Sports travel sluggish but gathering pace across the country

Updated: 2016-08-01 09:31

By ZHU WENQIAN(China Daily)

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China's investments in overseas soccer and basketball teams may be on the rise, but it will be some time before the Chinese people begin to travel abroad in large numbers to watch big sporting events, according to tourism industry observers.

Proof of this lukewarm response to mega sports events is in the fact that less than 3,000 Chinese will visit Rio de Janeiro for this month's Olympics.

Tourists from advanced countries typically travel in several thousands, cramming their tour itineraries with sports events as well as visits to travel hotspots in the country concerned.

The long distance between Brazil and China, however, seems to be preventing many Chinese tourists from traveling to the Olympics, according to Beijing Caissa International Travel Service Co.

Caissa said in terms of tourism destinations, Brazil appears less attractive than Europe and the United States for Chinese tourists.

Lack of direct or non-stop flights between Rio and a Chinese city is not helping matters either. Moreover, Rio de Janeiro is not exactly Brazil's commercial capital. It has only one five-star hotel. All other hotels jacked up room rents in the run-up to the Olympics.

The price of a Brazil tour thus appears overly high for Chinese tourists, who have relatively limited budgets for sports-related travel anyway.

Air China operates a flight from Beijing to Sao Paulo with a stop-over in Madrid. Most Chinese visitors travel to Brazil by changing flights in Europe, North America or the Middle East.

Small wonder, Caissa applied for only 20,000 Rio 2016 tickets, just 20 percent of the 100,000 tickets it sought four years ago for London 2012.

Alex Yan, chief operating officer at Tuniu Corp, a Nanjing-based online travel service provider, said the firm has been offering a variety of Olympics-related travel products that include tickets for the opening and closing ceremonies as well as various sports and games.

"These products generally carry price tags that range between 40,000 yuan and 70,000 yuan ($5,970-$10,447). Sales of these products have been decent of late," he said.

"Compared with other popular overseas destinations, the Olympics package is not the first choice for Chinese travelers. This is due to its relatively high price, which, in turn, is due to a combination of limited amount of air routes and tight local hotel resources."

Currently, the share of sports travel in China's overall tourism market is just 5 percent or 170 billion yuan. In developed countries, the corresponding figure is usually 25 percent.

By 2025, China's sports travel market is expected to reach 1 trillion yuan, according to a report by China Securities Co Ltd, a Beijing-based financial advisory firm and securities brokerage.

Tuniu said currently, the main consumers of themed tours are younger travelers who live in major cities with middle to high incomes.

"Tours or trips that are specifically designed for sporting events are becoming increasingly popular in China. We expect demand for sporting tours to increase gradually, especially for the NBA and soccer-related tournaments, as these are especially popular in China," Yan said.

Chen Peng, a 25-year-old professional in Beijing, said he prefers to watch the Rio Games live on television as the telecasts are expected to be world class, offering better sights of sporting action than what stadium spectators might get to see. Not for him troublesome travel to South America.

"But if it's an NBA game in the US, I'd love to go there as the atmosphere would be different and it's fun to watch a live professional basketball game," said Chen.