‘Sport-cations’ and activity-filled trips are on the rise

Relaxing vacations are extending far beyond sunbathing and spa experiences in 2024. In fact, many travelers are seeking adventure-filled trips or “sport-cations,” according to TravelAI, an applied AI company that makes travel more efficient and personalized for guests.

“At TravelAI, we’re seeing an increase in people traveling for sports-related and event-related vacations,” said Chris Jensen, COO, TravelAI. Specifically, he said he’s seeing an interest in pickleball-related trips.

The pickleball phenomenon is taking over travel so much so that the company has created pickletrip.com, which shows every pickleball court in relation to local vacation accommodations.

“Sports enthusiasts are obsessive, and they want to play as much as possible,” Jensen said. “Sports can be great exercise, sociable and fun off and on the court. All of those are elements that people want in a vacation, so combining play-and-stay makes great sense.”

And it isn’t just pickleball. Jensen is also seeing a trend of people traveling for other sports like water skiing, mountain biking and paddleboarding.

“Sport-cations allow travelers to access more available courts; play with friends and see a new place—and they give a unified focus to the group,” he said. “Often players have a partner who is less keen or does not play the sport, so having other spouses around means both partners can enjoy their time on vacation.”

Travelers taking sport-cations tend to have more disposable income, Jensen noted, and like to travel in groups.

“For example, I am going on a trip to Mexico with 12 other people, and we chose a location that has a pickleball facility on-site,” he said.

The demographic for pickleball trips, Jensen said, is usually people between the ages of 50-75 who play a lot, about 3-5 times per week. They’re also motivated to go to new places to play.

“An interesting subset is people traveling for pickleball tournaments,” he said. “There are 200-plus tournaments in North America each year, generally with 100-600 players. People travel for many hours to get to tournaments, which are generally two or three days, so accommodation is needed locally. It is getting increasingly difficult to get into tournaments because they fill up fast, so people who do manage to register are highly motivated to maximize the event.”

Personalization also plays a major role in these types of trips. Sport-cations can be structured around training and playing sessions, sometimes even with a pro player.

“In most cases, a group will decide to visit a facility that has courts available for their chosen sport and coordinate among themselves for each player to book accommodation in the same place,” Jensen explained. “That gives the most flexibility and tends to appeal more to couples where one is a casual or non-player.”

TravelAI’s pickletrip.com caters to pickleball players worldwide. The site, Jensen explained, was built using AI tools and allows visitors to search for properties that have a court on-site or close to the accommodation.

“Every publicly available pickleball court is mapped and shown in proximity to more than 10 million available properties from booking.com, Expedia, VRBO, HometoGo and other OTAs,” he said. “The site also has suggestions for towns and locations that are most pickleball friendly to assist in research and planning.”

The COO said that while pickeltrip.com is an example of a full site dedicated to a specific activity, he expects a vast increase of sites that are smaller in nature but highly niche focused.

“These niche sites will use cross-site tools—often widgets—that provide facilitation services such as booking accommodation, flights or activities,” he said. “The content of the site can then be highly relevant by using AI content creation, and the widgets will provide in-context, relevant booking services. The ultimate destination is to create a website that is exactly what one specific traveler needs.”

These niche areas include yoga retreats, forest bathing and bird watching, Jensen said, adding that the challenge has been to source enough data about niche trends because they tend to get drowned out by the standard headline facilities like beaches, pools, bars, etc.

“Travelers have had to research their activity of interest, look for accommodation in the area and then see if the two are compatible,” Jensen said. “We are using AI to parse the information from mega data sources, such as Google maps and publicly available information, and present back highly relevant, targeted results so that the research phase is much easier. “

He continued, “As AI continues to improve, greater personalization will follow. The challenge will increasingly become accessing good data because publishers and content owners may start to restrict access to AI services. As a data-driven company with more than a decade of data already captured, we are confident that TravelAI will stay at the forefront of providing personalized solutions for activity focused vacations.”

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