International

Coronavirus, Olympics And What’s Next For Sporting Events Worldwide

The era of the incredibly enabled home entertainment system has had an interesting effect on the world of events. On the one hand, it is a convenient and comfortable substitute. Why pay a high price for a ticket to the big game, and sit in the nosebleed seats in the cold, when one could just as easily see it at home on an 80-inch, ultra-high definition screen — and see every play in microscopic detail while sitting at the tailgate party, unfolding in the warm comfort and surround-sound of one’s living room?

Yet, just as often (if not more so), Anbritt Stengele, founder and president of Sports Traveler, told Karen Webster in a recent conversation, the ability to see interesting venues and big events in crystal clarity has the opposite of a depressive effect. If anything, she said, it ramps up consumer hunger to see things in-person.

However, they don’t leave their taste for customization at home in the recliner — a fact that Stengele has become intimately familiar with over the last two decades that Sports Traveler has been in business. In fact, she noted, if anything, consumers’ tastes, preferences and habits around customizing their sports travel offerings have become more refined.

The firm’s specialty lies in supplying tickets, hotel rooms and VIP travel packages for major sporting events worldwide.

“We’re in our 20th year of doing this, and I feel like it’s evolved, because I think people are demanding richer experiences. When I look at the packages we were doing 20 years ago, [and] what we are putting together now, really everything on the customer’s radar is value — more things in the package, more activities for people to do. And I think what we are seeing is that, even though people are becoming more independent, they still crave that … comradery of being a social being with other … fans,” she said.

Sports Traveler, Stengele noted, considers itself in the “bucket list” business, and building trips around once-in-a-lifetime events for fans — like the Super Bowl, the Daytona 500 and, coming this summer, the Tokyo Olympic Games. Though, with the rapid appearance and spread of the COVID-19 virus, there is an increasing concern that the quadrennial sporting event might be the latest casualty of the novel disease.

Cooling The Concerns About The Tokyo Games

With the scores of grounded flights, docked cruise ships and other events mothballed for 2020 (most prominently, Barcelona’s Mobile World Congress), the worries about the Olympics certainly make sense, Stengele told Webster. While not officially a pandemic just yet, this COVID-19 virus is already having massive impacts on the entire travel and events vertical, and the effects are probably still rolling out.

Sports Traveler is seeing that in its customer base, as it is getting many calls about the games. However, she said, the company isn’t hearing many reports of people worrying about attending, or wanting to back out at this point.

“With [this] type of event, many — if not most — of these bookings have been in the works for years. The vast majority of folks have been booked since January of last year, and we’ve been booking this out for at least two. And as far as I can see, that is the situation worldwide,” Stengele told Webster.

There may be some COVID-19 impacts on that last round of bookers who decide last-minute to go to the Olympics, but, even then, she has her doubts. As of now, Sports Traveler is still seeing a consistently strong flow of bookings for Tokyo this summer, particularly among customers looking for luxury stays.

As for the people who have already booked entire packages, she noted, they aren’t too keen on cancelling their bucket-list trips to Tokyo to see the Olympics. The main question the company is hearing from consumers is about whether or not the event will be cancelled. While we are undeniably living in “odd times” for the travel industry, given the levels of uncertainty abounding around the coronavirus, she said, at this point, Sports Traveler isn’t seeing any indications that it will be cancelled. If forced to put odds on it, Stengele told Webster, she’d rate the likelihood of the games being called off somewhere between 0 percent and 1 percent — simply because of the size, scope, expense and uniqueness of the Olympics.

“There are just so many things in play, and it really comes down to one thing. Can you catch this anyplace else? Can you walk down the street and find something comparable? And the answer, of course, is not it’s not,” she said.

An Uncertain Market

Two decades in the travel booking space have taught Sports Traveler that while one cannot plan the unexpected, one can almost certainly plan on it being an uninvited guest on every trip, Stengele noted. Things happen (whether events or health), and there is no shortage of unpredictable variables that affect players in the vertical. That means, as the early 2020 travel season — and the upcoming Olympic Games — approaches, much of the challenge involves embracing the fact that a lot remains unknown.

So far, Sports Traveler hasn’t felt a negative effect — its bookings are trending up, and on par with predictions. Ultimately, though, as much as everyone wants finality, what is needed in this situation is a bit of patience.

“I think it is really something that everyone is going to have to let play out a bit. We are still many months from this summer. In terms of the Olympics, everyone is obviously going to do what the IOC determines, because it is their event,” she said.

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