourist attraction. And they can find much to aid them in the academic research about sports tourism, where Professor Mike Weed of Canterbury Christ Church University takes a central position.
There has been a proliferation of definitions of sports tourism, but few attempts at conceptualising the area. Typical of many such definitions is that offered by Standeven and DeKnop (1999, p.12) that ‘sport tourism’ comprises:
Such a definition, while allowing an inclusive approach to the study of sports tourism, does little more than combine widely-accepted definitions of sport (cf Council of Europe, 1992) and tourism (cf British Tourist Authority, 1981). As such, it is really no definition at all as it doesn’t add anything to an understanding of the area that couldn’t be established from definitions of sport and of tourism as it simply identifies tourism activity involving sport. In fact, such a definition would seem to cast doubt on whether sports tourism is a serious subject for study, or whether it is merely a convenient descriptive term with little explanatory value. Other authors (eg Gammon & Robinson, 1997/2003; Robinson & Gammon, 2004; Sofield, 2003) have attempted to separate out ‘sports tourists’ (for whom sport is the primary purpose of the trip) and ‘tourism sportists’ (sic) (for whom tourism is the primary purpose), and to further classify these categories into ‘hard’ and ‘soft’ participants. However, the flaw in such work is that it is dependent on defining tourism activity in terms of sport, or sport activity in terms of tourism, and as such inevitably establishes a subordinate role for either tourism or sport in an understanding of the area. This is something that Pigeassou, Bui-Xuan and Gleyse (1998/2003) explicitly argue for, claiming that there is a need to establish an ‘epistemological rupture’ (p.30) that ‘divides the phenomena and prevents any confusion between sport, tourism and sports tourism’, and that this is only possible through such subordination, without which ‘sports tourism would not exist and the activities described or observed would be confused with tourism phenomena’ (p. 30). However, as has been argued elsewhere (Weed & Bull, 2004), sports tourism is a synergistic phenomenon that is more than the simple combination of sport and tourism. As such, it requires an understanding of both sport and tourism (cf Standeven & DeKnop’s definition above), but it needs to be conceptualised in a way that is not dependent on definitions of sport and of tourism, and which allows its synergistic elements to be understood. Inevitably, sports tourism will be ‘confused’ with both sport and tourism, particularly by participants who are familiar with the concepts of sport and of tourism, but less likely to be familiar with the idea of sports tourism. This is not a problem, definitional boundaries are always fuzzy, and there is no clear need to establish such boundaries between sport, tourism and sports tourism. There is, however, a need to establish a clear conceptual understanding of the sports tourism phenomenon. One way in which this can be done is to examine the features of both sport and tourism and establish an understanding of sports tourism derived from those features.
Sport can be seen as involving some form of activity (eg kayaking, cycling, etc), be it formal or informal, competitive or recreational, or actively or vicariously/passively participated in. Furthermore, sport also involves other people, as competitors and/or co-participants. For vicarious/passive participants, the people element is likely to be both other vicarious/passive participants (ie other spectators) and the active participants (ie competitors). Similarly, active competitors and co-participants may experience other people as active and/or vicarious/passive participants. Even activities that are sometimes participated in alone (eg mountaineering, running) are likely to involve other people because participants may reference their participation in terms of the subculture of the activity and thus experience a feeling of ‘communitas’ (Turner, 1974). Similarly, tourism involves other people, either as co-travellers and/or as hosts. Even solitary tourism entails passing through areas that have been constructed by other people or other communities, and it is rare for a tourist to complete a trip without encountering other travellers. Tourism also involves visiting places outside of the tourist’s usual environment. There is, of course, a travel element, but this is either an instrumental factor in arriving at an ‘unusual’ place, or the travel takes place in or through ‘unusual’ places. Considering the interaction of these features of sport and tourism, it is possible to arrive at Weed and Bull’s (2004, p.37) conceptualisation of sports tourism as ‘arising from the unique interaction of activity, people and place’. Notice here that the focus is on the ‘interaction’ of activity, people and place, thus emphasising the synergistic nature of the phenomenon and moving it away from a dependence on either sport or tourism as the primary defining factor. Thinking about sports tourism in this way establishes the phenomenon as related to but more than the sum of sport and tourism, and thus establishes sports tourism as something that cannot be understood as simply a tourism market niche or a subset of sports management.
This conceptualisation has implications for terminology. Deriving from definitions of sports tourism that are dependent on definitions of sport and tourism, the term ‘sport tourism’ (rather than ‘sports tourism’) has achieved common currency. This is usually on the basis that ‘sport’ refers to the social institution of sport, while ‘sports’ refers to a collection of activities that have come to be defined as such. However, given the discussions above and the conceptualisation of sports tourism as derived from the unique interaction of activity, people and place, a reliance on the social institution of sport to delimit the area of sports tourism is somewhat contradictory. Furthermore, the concept of sport can in many cases be a misnomer in that it implies coherence where none exists and detracts from the heterogeneous nature of sporting activities. As the conceptualisation outlined here assumes that one of the unique aspects of sports tourism is that the interaction of people and places with the activities in question expands rather than limits heterogeneity, it is argued that the term ‘sports tourism’ should be used, along with the focus on diverse and heterogeneous activities that this implies.
Sports Tourism Behaviours and Sports Events
The conceptual discussion above leads in to a discussion about areas for research and understanding in sports tourism. My own book (co-authored with Chris Bull), following an initial discussion of impacts, considers three sets of stakeholders in sports tourism: participants, policy-makers and providers. That these stakeholders are considered in this order is no co-incidence as an understanding of sports tourism participation and behaviours is fundamental to developing policy and making provision. In fact, as the impacts of sports tourism are derived from sports tourism behaviours, a knowledge of participation is also fundamental to understanding impacts.
Consequently, the remainder of this paper will focus on participation, and will consider the Sports Tourism Participation Model that we (Weed & Bull) proposed in 2004. However, before outlining the Model, it is perhaps useful to identify a number of key questions to consider about sports event tourists:
The following section attempts to address some of these questions through the presentation of the Sports Tourism Participation Model.
The Sports Tourism Participation Model
The Sports Tourism Participation Model (Weed & Bull, 2004) plots sports tourism participation against the importance placed on sports tourism activities and trips (see Diagram). Levels of participation increase along the horizontal axis, whilst the vertical scale indicates the amount of importance attached to the sports tourism trip by individuals. The model illustrates that towards the left of the scale the level of importance attached to a trip may vary from a relatively high level, to little importance, or even negative importance. At the right of the scale, however, both importance and participation are high. This creates a ‘triangle’ of participation, the size of which corresponds to the number of sports tourists at each particular level. This, however, refers to numbers of participants rather than levels of activity, as those towards the right of the scale will generate a much higher level of activity per participant than those on the left of the scale.
Studies of sports participation at Butlins Holiday Worlds in the UK (McCoy, 1991; Reeves, 2000) describe reluctant participation in sport on holiday that accounts for the existence of participants who attach a negative importance to sports tourism. The following are two representative examples of comments made by tourists in focus groups in these studies:
The participation these tourists are describing often takes place as a result of a sense of duty to others, particularly family members such as children or partners. Participation takes place although there may be an antipathy towards it. At the other end of the importance axis at the left of the scale is participation that individuals feel is important to their sense of self or identity even though actual levels of participation may be low. Such participation is important as it affects the identity that participants wish to portray to their peers on return from the sports tourism trip. The importance of ‘returning’ as a significant part of the tourism experience is described by MacCannell (1996; 4) who explains that ‘returning home is an essential part of being a tourist one goes only to return’. MacCannell believes that tourists are people who leave home in the expectation that they will have some kind of experience of ‘otherness’ that will set them apart from their peers on their return. Here the experience of otherness is the participation in sport whilst on holiday, with the importance being attached to the perceived kudos that the telling and re-telling of the experience, often based on only sporadic or incidental participation, gives the participant on returning home. An example of this level of importance may be of someone who takes a beach holiday abroad and spends most of the time soaking up the sun on the beach. However, this person may be goaded by his or her family into participating in a 30 minute water-skiing session. This may be the sum total of this individual’s sports participation on this holiday, but the impression that may be conveyed to his or her peers on return, through exaggerated re-telling of the experience, would be of a holiday full of watersports activities an impression that may accord the individual a certain level of esteem among his or her peers. A perceived identity is constructed that means that the sports tourism element of his or her trip has a relatively high importance despite the very low level of actual participation. Of course, in this example, the level of importance is a result of extrinsic factors the identity which is portrayed to others. For other participants on the left and towards the middle of the scale, sports holiday participation may be important for more intrinsic factors. Holiday sports participation may be an opportunity to take part in lapsed activities for which the time or opportunity for participation does not exist at home (Weed, 2001b). Here significant importance may be attached to such participation because holiday sports participation, no matter how low, may be the only link that such individuals have with past sports participation and, consequently, with a continued conception of themselves as a ‘sportsperson’. This is something that may be of major importance to someone who has previously been a very active sports participant, but for whom other responsibilities now restrict participation. As an example of this, the following comment is from a participant in a pilot study of recreational sports participation at Club La Santa, a sports resort in Lanzarote:
Other participants made similar comments, and this serves to illustrate the levels of importance that can be attached to relatively sporadic levels of sports tourism participation. In both this example, and that described above, the contribution which sports tourism can make to individuals’ perceived and self identities, means that sports tourism can be important to individuals for whom actual levels of participation are low.
As levels of participation, and broad levels of importance, increase with a move from left to right in the model, the quality of the sports tourism experience becomes more important as sport becomes a significant factor in tourism destination choices. Weed and Bull (2004) discuss the extent to which the nature of the place can contribute considerably to the quality of such experiences. This may be through the standard of facilities available at the destination, but also as a result of the general environment, the place ambience, the scenic attractiveness, and the presence of other like-minded people. Furthermore, Weed and Bull (2004) also draw on the work of Urry (1990) in noting the specific motivation of some regular sports tourists to ‘collect places’. This may be the development of a ‘collection’ of as wide a range of places as possible, a factor among many of the ‘active event sports tourists’ studied by Bull and Weed (1999) in Malta, many of whom had competed at non-elite level in running events around the world, often combining such participation with a subsequent family holiday. Alternatively, such ‘place collection’ may relate to particularly significant or ‘mythical’ sports places. An example of this might be visits by surfers to beaches in Hawaii that are regarded as surfing ‘Meccas’.
The significance of the unique interaction of activity, people and place would appear to increase with movement towards the right of the participation triangle. However, for some at the far right of the scale, the place experience may be less important than technical requirements related to the quality of facilities. Such participants are the elite athletes described by Jackson and Reeves (1998) and Reeves (2000). For these participants, factors related to place environment with the exception of climate which is, of course, important for ‘warm-weather training’ are relatively insignificant. For example, many of these athletes were unable to take part in activities that might have enhanced their experience of the place, such as eating out or recreational participation in other sports, because they were on special diets and were afraid of injury. The latter issue was a highlighted by virtually all the athletes in the Reeves (2000) study, as exemplified by these comments:
These differences in behaviours, along with their elite sports ability, set such participants apart from other sports tourists. However, with the exception of the elite athlete, high levels of sports ability and performance are not a pre-requisite for even the most committed of sports tourists. Surfers are a good example of such committed sports tourists who are not necessarily concerned with elite performance, and for whom the experiential aspects of the activity are clearly of great importance. This is highlighted by Butts (2001) who notes how many of the surfers in his study described the ‘serenity of the ocean’ and the importance of the condition of the ocean and the environment to the surfing experience.
Also at the far right of the model are spectators in a number of sports for whom both participation and importance are high, and for whom sports spectating is a defining part of their self-identity. An example from this end of the scale might be the ‘Barmy Army’ group of England cricket fans who, since their emergence in the mid-1990s, have demonstrated a very high level of commitment to following a less than successful England cricket team around the globe (Weed, 2002). The ‘spirit’ of the Barmy Army is described by one of its long-standing members recalling its origins:
Football fans are also a good example of the committed sports spectator, and much of the work on football hooliganism (see Carnibella et al, 1996; Dunning et al, 1988 and Weed, 2001a) certainly suggests that many are Driven participants for whom their identity as a hooligan is of central importance. That is not to suggest that football supporting is not important to non-violent football fans in fact, the level of commitment shown by some fans has been compared to religion (Bale, 2003) but is merely an indication of the area in which the majority of research on sports fans has been concentrated.
The example of football fans is a useful one to continue with in examining sports spectators at the left of the triangle where participation is low. Here there will be a vast number of people for whom identity as a football fan is of great importance, but for whom participation in live football spectating as a sports tourism experience is minimal. Similarly, there will be those who have spectated at football, but for whom it is not an important part of their identity. In fact, as with participants in active sports tourism, it is likely that, for some, such participation has a negative importance as it has taken place out of a sense of duty to others such as partners or children. Studies of spectators at two athletics events in Britain in 1996 the Europa Cup (Train, 1996) and the Athletics World Cup (Reeves, 2000) found that around 20% of spectators had attended because a family member or friend had wanted to attend.
A discussion of sports spectators provides a useful avenue through which to introduce another concept into the model that of the ‘Intender’. Intenders were described in relation to arts audiences by Hill et al (1995; 43) as ‘those who think the arts are a “good thing” and like the idea of attending, but never seem to get around to it’. Such a concept would also seem to be useful in relation to sports tourism, and perhaps sports spectators provide the most useful illustration. The growth in televised coverage of sport has created a vast number of sports spectators who are highly committed, and for whom watching sport is important, but who rarely travel to a live event (Weed, 2006). Many such spectators often express a desire to go to a live event, but like Hill et al’s (1995) arts intenders, ‘never seem to get around to it’. Of course, some intenders will attend the odd match, and so the boundary with incidental participation is fluid. However, this group is largely made up of those for whom watching sport is important, but for whom attending a live event never becomes more than a whimsical intention.
The Intenders categorisation is, of course, equally significant in relation to active sports tourism. In the same research in which he identified holiday sports participation that takes place as a duty to others, Reeves (2000) also describes those who go on holiday with the intention of taking up some of the sports opportunities available, but never actually get round to it. The promotion of the range of sports opportunities available in hotel and resort brochures can create the intention to participate in sport on holiday, but in many cases such intention is not converted into actual participation (Keynote, 2001; Weed & Bull, 2003). Even where such incidental sports opportunities may play a part in resort or hotel choice, and the intention may be described to peers pre-trip (in the same way as low levels of participation may be exaggerated post-trip as discussed earlier) as a way of boosting perceived identity, there is no guarantee that such intention will be converted into actual participation.
The Sports Tourism Model and the Trip Decision Making Process
In updating the Sports Tourism Participation Model from that proposed in 2004, it is useful to consider the role of sports tourism in the trip decision making process. Here, sports tourism may be a deciding or contributing factor in the decision to take a trip and the choice of destination, it may be a factor in trip planning that takes place after the trip decision and destination choice has been made, and/or it may simply be a spontaneous trip behaviour. These levels can be illustrated in the Sports Tourism Participation Model as the diagram below shows:
The diagram shows that, as might be intuitively expected, sports tourism is a factor in trip decision at the top of the model where importance is high, it is a factor in post-decision trip-planning in the middle of the model where importance is moderate, and is a spontaneous trip behaviour at the bottom of the model where importance is low. Sports tourism intentions (as indicated by the Intenders classification) can also influence trip decisions and planning, even though this may not be carried through to actual sports tourism behaviours.
Events Sports Tourism and the Trip Decision Making Process
In considering the role of the trip decision making process within the model in relation to event sports tourism, a range of categories of event sports tourists exist for whom the role that the event plays in the trip decision making process can be identified. As such, for the following categories of event sports tourist, event sports tourism will have been part of the trip decision:
In addition to the above, in the following cases, event sports tourism will have featured in post-decision trip planning:
As the above list shows, there is some overlap with the previous list, for example, some “must-see” spectators including a consideration of event sports tourism in their trip decision, whilst others will not consider it until the post-decision trip planning stage. A similar overlap occurs when those for whom event sports tourism is a spontaneous behaviour are considered:
Conclusion: Developing Strategy
The issues relating to sports tourism and event sports tourism behaviours discussed in this paper can be fundamental to the development of sports tourism and event sports tourism provision strategies. As such, and in conclusion, it is suggested that the following are key questions relating to behaviours that providers and policy-makers should consider in formulating provision strategies:
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Copyright © Mike Weed 2006.