November 02, 2022

Playing Field Widens for Hotels Booking Youth Sports Groups

Parents and Grandparents Travel With Teams, Tend to Spend More

A wider range of youth sports are expanding into new markets across the U.S. and creating opportunities for hoteliers to capture more group demand.

Mark George, senior vice president of sales and marketing at West Palm Beach, Florida-based hotel management company Island Hospitality, said room demand from youth sports tourism has resurged in the past four to five years.

Across all hotels in the Island Hospitality management portfolio, room nights booked by youth sports groups have increased by 6,000 over the past year, he said.

Partly behind that surge is that "there's an emergence of sports that are getting into markets that [never had them before], like hockey in the Sun Belt area," he said. "We have hockey in Dallas and Florida, but it was never that big. You always thought of hockey up north."

George cited lacrosse as another example. It was not well known outside of the Northeast or mid-Atlantic, he said, but "now it's huge in the South and getting big out West."

Sports Business Journal reported in August that the youth sports industry "grew by a reported 55% from 2010 to 2017 and is worth an estimated $19 billion — more than the revenue of the NFL or NBA."

George speculates that more parents want their young athletes to be seen by scouts.

"The demand was not just pent up, but it was ready to burst ... and now, it's just out of control," he said, adding that some cities are developing additional sports complexes to keep up with the demand.

Jennifer Maxwell, regional director of sales at Florence, South Carolina-based hospitality management and development company Raines, said the Charleston market in particular has experienced a rise in youth sports demand since 2015.

Since development of Shipyard Park on the Wando River in Mount Pleasant, it's become a sought-out destination for baseball and softball, hosting more than 40 tournaments per year.

"One of our hotels saw a 40% increase in the sports segment from 2019 to 2021. A lot of that does have to do with this new sports complex," she said. "We have all different brands and price points but they've all seen similar increases."

Shipyard Park contracted its 40 tournaments for 2023 in September of this year, she said, and teams are already starting to book rooms.

"Teams are learning to sign up and book their rooms early," she said. "I've had teams call and not be able to find hotel rooms for a specific date once they've signed up for the tournament."

Maxwell said the sports segment was among the first groups to come back since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, due to many games being outdoors.

"We shut down in March 2020, and in May we started having sell-out weekends again because of these sports tournaments. This is kind of what brought us back to life," she added.

In the Southeast region, events around sailing, soccer and golf have increased, which is driving sports demand for hotels in the Raines portfolio, Maxwell said.

Raines is also benefiting from hockey demand, with its hotels in Mount Pleasant selling out for a hockey tournament that took place in north Charleston, South Carolina. The rooms were booked in March.

More recently, she said teams have been willing to stay on the outskirts of where tournaments are being held.

"This tournament is about a 20-25 minute drive [from Mount Pleasant] but they're wanting to stay [here] because it's close to the beach, close to downtown," she said.

Raines has further strengthened its relationships with teams and third-party organizers who are repeating business each year.

Maxwell said the company's hotels have been flexible with youth sports groups on how many rooms can be booked in a block, at a negotiated rate. With baseball tournaments, for instance, 18 is the average room block number, but the hotels can accommodate groups that need to add a few rooms.

Danielle McNair, director of sales and marketing at The Westin Riverfront Resort & Spa in Avon, Colorado, which is a hub for youth soccer, lacrosse and hockey tournaments, said her property achieved 2019 levels of sports tourism demand in 2021.

Since the property opened in 2008, it has welcomed repeat sports travelers yearly.

Extending the Stay

Not only are parents coming along on these trips, but so are grandparents, Maxwell said, especially during summer tournaments. Additionally, if parents are divorced, that results in each parent booking a room.

Most families will even make it a week-long vacation, she said. As a result, this demand segment tends to spend more.

"Most of these tournaments are now picking up a shoulder night. If it's a weekend, Friday-Saturday stay, a lot of them will pick up Thursday or Sunday night along with it," she added. "We're offering better weekday rates just based upon the demand in the area, so that's kind of an incentive for them to do that."

Trisha Grisko, vice president of sales and marketing at Sandpiper Hospitality, said the youth sports segment has grown significantly year over year at the Richmond, Virginia-based hospitality management company's hotels.

"Instead of just one room with maybe mom and the kids, now it's maybe two rooms where the kids and the grandparents share," she said. "There's more rooms because more people out of the family are coming, and that does translate into dollars for the local economy, the restaurants, the tourist attractions."

McNair said The Westin Riverfront Resort & Spa is a five-minute walk from Nottingham Lake and near Vail Valley and Beaver Creek, which is a draw for families looking for additional leisure experiences.

Preferred Asset Types, Amenities

Many youth and college sports teams prefer booking hotels with meetings and event space for team meetings and meals, Maxwell said.

Instead of sticking to a catering menu, Raines will also build out food-and-beverage menus based on what teams are asking for.

Guest rooms with two queen beds and a pull-out couch are typically the first to be booked, she said, at hotels like Hyatt Place and SpringHill Suites.

Grisko said youth sports teams are practical travelers who are looking for a great deal with excellent service delivery. Because they're savvy spenders, she said travelers within this segment will often use in-room kitchens and cook family meals instead of going out to eat.

The super-savvy spenders typically opt for the extended-stay asset type, while the ones that are looking for more of a vacation experience might choose the Courtyard Reno, then head up to Lake Tahoe on non-tournament days.

McNair said The Westin Riverfront Resort & Spa's rooms comprise of studio suites with custom kitchens as well as one-, two- and three-bedroom condos, which accommodate families.

She added that these families prioritize health and are attracted to amenities such as a saltwater pool, hot tub and on-site athletic club that features group fitness classes.

Sports teams that are repeat guests of the hotels are treated to some of "their favorite items from years past," McNair said. "We understand what they like to buy, to expedite their large orders and give them more time to be together and celebrate with their team."

Future of Sports Tourism

Based on current trends, hoteliers expect the youth sports demand segment to become even stronger in the coming years.

"There's been no decline," Maxwell said. "I don't anticipate to see that. I know, specifically, our markets are trying to figure out how we can get more field space to have more tournaments."

Grisko said sports tourism is "deep and wide." Not only are new sports venues being built, but older ones are being renovated and expanding.

One of the most vital things a hotelier could do to continue attracting youth sports travelers is to partner with the local sports commission or convention and visitor bureaus, she said.

"Those folks are the ones that are working really hard to help attract those sports destination events to the local area. We can help them as hoteliers attract those events. It's really having a great dynamic partnership and making sure you're engaged and taking part in those requests for proposals," Grisko added.

Copyright 2022 CoStar Group. All rights reserved. From By Dana Miller, Hotel News Now.

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