Destination marathons: the new trend in sports tourism

Aug 5, 2014


Active tourism has experienced a vertiginous growth in the travel and tourism industry, particularly those activities associated with participatory spots.
The purpose of visiting a destination in order to be part of a sporting activity, encompassing each stage: training, team travel or individual participation.
Ever since running has transitioned from being a competitive sport to a lifestyle, jogging enthusiasts are looking for novel ways enhance the experience by running in different places around the globe.
Marathons and distance running are increasingly gaining more relevance in destinations throughout the world.

There is sufficient evidence that demonstrates that there is a market for this type of tourist. Data gathered by the organizers of these events indicate that a large share of participants travel from nearby areas or internationally to attend these events.
Similarly, often times these athletes are accompanied by friends or family members not participating in these sporting events, thus resulting in benefits in the form of profit for the destination.

The New York City Marathon generates an annual economic impact of US$ 340 million, according to a study published in 2010 by the organization conducting the event.
In 2013 international runners represented 38.4% of the finalists of the New York City Marathon. An equal amount of tri-state area residents participated in the race, while the remaining 23% originated from other U.S. states.

The majority of these events have benefited tourism in the host area, attracting visitors – often repeat visitors – and raising the destination’s profile. Specialized tour operators catering to this niche sell individual and group packages to these big events around the world.

Just like with the larger and better known city marathons as in New York, Boston, Chicago, London and Berlin, a plethora of other marathons renowned for their “quirkiness” exist. An example is the Great Wall of China Marathon, which includes a 6 kilometer run and climbing 3,700 steps.

Sporting events may serve to enhance or better position a city’s image. In addition, these competitions boast a destination’s natural beauty or serve to promote the area’s main attractions. Conversely, they are good for promoting an active and healthy lifestyle, as well as foster community involvement.

Accommodation providers (typically “low cost” for this segment), restaurants and merchants can benefit from these kind of events and the visitors they attract. Community groups can also participate by associating with the organizers of these events. In sum, there are myriad cases from all regions of the world that have proven that hosting mass participation events have had a positive impact in local tourism activities.

Benefits of organizing a sporting event in a destination:

  • They attract a lot of tourists, whom usually become repeat visitors
  • Participants are accompanied by family and/or friends
  • The trend is toward extending the stay at the destination in the form of a small vacation
  • These events provide the destination coverage and serve to enhance its image, positioning it as a place that appeal to a healthy lifestyle
  • Promotes community involvement
  • Stimulates the local economy
  • Generates publicity

Whereas the most profitable of these events take place in high profile cities that have the available infrastructure to sponsor events of this magnitude and the capacity to accommodate large groups of visitors, these events can also have a great impact in the sustainability and economic development of smaller cities.
They serve as propellants of a destination’s visibility and growth of their tourism industries reducing the seasonality affecting the sector.

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