The Impact of Sports Tourism on Countries


According to the World Trade Organization, tourism is the largest economic activity in the world. This industry is a key driver of economic progress in many countries and its role in economic development can be expected to increase even as the sector continues to experience expansion. One subset of tourism that has gained prominence over the past few decades is sports tourism. The number of sporting events taking place all over the world has increased and many people travel to foreign destinations either to participate in or observe the events. This paper will set out to demonstrate that sports tourism has a positive socio-economic impact on the destination country.

Sports Tourism: An Overview

The tourism industry plays a major role in the economic development of many countries. The World Tourism Organization (2014) documents that tourism contributes 9% of the world GDP. This contribution is from the direct and indirect impacts of the sector. The industry is the world’s largest employer with 9.1% of all available jobs being as a direct or indirect result of tourism.

Europe is the most visited region in the world due to the numerous tourist attractions found in this region. This region attracts 43% of the total number of international tourists and it contributes US $458 billion every year. There are countries that rely almost entirely on the revenue obtained from tourism for their economy. The World Tourism Organization (2014) reports that Luxembourg, Bahamas, Bermuda, and Cyprus are examples of countries that heavily depend on tourism to sustain their economies.

Sport tourism is a subset of tourism that has huge potential in improving the earnings of a country. Delpy (1998) defines sports tourism as “travel to participate in a sport activity, travel to observe sport, and travel to visit a sport attraction” (p.23). This phenomenon has gained significant attention over the last few decades as nations have identified the positive impact that it can produce.

Global interest in sport activities is on the rise so it can be expected that the number of sport tourists will increase with the coming years. Delpy (1998) states that the contributions of sports tourism to overall tourism are at 32%. Kim and Chalip (2004) declare that sporting events are a significant component of destination marketing. This demonstrates that sports tourism is a major component of the tourism industry.

As such, encouraging the growth and development of sports tourism in a country leads to positive economic gains by the country. Sports tourism provides an opportunity for a nation to increase its tourism share since sport is the world’s largest social phenomenon. Sport tourists include spectators and those who physically participate in sporting activities. Illum (2012) documents that there is a geographic market segmentation of sports tourism. Sporting events might attract a local market, regional market, international market, or a combination of these. While the local sports tourism market is important, the greatest profits are obtained from the international sports tourism market.

Big Sporting Events

The Olympic Games are the biggest sporting event with almost all nations producing athletes to compete in them. The Olympic Games were started by the Greeks as early as 776BC. The first games where held in the city of Olympia, which is located in the southwest region of Greece. Originally, the games were held to honor the Greek god Zeus and people from all of Greece traveled to Olympia to watch or participate in the games. The games were held every four years and they attracted a huge attendance. The first modern Olympics were held in Athens in the year 1896 and athletes from 13 countries participated.

The Olympics today are a mega-event that attracts thousands of participants from 204 countries and millions of attendants. For a country to host the Olympics, it has to place a bid and compete against other nations to be awarded the games. The International Olympic Committee (IOC) is the body that selects the country that will host the Olympics from the set of candidate nations. There are a number of requirements including availability of competition sites, good transport and communication infrastructure that the candidate country must have in order to be eligible for hosting the games.

Another mega sport event is the FIFA world cup. This event attracts millions of attendants and many countries are eager to host the event. Countries are given the chance to host the games after winning a bid. For the 2018 and 2022 world cup, eleven bids were submitted for consideration by the FIFA executive committee. Russia was chosen as the location for the 2018 world Cup while Qatar won the 2022 bid.

Impacts of Sport Tourism

The positive outcomes of sports tourism partly depend on the number of attendants that visit the destination for the event. In that respect, the Olympic Games generate the highest number of attendants compared to any other event. The FIFA World Cup also attracts millions of attendants and almost a billion people from all over the world watch the event via television (Kim & Chalip, 2004).

For this reason, many countries compete to host these mega-events and get the socio-economic benefits that come from hosting the events. The World Cup and the Olympics provide a chance for a country to gain high revenue over a short period of time. In addition to this, the events provide many employment opportunities for the local community. Many tourists from all over the world are also attracted to the host country due to the various activities.

Sport tourism results in the generation of revenue for the nation. This revenue is earned in a number of ways. The tourists bring revenue by paying for access to the sporting facilities available at the destination. Revenue is also earned as the tourists make use of facilities such as restaurants and hotels in the location of the sporting venue. Delpy (1998) notes that the average sport tourist is relatively affluent meaning that he/she is able to spend a significant amount of money in the host country. The transportation sector also benefits as tourists make use of public means of transportation in the host location.

In addition to the income accrued from sport tourists as they travel to various sporting events, this tourism also leads to the creation of employment opportunities. Daniels (2004) reveals that sports tourism initiatives result in a positive change in the wage income of individuals in the local community. The movement of tourists to a specific location leads to the creation of job opportunities for the host community. Jobs are created in the hospitality industry, which emerges to serve the tourists. There are also employment opportunities since people are needed to maintain the sport facilities.

Sport tourism leads to the development of the infrastructure in the region where the sporting facilities are made. Illum (2012) reveals that significant resources have to be dedicated to building amenities and improving the infrastructure in order to attract tourists. The government invests heavily in good transport and communication links to the sport venues. This investment promotes trade and commerce in the region.

However, there are some negative impacts associated with sports tourism. To begin with, sports tourism may attract a large number of visitors to the host location. This will lead to undesirable outcomes such as increased traffic on the roads, antisocial behavior, littering, and an increase in the noise level (Illum, 2012). The local population might resent these detrimental conditions experienced due to sports tourism.

Hritz and Ross (2010) confirm that some local residents are annoyed by the masses of tourists who visit the destination to participate in or witness sporting events. Even so, the positive impacts of sports tourism lead to a generally positive outlook of the sector by the residents of destination city. Hritz and Ross (2010) state that while the local population is likely to suffer from these negative impacts, the financial gains from the sport tourist dollars make it easy to overlook the negative consequences.


Tourism is one of the most important drivers for the economic growth and development of a nation. This paper set out to discuss the impact of sports tourism to a nation. It began by defining tourism and showing the major contribution that this sector makes to the global economy. The paper has shown that sports tourism is the fastest growing market segment in the tourism industry and as such, countries derive significant economic benefits from it. Nations should therefore increase their investments in sports tourism in order to benefit from the significant revenue from this sector.


Daniels, M. (2004). Beyond input-output analysis: Using occupation-based modeling to estimate wages generated by a sports tourism event. Journal of Travel Research, 43(1), 75-82.

Delpy, L. (1998). An overview of sports tourism: Building towards a dimensional framework. Journal of Vacation Marketing, 4(1), 23-38.

Hritz, N., & Ross, C. (2010). The Perceived Impacts of Sport Tourism: An Urban Host Community Perspective. Journal of Sport Management, 24(2), 119-138.

Illum, S. (2012). Sport Tourism Development. Tourism Management, 33(6), 1604-1605.

Kim, N., & Chalip, L. (2004). Why travel to the FIFA World Cup? Effects of motives, background, interest, and constraints. Tourism Management, 25(6), 695-707.

World Tourism Organization (2014). Tourism Highlights. Web.