London, England: Worldwide golf tour operator sales notched up a seventh consecutive year of growth in 2018, according to the latest Golf Tourism Report by global golf tourism industry association IAGTO.
Golf tour operators saw sales surge in late 2018, with strong forward bookings continuing at the start of 2019. However, the report also noted that the rate of growth in golf visitor arrivals globally is slowing down, in line with IAGTO forecasts.
IAGTO supplier members, comprising golf resorts, golf clubs and hotels, who provide the best measure of empirical growth in golf tourism worldwide, reported overall growth of 3.2% in golf visitor arrivals in 2018. That is considerably less than the growth reported in 2017 but reflects IAGTO’s projection of a slowdown in the rate of growth of golf tourism due to demand exceeding supply in the most popular golf destinations at the busiest times.
North American golf destinations performed well with Asia Pacific suppliers coming in just above the average, at 3.7% year-on-year growth. Increases in golf visitor arrivals were the smallest across Europe, where the average incremental growth was down to 2.2%.
As has been the case now for seven straight years, 2018 was another strong year for golf tour operator sales globally with average growth of 8.6% year on year, similar to the 8.8% growth reported in 2017. Golf tour operator sales can grow at a different rate to supplier golf visitor arrivals because tour operator bookings are only one channel of business for golf courses and hotels, with direct bookings also playing a major role in many destinations, according to Peter Walton, IAGTO’s Chief Executive Officer.
Outbound operators from North America surpassed last year’s gains and European operators maintained their performance, but the growth in golf travel sales of Asia Pacific tour operators has dropped off since 2017, although the average growth last year of 4.8% year-on-year was still above the average growth in leisure tourism worldwide.
Golf tour operator sales in the third quarter of 2018 were up on average 6% year-on-year with North America and European operators running ahead of the curve. Forward bookings taken by golf tour operators globally, as of January 2019, were looking strong again, indicating a good start to another year.
To back this up, suppliers also reported healthy forward golf visitor bookings in January, up 4.9% year-on-year with Europe this time leading the pack with business booked up 5.1%, Asia Pacific golf destinations up 3.6% and North America up 2.1%.
Outbound markets performing particularly well this winter (October 2018 to April 2019) include Finland, Norway, Spain, Portugal, Italy, Ireland, the Czech Republic and Poland in Europe, as well as the USA, Japan, Thailand and Hong Kong.
“It is interesting that both Germany and the United Kingdom report similar steady and sturdy figures, despite being on either side of the Brexit divide,” said Walton.
There are some notable trends among specific golf destinations for 2019, with Turkey, Tunisia and Morocco resurgent – which is likely to put pressure on Spain on Portugal, whose forward bookings are up only 2.2% and 1.5% respectively. But Walton noted that the Mediterranean coast of the Iberian Peninsula is limited by capacity during the most popular months and is already doing well.
In Europe’s summer destinations, Northern Ireland again leads a strong pack, bolstered by hosting the 148th Open this July at Royal Portrush, and is followed by Scotland and Ireland in terms simply of rate of growth in forward bookings, not in terms of the number of golf visitors.
Also repeating gains accrued last year is Vietnam, joined in 2019 by Japan which is beginning to see interest peak as its many and varied golf destinations position themselves to attract international golf visitors, some for the first time. Most other destinations are reporting steady growth.
“So, 2019 is going to be a year to watch with golf travel quite fluid in terms of destination choice with a larger field than ever before, set against a backdrop of steady but not rampant growth, with golf tour operators continuing to play a strong hand in both delivering golf visitors and showcasing new golf courses and new destinations,” added Walton.