Pic: Micheile Henderson.
Global golf tourism organisation IAGTO urged tourism boards and golf suppliers not to cut funding and to be prepared to invest money into promoting golf travel as soon as confidence returns to the market.
The coronavirus outbreak has clouded the strong performances of the sector in 2019 and a positive outlook for 2020. In January, golf courses, hotels and golf resorts throughout Asia reported that their forward bookings for golf visitor arrivals were up, on average, by 4.4% compared to the same time the previous year. IAGTO’s 64 member golf tour operators in China performed well in 2019, with vacations booked by Chinese golfers up 7.4% and forward bookings for 2020 up 5.3% year on year.
However, within a few weeks of this data was gathered, all sectors of the tourism industry suffered from travel restrictions imposed resulting from the spread of coronavirus. The new illness also resulted in a general fear of travel.
According to Peter Walton, IAGTO CEO, strong performances all around in 2019 and healthy forward bookings for 2020 “now have to be set against the cloud of the Covid-19 outbreak in China which has had an impact beyond its borders”.
The survey report, now available online to all IAGTO members, reveals some fascinating findings. But Walton stresses that the numbers cannot be considered in isolation and must take into account any current or forecast issues that impact the tourism industry as a whole.
At the beginning of January, golf courses, hotels and golf resorts throughout Asia reported that their forward bookings for golf visitor arrivals were up, on average, by 4.4% compared to the same time the previous year. IAGTO’s 64 member golf tour operators in China performed well in 2019, with vacations booked by Chinese golfers up 7.4% and forward bookings for 2020 up 5.3% year on year.
However, within a few weeks of this data being gathered, all sectors of the tourism industry in most Asian countries were impacted at least to some extent from specific markets, either as a result of travel restrictions in some instances or due to a more general reluctance to take a decision to travel.
IAGTO’s Walton notes: “While golf tourism is not immune to global or regional crises – be they economic, security, environmental or health by nature – we have seen over the past two decades that golf travel bounces back quicker than most other tourism industry sectors once the risk or fear has run its course.”
“A downturn in visitor arrivals often goes hand in hand with a tightening of belts, but our advice to suppliers and tourist boards in regions affected by Covid-19 is to ensure that promotional funds be readily available the moment that confidence returns to the market. Don’t get caught unprepared or with insufficient funds if normality returns sooner than expected.”
IAGTO’s annual golf tourism survey reveals that golf destinations worldwide saw golf visitor arrivals increase in 2019, rising on average by 4.6% compared to those of 2018. This compares favourably with the previous year’s growth of 3.2% – a positive trend experienced by the companies that are at the front-line golf the global golf tourism industry.
Worldwide golf tour operator sales grew once again in 2019, notching up an eighth consecutive year of growth at an average rate of 9.2% which, says Walton, was significantly higher than expected, with less than 15% of companies experiencing a drop in sales. Forward bookings as of January 2020 were up for both suppliers and golf tour operators in line with the growth enjoyed in 2019.
Reviewing the data from golf destinations that are popular with golf travellers between October and March, Mediterranean Europe saw golf visitor arrivals up 1.2% in the fourth quarter of 2019, with forward bookings in January up 2.9% year on year.
“On the southern shores of the Mediterranean, it was good to see Egypt resurgent with arrivals up 13.3% in the final quarter of the year and reservations up 14.3% looking forward,” Walton adds. “Tunisia is also recovering well and Morocco enjoyed a boost to golf visitors in excess of 10% between October and December 2019.”
The report also shows that South Africa saw arrivals increase by 5.4% in the fourth quarter of 2019, with forward bookings up 3.7% year on year, the Gulf States enjoying similarly good demand. While Thailand’s strong currency has had a general negative impact on inbound tourism, golf visitor arrivals were down only by 1.4% on 2018. Following a few years of very strong growth, Vietnam is now settling into more sustainable growth rates, enjoying an increase of 7.2% in the final quarter of 2019.
New Zealand continues to attract more golfers, up 3.8% in the last quarter of the year. Meanwhile, Mexico also enjoyed a good 2019, with business up 5%.
For golf destinations that are most popular from April to September, England looks strong, buoyed by an affordable pound, while Italy, Northern Ireland and Slovenia all posted year on year projections up around 6%, in terms of business already taken. Forward bookings taken by suppliers in Scotland and Ireland were up around 4%. The USA, which embraces all seasons as a golf destination, will be pleased with forward bookings averaging at around 6%, says Walton.
IAGTO began its Quarterly Golf Tourism Survey in 2015 collecting and analysing data from more than 800 golf tour operators, golf resorts, golf courses and hotels every three months. The annual survey, conducted in January 2020, resulted in a record 1,034 responses comparing 2019 golf visitor sales and golf visitor arrivals to those in 2018, and comparing forward bookings for 2020 to forward bookings at the same time the previous year.
While these figures are an accurate representation of the data submitted from the companies that completed the survey, they can only be used as an indication of global trends.