Travel to large sporting events as well as various leisure destinations globally is on an upward trajectory, as more countries normalise regulations around travel as well as the attendance protocols of sporting events.  

This is according to Illana Pereira, COO of Tourvest Destination Management’s Sports & Leisure division in South Africa. “The message is clear: ‘We are travel ready’ and after years of experiencing our own country, the world now awaits.” 

Pereira says individual travellers as well as corporate groups are looking forward to locally hosted sporting events, of which South Africa is gearing up to host many – the 2022 Rugby World Cup Sevens, Cape Town E-Prix 2023 as well as the Netball World Cup 2023, as examples – in addition to sport taking place all over the world. “There is so much to experience. The trending sport currently is F1 Grand Prix and of course the Rugby World Cup 2023 in France.” 

From the minute sporting events resumed after COVID-19, sports enquiries and sales have been phenomenal, advises Thompsons Holidays GM of Reservations, Vanessa De Stefano. “Football has always been Thompsons’ biggest seller, but F1 is growing globally and the demand for seats far outweighs capacity, with events selling out fast!” 

She says although there is demand from corporates to incorporate sport into MICE events, they have seen the biggest increase in FIT bookings coming from the leisure market. “Fanatics are amazing – they will do anything to see their teams perform live!” 

Thompsons sells all major sporting events, including tennis, MotoGP, F1 and football, with the most popular being the English Premier League (EPL) and Union of European Football Associations (UEFA) matches. “Visas have affected a few travellers in recent weeks, but we also have requests for travel later in the year, giving sufficient time to secure the necessary.”  

Linda Edwards, Operations Director of XL Turners Travel, says after the success of the Formula 1: Drive to Survive series on Netflix, there has been a big uptake and interest in F1, so these packages are very popular.

“A range of countries host the Formula 1 season, which means there really is something for everyone in terms of destinations. Abu Dhabi packages have been selling very well with South Africans.” 

Edwards says the EPL is popular and there is big demand for packages to the rugby Autumn Internationals series. There is interest from both leisure and corporate markets. “We have a big corporate base, so there are a lot of enquiries for incentive travel to big sports events.” 

Lara Casasola, Owner and MD of Lara Travel, says the team has definitely seen an upturn in demand for sporting events.  

“Our International Dance Organization (IDO) group competitors are ready to travel again to Austria and Poland this year, despite the nearby war zone in Ukraine. They are motivated by a ‘Let’s travel while we can’ attitude, rather than a wait-and-see approach. I think the yearning to travel is definitely stronger than the fear of what could go wrong.” 

Casasola says they have also seen the usual football and Grand Prix fans planning for their long-missed travel opportunities.  

De Stefano mentions a few Thompsons sporting packages currently on offer, such as the four-night ‘Singapore Grand Prix Experience’ selling from R16 834pp (land-only). It needs to be booked by September 23 for travel between September 30 and October 4 this year. 

Also popular is the four-night Arsenal vs Liverpool FC trip. This Premier League package selling from R17 180pp (land-only) needs to be booked by September 29, 2022 for travel between October 6 and 12, 2022. Additional Premier League packages include Liverpool FC vs Manchester United (March 2023) and Liverpool FC vs Manchester City (October 2023) as well as options for the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix. 

Finding creative solutions 

Pereira says while there are a lot of last-minute bookings filtering through due to some uncertainties around the pandemic and potential changes, people are starting to feel more comfortable planning ahead.  

“We are, however, still experiencing some barriers to travel, such as elevated airfares, visa complications due to lack of appointment slots, availability around various sporting events and high season due to last-minute booking trends.” 

In an effort to support clients, Pereira recommends advising travellers first to apply for visas to the destinations chosen before finalising bookings to ensure that visas don’t become a problem, or, if possible, to travel to destinations where visas are not required by South African nationals.  

Forward planning is so important. “Book for a reasonable travel date in the future when challenges mentioned can be overcome easier and expectations managed,” she says. 

Lastly, offer clients peace of mind. “No matter what happens, remember we are the first port of call for our clients, so manage expectations and always look for solutions.”