The Sports Tourist – The Rise of Individualism
By Ian Yeoman, Associate Professor at Victoria University School of Management
Nowadays vast numbers of people are interested in sport and almost everyone aspires to a holiday. Sport is a key part of the tourism product whether people participate in a sporting activity or attend as spectators. Sport is now a global business, which includes sports magazines, sports TV channels, sports medicine, professional football and people going to the gym for exercise. A growing number of specialist travel companies, websites and brochures are promoting sports and adventure holidays. However, the future is Mountain Biking rather than football or individualism not team sports.
The Rise of Individualism
According to the Future Foundation about a quarter of the UK adult population claim to take part in individual sports once a month with participation in teams sports declining. Why?
- Edward Griffiths, Sports Minister in the Conservative Government of 1970–1974, believes that there has been a shift from collective to individual sports because as society has become wealthier, and the desire for new experiences means sport can be tailored to the individual. The desire for individualism has also driven people towards single-performance sports, in a bid to differentiate themselves from others.
- Individual sports are often perceived as less time-consuming than team sports because many such activities are easy to take part in and require little initial skill.
- They are also easier to drop as there is no bond with or dependence on other team members. Additionally, consumers’ leisure portfolios have grown greatly over the past 25 years, although leisure time has increased by only 20 min per day in the same period. Clearly, people are trying out many activities, making it difficult to gain expertise in any specific sport.
- A significant proportion of the population have become time pressured. Alongside this phenomenon comes the demand for ‘time-oasis’ sports and exercise — activities which are meant to de-stress.
- In a ‘have it all’ society, consumers seek self improvement through sampling a wider range of experiences, whether it is dance or bugging (white water rafting without the raft).
- Consumers are, more than ever, concerned about their appearance. Hence, the popularity of individual sports which focus specifically on improving certain body parts/toning.
- Team sports have become increasingly ‘professionalised’. For example, cricket clubs have raised their standards over the years. Saturday league games are very competitive and Sunday social cricket is dying out. This phenomenon will invariably discourage the (more numerous) social rather than (less numerous) competitive players.
- As young people’s commitment weakens, volunteer organisers of sport are harder to find. Hence, there is a lack of structural support for people who would like to participate in team sports.
- As society ages overall, team sports tend to become the domain of the young.
In the 1970s, according to the UK NHS General Health Survey sports chosen for the survey were limited to walking, swimming, snooker/pool/billiards, cycling, darts, football, golf, weightlifting, running, keep fit/yoga, ten-pin bowls/skittle and badminton. This is, of course, not to say that these were the only sports that existed at the time. However, it was generally understood that there were certain coresports — and there was certainly far less choice than today. A quick check on www.wikipedia.com for sports shows that it lists almost 350 activities. Additionally, sports are broken down into categories such as team sports, opponent sports, achievement sports, extreme sports and the list continues. This expansion in the diversity of sports is also linked to the consumers’ desire for new experiences in which, increasingly, differentiation is important. The growth of self-expression will continue to play a dominant role in the years to come and the sports world will respond to demand by offering more unique/exciting experiences, leading to even greater market fragmentation.
Hence, the rise of extreme sports
Extreme sports, in particular, sports such as skateboarding, surfing, bugging, base jumping and extreme ironing evoke a lifestyle choice involving a certain way of thinking associated with an adrenaline rush and an excitement which people seek in order to break through the boundaries of normality. Extreme sports have moved into mainstream, with consumers pushing their personal boundaries through the diversity of new experiences and a growth in affluence. Tourists go cage diving off Cape Town or zombing in Alaska. Leading specialist providers, such as Neilson’s and Crystal, are gaining a strong foothold, with dedicated activities, and brochures featuring mountain biking and white-water rafting. Major leisure tour operators have purchased specialist activity-holiday operators, for example, Exodus is owned by First Choice, which can now offer a range of multi-activity holidays, with a fast-paced mix of up to 10 different pursuits in the mountains and on the snowfields, from canyoning to kayaking, and many other sports in between! Mark Warner now offers kite-surfing courses. Even Saga Holidays offer extreme sports for the over-fifties. Numerous extreme-sports competitions and festivals have grown in the United Kingdom; events range from local individual sports functions to those that cater for specialist events. Air O7 is a 3-day event held in Northampton with extreme-sports competitions such as BMX and skateboarding, and the Eastbourne Extreme Festival builds upon the former Skate Festival but with new, exciting additions such as wind surfing and jet skiing. As the interest in extreme sports grows, it is possible to buy gift vouchers called ‘Do Something’ which are sold on www.lastminute.com.
Extreme sports have converted the notion of ‘living on the edge’ into a consumer product. In 2005 over 25% of 16–24 year olds had participated in extreme sports, a growth of over 10% since 2003. Indeed, according to a study by Mintel extreme sports are the fastest-growing segment of the leisure market. The variety is growing every year because consumers enjoy activities ranging from base-jumping to extreme ironing. The extreme-sports market is very much for younger people and growth is tied to demographics, so, with the 18–30-year-old market growing in the United Kingdom between 2005 and 2010, extreme sports are coming into their own. However given the present economic squeeze, participation in extreme sports will fall as there is a direction correlation between economic well being and participation. There is also a close correlation between extreme sports and the UK economy. According to Mintel’s study on the extreme-sports market, less than 1% of the UK population participates in extreme sports, because it is considered expensive and specialised. However, some extreme sports are now mainstream, such as mountain biking and snowboarding, whereas the market prospects for some extreme sports such as extreme ironing and Nordic wife-sprinting are somewhat limited! To a certain extent extreme sports are becoming sanitised as they become mainstream.
Individuality and Tranquillity
Yoga is one of the individual activities which have experienced growth in recent years. Participation is dominated by people in the higher social grades and women. Time-oasis activities and sports which provide an escape from everyday stress have all seen a steady expansion because;
- Time pressure has resulted in consumers needing to de-stress, and activities which cater to this will inevitably prove popular. Currently over half the population, according to surveys by the Future Foundation, agree that they are ‘often under time pressure in their everyday life’.
- Time-oasis activities are renowned for their holistic qualities. They improve not only the body but also the mind. Over recent years people have been particularly concerned with self-improvement.
- Yoga is practised predominantly by women. It is well known that the pattern of family building has being has been evolving over the years, freeing up much of women’s time to participate in leisure activities because couples now have, in substantial numbers, their first child only when in their thirties. Such is the pressure of family care and the importance of the maintenance of dual incomes that it is inevitable that many women will feel that their access to sports participation is constricted — the very phenomenon which buttresses demand for time-oasis activity.
As consumers are push out their personal boundaries, wanting more individuality and diversity of experiences, and being concerned about their health and image, leading to the emergence of extreme sports. Eventually, extreme sports will evolve into mainstream, just like mountain biking and snow sports.
Ian Yeoman’s new book, tomorrows tourist discusses what the future tourist will look like in 2030, where they will go on holiday and what they will do.
Ian Yeoman is the world’s only professional crystal ball gazer or futurologist specializing in travel and tourism. Ian learned his trade as the scenario planner for VisitScotland, where he established the process of futures thinking within the organisation using a variety of techniques including economic modelling, trends analysis and scenario construction. In May 2008, Ian was appointed an Assoc. Professor of Tourism Management at Victoria University. He is a popular speaker at conferences and was described by the UK Sunday Times as the country's leading contemporary futurologist.
Ian has a PhD in Management Science from Napier University, Edinburgh and a BSc (Hons) in Catering Systems from Sheffield Hallam University. Previously, Ian was Senior Lecturer in Tourism and Hospitality Management at Napier University and University College, Birmingham. He has extensive experience within the hospitality industry, for which he was a hotel manager with Trusthouse Forte.
Ian has received a number of awards in recognition of his research including his appointment as a Honorary Professor of Tourism Management at Stirling University and the Mike Simpson Award from the Operational Research Society.
Further details about Ian and futurology in the travel industry can be at
Victoria University Management School | Victoria University
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