Tourist boards and golf tourism suppliers in areas affected by the coronavirus outbreak are being urged not to cut funding and to be prepared to invest money into promoting golf travel as soon as confidence returns to the market.
According to Walton, 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”.
.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. 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.
“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.”
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. (The recommendation comes from Peter Walton, Chief Executive of global golf tourism organisation IAGTO, which has just released its fifth annual golf tourism survey.)