The Paris Olympics: How Airlines Support Sports Tourism in 2024


Sports tourism is one of the fastest-growing areas of the travel industry. UN Tourism, a United Nations agency focused on tourism, estimates that the global sports tourism market will expand by 17.5% between 2023 and 2030. An increasing number of travelers are making trips based entirely on attending sports events, including international competitions and away games for their hometown teams.

 

The 2024 Summer Olympics in Paris is a major contributor to sports tourism this year | Photo: Air France

 

The Growth of Sports Tourism

 

Multiple reports highlight the increasing importance that travelers are placing on sports. For example, American Express (Amex) Travel recently released its 2024 Global Travel Trends Report, which explains how and why people travel. The report found that sports tourism, “once-in-a-lifetime” trips, solo travel, and last-minute trips are trending among travelers. 

 

Amex Travel surveyed over 8,000 people from seven countries who travel at least once annually before the report was released on March 12. Most respondents are at least somewhat into sports, with 71% considering themselves a casual or passionate sports fan. Their interest in sports goes beyond simply watching matches on TV: many people would like to see their favorite athlete or team at an in-person event.

 

Qatar Airways Reveals Formula 1 Livery – Airways
Airlines invest heavily into marketing aimed specifically at sports fans | Photo: Qatar Airways

 

The report found the following about people’s interest in sports-related travel:

 

  • 75% of respondents planning to travel to sports events will spend at least three hours getting there
  • 67% of Millennial and Gen Z respondents are interested in sports tourism
  • 58% of respondents traveling for sports will attend soccer, basketball, or Formula 1 events

 

The increasing globalization of the sports industry means fans are willing to travel long distances to attend sports events. Many sports leagues that historically had games in only one region, such as the National Football League (NFL) and Major League Baseball (MLB), are now playing more international games. Meanwhile, many countries outside North America and Europe are raising their international standing by investing in sports. These two factors mean that sports fans now follow their teams to international destinations, especially cities they may have never visited otherwise.

 

Guest Post: How Turkish Airlines used social media and sports personalities  to build engaging brand experiences | by Wavelength Marketing | Medium
Some airlines partner with famous sports figures to attract passengers | Photo: Turkish Airlines

 

Offering Special Flights for Passengers to Attend Sports Events

 

Airlines benefit from sports tourism by offering nonstop flights to destinations hosting a passenger’s desired sports event. A report by GlobalData found that airlines prefer accommodating sports tourism over other travel sub-sectors due to their long-term benefit. Although film and music tourism are also trending among travelers, with airlines themselves benefiting from the popularity of Taylor Swift concerts, carriers view sports tourism as more profitable.

 

Airlines like offering flights to sports events since they attract people passionate about a specific team or player over the long term. Music and film tourism are based more on “what’s trending,” with a prominent example being the popularity of Dubrovnik when Game of Thrones aired between 2011 and 2019. Although Croatia is still a major tourist destination, the average traveler is now more likely to visit for other reasons. 

 

 

Airlines especially love major international events, such as the FIFA World Cup and Summer Olympics, that occur only once every few years. The large time gap between such events means fans worldwide are extremely excited to attend when they do happen. 2024 is expected to be an eventful year for sports tourism partially because of the upcoming Olympics in Paris from July 26 to August 11. The Amex Travel report found that passengers are most excited to visit New York, Miami, London, Las Vegas, and Paris this year.

 

Airlines Soar With Pro Sports Sponsorships - SponsorUnited
Other airlines attract passengers by showcasing themselves at the games themselves | Photo: Emirates

 

Air France and the Paris Olympics

 

Air France is the official airline of the 2024 Summer Olympic and Paralympic Games. The carrier will add more flights to accommodate the high demand for travel to Paris this summer. Although Paris is always busy in the summer, this year will be even busier because of the Olympics. These games will be the first opportunity in six years for many people to visit the Olympics because Japan and China had travel restrictions during the Summer and Winter Olympics in 2021 and 2022, respectively. 

 

Air France made these changes to its North American schedule for this summer:

 

 

Photo: Jasper Kringen | AeroXplorer

 

Air France will operate over 210 weekly flights to 17 U.S. destinations and nearly 60 weekly flights to five Canadian destinations this summer. All flights will operate from Paris-Charles de Gaulle (CDG). Sports fans outside Europe and North America will also receive more opportunities to attend the Olympics through additional flights. The carrier will add frequencies on routes serving the United Arab Emirates, Japan, Benin, Madagascar, Cameroon, and Tanzania.

 

 

Air France will update the cabins on the Boeing 777-300ER and Airbus A350-900 aircraft used for long-haul flights. The refreshed cabins will appear in business class, premium economy, and economy class over the summer. Passengers flying from these North American destinations will have a new travel experience:

 

  • Boston (BOS)
  • Chicago-O’Hare (ORD)
  • Houston-Intercontinental (IAH)
  • Los Angeles (LAX)
  • Newark (EWR)
  • New York (JFK)
  • San Francisco (SFO)
  • Toronto-Pearson (YYZ)
  • Vancouver (YVR)
  • Washington-Dulles (IAD)

 

Photo: Jackson Moskovitz | AeroXplorer

 

Air France will offer short and medium-haul flights from 45 destinations across France and the rest of Europe this summer. Most of these routes will fly to Charles de Gaulle. The carrier’s low-cost subsidiary, Transavia France, will offer flights to Paris-Orly (ORY) from multiple European destinations.

 

Showcasing Their Brand by Sponsoring Sports Teams

 

Airlines also see the rise in sports tourism as an opportunity to showcase their brands and attract new passengers. Another report published by GlobalData in July 2023 found that airlines have spent approximately $990 million on sponsorship agreements with sports teams. The report revealed that soccer represents over 53% of airline-related sports deals, with motorsports and basketball also seeing high spending. Of the 96 airlines analyzed, the report showed that Middle Eastern carriers represent 53.5% of sports-related investments by airlines.

 

Qatar Airways has a Boeing 777-300ER with Paris Saint-Germain livery and registration A7-BEK | Photo: JetPhotos

 

Middle Eastern Carriers and European Football Teams

 

Middle Eastern carriers sponsoring soccer teams is the most well-known example of the relationship between airlines and sports teams. These sponsorship agreements include airline names on team jerseys and entire stadiums named after airlines. These are the most notable partnerships between airlines and football teams:
 

  • Qatar Airways and Paris Saint-Germain (PSG): Qatar Airways has been the official airline of PSG since 2020. The carrier’s name has appeared on the front of PSG jerseys since the 2022-23 season. The airline later added PSG livery on a Boeing 777-300ER that flies to various international destinations.
  • Etihad Airways and Manchester City: Etihad Airways has sponsored Manchester City since 2009. The partnership includes the airline appearing on the front of team jerseys and the stadium being named Etihad Stadium. Etihad also has a Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner with Manchester City livery used mostly for passenger flights.
  • Emirates, Arsenal, and Real Madrid: Emirates has been the official airline of Arsenal since 2004 and Real Madrid since 2011. Both agreements include Fly Emirates or Emirates Fly Better appearing on team jerseys. The Arsenal deal also consists of the team’s home stadium being named Emirates Stadium. Emirates previously had Airbus A380 aircraft with Real Madrid and Arsenal liveries.

 

A6-BND | Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner | Etihad Airways | LEBL / B… | Vincent  Vannier | Flickr
The Etihad Airways Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner with Manchester City livery and registration A6-BND | Photo: Flickr

 

Emirates, Etihad Airways, and Qatar Airways are also the official airlines of teams and leagues across many other sports. These airlines view sports as an effective way to help their home countries attract tourists as these nations aim to diversify their economies. For similar reasons, Turkish Airlines, Saudia, and Riyadh Air are also involved in sports. 

 

Other Airlines and Non-Football Sports Teams

Airlines based outside the Middle East generally keep a lower profile when establishing sponsorship agreements with sports teams. Outside of examples like airline logos appearing in baseball stadiums, most fans are unlikely to know their team’s official airline by simply attending a game or buying merchandise. Many teams worldwide have official airlines, especially in North America. 

 

Emirates Airbus A380 Arsenal
The Emirates A380 with Arsenal livery and registration A6-EEB | Photo: Emirates

 

These are some examples of partnerships between non-Middle Eastern carriers and sports teams:

 

 

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The Emirates A380 with Real Madrid livery and registration A6-EVI

 

Multiple U.S. and Canadian carriers work with sports teams in various ways, including by operating charter flights for teams to away games. The most “public” examples of this relationship are the stadiums named after carriers, including American Airlines Center in Dallas, United Center in Chicago, and Delta Center in Salt Lake City. North American carriers are generally more focused on handling behind-the-scenes activities for sports teams than large-scale efforts to grow their international profiles. 

 



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