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Sports Tourism in the Pandemic Era

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Photo: Eugene Hoshiko / AP

By Dr. Tomi Wahlström |

There is no doubt that the entire sports industry is suffering from the impact of the coronavirus pandemic. Sports tourism industry is uniquely threatened but there may also be some opportunities in the horizon in this sector. While sports tourism depends on the hotel and travel sectors, it also often involves the nature around us. Engaging in a various outdoor sport activities in the great outdoors is one of the best things that people can do during this pandemic. It is safe and relaxing. As long as sports tourists can safely travel to these destinations and find safe accommodations, sports tourism can offer great options right now. Hiking, golf, tennis, biking, surfing, snorkeling, and scuba diving are just some alternatives for safe sports that many sports tourism destinations can offer.

Hotels are struggling to remain profitable as they try to stay open safely. Social distancing makes it difficult to serve quests well while keeping rooms clean is challenging. It is not safe for housekeepers to enter guest rooms daily and each room has to be deep cleaned between the quests. Restaurants can only be operated with 50% capacity while it is logistically difficult to obtain fresh supplies. However, there are safer options for accommodations such as cabins and cottages where guests do not have to be in close proximity with other guests. These also allow food preparation so that eating in restaurants is not necessary.

Many resorts, such as the Turtle Bay resort in the North Shore of Oahu, Hawaii, offer spectacular outdoor sport activities. Their award winning golf courses and great tennis courts are only a beginning. The beaches of the North Shore including Sunset Beach and Banzai Pipeline offer some of the best surfing options in the world. Meanwhile, the Ko’olau mountain range offers amazing hiking and mountain biking opportunities. Some of the resorts in the Rocky Mountains also offer many similar hiking and biking options, as well as great skiing in the upcoming winter season. Meanwhile, the rivers of Colorado offer white water drafting and fishing that can be performed very safely. At the same time, there are enormous fishing opportunities in Florida and anywhere in the Gulf Coast region. There are numerous sports that can be conducted very safely while socially distancing, and there is a great opportunity in promoting these safe sport tourism options during the time the pandemic.

The biggest challenge with sports tourism involving the great outdoors and nature around us is to provide safe travel to these destinations, and safe accommodations for guests after they have arrived. Travel industry managers are working hard to adjust their operations to make traveling safer, utilizing innovations and just plain common sense. There are some obvious physical limitations to what anyone can do but there is a lot that can be done. For example, it is hard to socially distance in an airplane since seats are so close to each other and it is not financially feasible to fly half empty planes. On the other hand, due to air quality control mechanisms viruses do not spread as easily in airplanes as one would think. Air quality in airplanes is much better than in most office buildings and is actually similar to the air quality in most hospitals. Hotels, when properly managed, can be also quite safe. Hotel staff can monitor elevator usage in a manner that people are not in elevators at the same time with anyone outside of their own family members. A Doorman can open the main door so that none of the guests can touch the door handles. There are solutions and most hotels are doing a very good job in maintaining safe environments to their guests.

Sports tourism does not only have to mean traveling to sporting events. It can also mean engaging in recreational sports activities in travel destinations. With all the stress and anxiety caused by the coronavirus pandemic, this may be exactly what we all need.

Dr. Tomi Wahlström is the Provost at the United States Sports Academy.

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