Worldwide golf holiday sales by golf tour operators have grown by more than 20% over the past two years, according to IAGTO, the global trade organisation of the golf tourism industry.
Headline figures drawn from its 2014 golf tourism survey reveal that golf tour operators’ holiday sales globally grew by an average of 11.1% in 2013, on the back of 9.3% growth in 2012 – and sales are continuing to forge ahead this year.
Speaking at the inaugural HSBC Golf Business Forum in Abu Dhabi, IAGTO Chief Executive Peter Walton said: “Not only has the cumulative growth in golf holiday sales exceeded, on average, 21% in two years, but 2014 is set to be the third consecutive year of growth, with bookings taken in January being 14.5% ahead of bookings taken in the same month a year earlier.
“Even allowing for variations in the relative growth of different outbound markets, golf tour operators on all continents will be handling over 20% more golf holiday sales in 2014 than they were in 2011.”
The results come from IAGTO’s second annual Golf Tourism Survey, the largest study of its kind analysing data provided by more than 650 golf tour operators, golf courses, golf resorts and golf hotels worldwide.
Walton added: “It is useful for golf destinations and individual golf courses and resorts to see how their golf visitor arrival figures compare with the overall growth in golf holiday package sales. But, of course, not all operators were able to post a growth in business, with 11.9% of golf tour operators experiencing a decline in sales in 2013.
“However, it was interesting to see that only 4.8% of operators showed a drop in year-on-year bookings taken in January 2014, and all indications are that 2014 will be another good year.”
Splitting the data out geographically, golf holidays booked by European golf travellers through IAGTO operators grew by 10.1% in 2013 (following an increase of 9.4% in 2012); North American golf travel sales were up from 13.5% growth in 2012 to 14.6% in 2013; and outbound Asian and Australasian golf holidays were up 12.8% and 22.5% respectively last year.
The survey also tracks the rate of growth in sales by golf tour operators to all golf destinations worldwide. As destinations, the USA and Portugal continued to grow strongly and there were particularly good results for the United Arab Emirates and Morocco, which were the fourth-fastest and sixth-fastest growing golf destinations respectively for the IAGTO operators surveyed.
In the IAGTO Survey, golf tour operators presented a very positive forecast for 2014. Operators expect a continued demand for new destinations and have already experienced an increase in long-haul golf holiday bookings. No let-up is expected on the squeeze on margins, however, and operators are concerned about the potential impact of exchange rate lurches, price rises and VAT hikes on future bookings.
After analysing the comments of golf tour operators, Walton summarised: “While there is no doubt that the overall growth over the past 24 months reflects increased consumer confidence, golf holiday enquiries have been driven up by the extensive marketing efforts of operators and golf destinations alike. At the same time, competitive pricing has ensured that these enquiries were converted to bookings.”
Remarking on visible trends, he added: “There would appear to have been more group bookings in 2013, with a definite trend towards larger group sizes. This reverses the trend identified by IAGTO in 2008 of a decrease in group size – which is clearly now a useful indicator of the state of the market.
“Regionally, Asian operators report that golfers are starting to explore more golf destinations, with operators worldwide featuring more destinations and attracting new clients. In the USA, operators are seeing the return of the ‘middle market’, with high-end golf travel having remained strong throughout the economic crisis. The strength of the outbound Australian market is expected to continue, while the Canadian market may level off in line with a weakening Canadian dollar.
“Repeat and referral business is up across the board, which demonstrates that satisfaction rates are high, an indicator of good value for money as well as great product and service. Employment is up among the golf tour operators, which means that they have been able to handle more enquiries and deliver the required personal service.”
IAGTO also assesses the relative importance that its member operators (550 in 62 countries) attach to different golf destinations. Spain, Portugal and Ireland maintain the top three positions that they held in 2012, while Scotland leapfrogs Turkey into fourth place. Malaysia has moved up into 14th position, making it the second most important Asian golf destination for IAGTO operators after Thailand (maintaining its sixth place after the USA, in fifth). The Dominican Republic is the leading Caribbean destination, in 15th place, with Indonesia showing the greatest advance, moving up nine places to 20th.
The 10 golf destinations considered most important for IAGTO golf tour operators are listed below. The weight of importance varies according to the location of the outbound market and the listing is averaged across all operators worldwide: