India-Pak cricket fever spawns a travel bug few can afford

T20 World Cup winner Chris Gayle takes part in a celebration marking 100 days to the start of the ICC Men’s T20 World Cup 2024. (ICC-X)
T20 World Cup winner Chris Gayle takes part in a celebration marking 100 days to the start of the ICC Men’s T20 World Cup 2024. (ICC-X)

Summary

  • Global sports travel is a luxury far too expensive for most Indians. But those who can afford it are spending big sums to watch sporting extravaganzas such as the India-Pakistan cricket match in New York, Wimbledon, Formula One races, and the Paris Olympics

NEW DELHI : Mohit Gupta, a wealthy individual in his mid-40s in Gurugram, is packing his bags to go watch the India-Pakistan cricket match in New York city. Never before has any international-level cricket tournament been played on American soil, home to a vast diaspora from the two Asian neighbours.

Fanatic Sports Pvt. Ltd, a Mumbai-based sports hospitality company, has curated a pretty package for Gupta that includes a three-night stay at a Taj Hotels 5-star property, the match ticket, visit to a practice game, a tour with select cricketers, and meals with retired players—all for $4,000, or about 3.3 lakh. 

The India-Pakistan clash on 9 June at the upcoming ICC Men’s Cricket World Cup in New York is the most-anticipated match Indians are looking forward to, as with any meeting involving the two teams. India will also be battling Ireland, the US, and Canada, none of which are teams of much reckoning.

Fanatic Sports is among official sellers of tickets for the World Cup matches.

DreamSetGo, another Mumbai-based sports travel company and an official partner for the International Cricket Council (ICC) T20 World Cup, has sold out its packages for the India-Pakistan clash. The company didn’t disclose the number of packages sold.

Apart from the match ticket, DreamSetGo’s exclusive package includes a meet-and-greet with former India captain Sourav Ganguly, stay in a 5-star hotel for four days, private luxury transfers, and a meal at a Michelin-star restaurant.

The tag: 2-15 lakh per person. 

To be sure, at those prices, global sports travel is still a luxury in India that few can afford.

“We mainly target HNIs (high-networth individuals) and corporate travellers. From the corporate standpoint, the average package ranges from 2-2.5 lakh, unless they plan to take their top personnel like CXOs and opt for top hospitality. That ranges between 10-15 lakhs per person," said DreamSetGo’s founder Monish Shah. “For HNIs, the average package ranges from 4-5 lakh per person."

DreamSetGo is also a travel partner for the 2024 Paris Olympics, which begins on 26 July.

The big brag theory

Indians aren’t just crazy about cricket. The uber-rich are also keen on tennis Grand Slams and Formula One races wherever they are held.

“This year, we have noticed a 36% increase in interest for big-ticket global sporting events," said Rajeev Kale, president and country head for holidays, MICE (meetings, incentives, conferences, and exhibitions tourism), and visa, at Thomas Cook (India) Ltd. “Topping the list are international cricket matches, the Wimbledon in June, the Olympics in July, and F1 at Bahrain, Singapore, Yas Island, etc."

For the India-Pakistan match in New York, the travel agency has received about 200 so far, including from groups of people, Kale said, adding that about one-fourth of its consumers have global sporting events in mind when selecting their travel destinations.

“There are undeniable brag-able rights when people attend such premium sporting engagements."

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Thomas Cook’s sports-based packages typically include meet-and-greets and dining with sports stars and autographed merchandise. One of its packages for the Olympics is priced upwards of 11 lakh per person for a group of about 50 customers.

Sports travel: still warming up

Sports tourism is still a nascent concept for Indians, even as they are increasingly shedding the traditional aversion to spending big money on global travel (which can turn out to be quite expensive as the rupee continues depreciating against the dollar).

According to US-based research firm Grand View, the global sports tourism industry registered about $587.87 billion in revenue in 2022, the latest year for which data was available. But India doesn’t feature on the firm’s list, possibly because the country accounts for a mere fraction of the industry.

Indian appetite for sports travel, though, is evidently increasing, even if for domestic events to begin with. 

Amsterdam-based travel major Booking.com observed that about 76% of Indian respondents in a recent survey said they were willing to travel for sports events such as the Indian Premier League (cricket), Pro Kabaddi, and the Indian Super League (football) within their city or state.

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That said, there is also a spike in searches on Booking.com for Paris, London and New York ahead of major sporting events, said Santosh Kumar, the company’s country manager for India.

“With the Wimbledon Championship scheduled for July, London is on top of the list for Indians travelling globally this July, with a 10% increase in searches as compared to last year," Kumar said. 

“New York is among the top 10 most-searched destinations by Indians this June, witnessing a 50% increase in searches between June 1 and June 15, in line with the ICC Men’s T20 World Cup 2024."

Paris, the main host of this year’s Olympics, has seen a 30% year-on-year increase in searches on Booking.com as compared with the same period last year, Kumar said, adding that Indians are also looking up nearby destinations in France, such as Nice, Cannes, and Cap D'Agde.

An emerging sector

Several Indians keen on the India-Pakistan match are opting to buy tickets directly from the ICC’s website, which costs upwards of $300, or about 25,000, a fraction of what they would be paying for an all-inclusive premium package.

Still, Raghav Gupta, founder of Fanatic Sport, insists there is sufficient demand for the company’s packages tailored for the India-Pakistan cricket match in New York.

“We hope that as many as 800 people will travel with us for the World Cup alone, and another 1,500 overall out of India for tournaments such as the ongoing Roland-Garros, the upcoming Wimbledon, the Euro 2024, and the Paris Olympics," Gupta said.

Shah, DreamSetGo’s founder, is optimistic that the sports travel industry is taking off among Indians. Although DreamSetGo is yet to officially file its earnings for 2023-24, Shah expects the company’s revenue to have doubled during the year, after growing at 30% in 2022-23.

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