So far, 2020 has been a year to forget for those operating in a whole range of industries. But few have been harder hit than the travel sector. There is cautious optimism that the worst is behind us, but the industry faces changes that will linger for the long term, perhaps permanently.
At first glance, it might seem like the worst possible time to consider a startup in the travel sector. Yet with change comes opportunity.
Both existing businesses and travel entrepreneurs need to look to those business sectors that have proved robust in these difficult times for inspiration. The world of Esport is a case in point and might prove to bring new opportunities.
Games people play
Gaming has been steadily growing in popularity over recent years, and this is certainly a trend that has grown even stronger during lockdown. However, there is more happening here than bored individuals playing Words with Friends. For weeks, physical sports tournaments were on hold, and the world looked online for its sporting entertainment.
For games like poker, the transition was simple. The internet age has opened up the world of online poker to both professionals and amateurs, so moving events like the Irish Open online was an obvious choice.
Other sports like football and Formula 1 set up impromptu virtual tournaments to keep both the stars and the fans entertained.
The growing Esport phenomenon
It is the world of Esport that really saw a boost in viewership and media coverage. Esport has already grown into a billion dollar industry, and like poker, tournaments can take place online. But where, you might ask, is the opportunity for travel companies?
The answer lies in the fact that the biggest tournaments are run at major venues with audiences numbering in the tens of thousands. New Esport devotees have had their appetites whetted by watching online through platforms like Twitch. As borders reopen, they will be as eager as everyone at the thought of being able to travel, so why not indulge their new interest at the same time?
Major tournaments are held at locations like the Copper Box Arena in East London and the Mercedes Benz Arena in Shanghai. But the really interesting opportunities lie in the lesser known venues that have yet to be tapped by travel businesses.
For example, Malmo in Sweden hosts the Dreamhack Masters each year, while the Intel Extreme Masters, a tournament with a $1 million prize fund, takes place in the Polish town of Katowice.
The ideal demographic
The other factor that makes Esport tourism such a tempting proposition is the profile of its fans. Goldman Sachs published a report in 2018 that provides some useful insights. Fans are typically under 35 and have above average spending power.
Crucially, their preference for social media and streaming means they are likely to be harder to engage with for those travel businesses using traditional marketing methods.
Esport tourism represents a golden opportunity for those who are willing to approach the sector from a new perspective in these turbulent times.