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Travel industry missing the esport boat

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There are 20,300 seats at the Accorhotels Arena in Paris. Come Sunday this week, they’ll be filled with thousands of esports fans, many of whom will have travelled vast distances around the world and paid between 40-80 euros just for an entry ticket to the final of this year’s League of Legends tournament.

With South Africa quickly onboarding the global esports trend, just last week – Red Bull hosted the first national finals for Street Fighter in SA which welcomed a wave of professional gamers to SA’s shores. In fact data from esportsearnings.com that tracks international esports revealed that FIFA and Counter Strike earned SA’s top 10 esport stars a whopping R2.6 million.

And when it comes to the commercial impact emerging from this and other multi-million-dollar esports opportunities, everyone seems to be getting in on the act—everyone, that is, except the travel industry.

The meteoric rise of esports has thrust the industry into the news and broadcast agendas of the world’s biggest media outlets. International competitions have been broadcast globally by the likes of ESPN and NBC, and have sold-out some of the world’s most recognizable arenas—think Madison Square Gardens.

Dedicated arenas are springing up in cities all over the globe, as investors attempt to maintain pace with demand from travelling fans for a front row piece of the action when the world’s gaming elite go head-to-head. Marvel Entertainment and Disney have signed eye-watering commercial deals and Intel have also partnered with Tokyo 2020 to run two major tournaments alongside next year’s Olympic Games.

Yet, while our analysts identified a 20 percent spike in solo travelers making weekend bookings to Seoul and Busan ahead of the 2018 League of Legends World Championship—arguably one of the biggest live tournaments on the planet—few, if any, travel businesses are proactively targeting these travelers.

The stats painted a similar picture in Vancouver in 2018, where we witnessed a 40 percent rise among solo, weekend and group travelers before and during The International, a major esports event organized by the creators of DOTA 2. And with prizes reaching into the millions of dollars, interest shows no sign of abating as the 2019 League of Legends Championship races towards its dramatic finale on 10 November.

How big is the video gaming opportunity?

The reason why travel brands aren’t engaging esports travelers isn’t exactly clear but is likely to revolve around perceptions of video gaming as an armchair activity watched from living rooms and basements.

Many esports enthusiasts are also committed gamers and are notoriously resistant to advertising as we know it—and they’re incredibly territorial about the games they are prepared to play and watch. Market research company Newzoo estimates that 70 percent of esports gamers are only interested in watching one game, while their research revealed how 42 percent of viewers don’t play the games they watch.

However, millions more watch esports casually and don’t necessarily share the same characteristics as the gamer audience, making personalization even more critical for those looking to build a connection.

Those who do venture into the world of spectator esports can expect to find huge opportunities and, for the moment, very little competition. In a recent Global Entertainment & Media Outlook, PwC suggested the revenue generated by the video games market will pass US$30 billion within the US alone by 2023.

That’s over six times the revenue of China’s largest online travel agency, Ctrip, and it doesn’t stop there either. The management consultant’s five-year forecast for esports specifically, includes annual growth forecasts of more than 18.3 percent, making it by far the fastest growing segment in gaming globally.

Understanding what esports travelers want

Like all personalization efforts, securing bookings from esports travelers requires knowledge of what motivates enthusiasts and passive audiences to travel to an event, as well as where they can be found.

Platforms like Amazon’s Twitch have become more popular than mainstream broadcasters like ESPN and NBC among those choosing to watch online, with global audiences are set to swell by an additional 200 million by 2020. Can these audiences be enticed into arrivals?

In the search for answers to this question, travel brands can learn a lot from the way the video gaming industry has developed into the best example of personalization in the world, through the use of ideas like customizable characters or countless features that can be purchased in-game, among other things.

When combined with data from 14 billion monthly shopping searches processed by Travelport systems, insights like these are likely to be especially useful for online travel agencies who despite collecting more data than ever before, have traditionally found creating a tailored experience far easier said than done.

According to Skift and Adobe’s 2018 Digital Transformation Report only 36% of travel executives rated their personalization efforts as four or five on a scale of one to five. Our own research, is helping to turn this tide by providing our partners business intelligence generated by over US$89 billion worth of annual travel spend and helping them turn this into an actionable basis for their strategic investment decisions.

In the case of esports, this means building out engagement plans that reflect the lengths that traveling fans will go for the experience of being at a live event and lead times that can range from 7 to 30 days, depending on the likelihood of a team’s success and the results of qualification and knock-out stages.

This approach is central to creating any uniquely memorable travel experience and will only grow in importance as we transition to a customer-centric world packed full of new motivations to travel.

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