The First Research About Sports Tourism In Greece

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The First Research About Sports Tourism In Greece

Sports Tourism in Greece: Lessons from Three Recurring Sports Events

The Sports Tourism Industry

Sports tourism was one of the fastest-growing sectors in tourism in 2019. However, as things return to normal and vaccination campaigns pick up speed, sports tourism is expected to fully recover by 2022. People are becoming more health-conscious, and it is expected that they will actively participate in sporting activities to fulfill their desire for a healthy and active lifestyle. When the situation improves and travel restrictions are lifted, sports tourism will regain momentum due to the global population's never-ending love and passion for travel & sports.

Sports tourism is synonymous with quality of life and motivation, as well as sustainable growth. A recent study published by Allied Market Research showed that even in 2020, sports tourism (which includes people who both practice sport, or spend money to watch sporting events) generated over 323,420 million US dollars of income, with this figure predicted to reach 1,803,704 million dollars by 2030, growing at a CAGR of 16.1% from 2021 to 2030.

And there is one big advantage about sports tourists: they spend money and come at times of the year that help destinations get around when people don't come for summer holidays at the beach.

Sports Tourism generates also significant economic benefits to households, businesses, and governments alike and represents a critical driver of the overall economy.

For example, nearly 180 million people traveled to a sports event in the U.S. in 2019 either as a participant or spectators, which generated 69 million room nights. While Greece is among the top 10 international destinations that US travelers over 50 want to visit in 2022.   

As Tourism Minister Vassilis Kikilias stated just a few weeks ago, Greek Tourism will upgrade the [tourism] product and generate more revenue as it was also proven from recent data. Despite the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, Greece managed to achieve 600 euros in spending per traveler in 2021, reflecting the sector’s resilience and serving as a prime example of a sustainable tourism model that can be implemented across the country. 

Tourism and Sport are two leading forces for the promotion and sustainable economic development of tourism destinations. This is why we are very proud to be part of the first sports tourism research that has been carried out in regions of Epirus, Peloponnese, and in Central Greece in 2021 and is expected to add more sports tourism events for 2022. 

By monitoring the sports tourism economy, policymakers can make decisions regarding the funding and prioritization of the sector’s development. They can also carefully monitor its success and future needs. And by establishing a baseline of economic impacts, the industry can track its progress over time

An Applied Research Perspective

The research was co-funded by the newly established Centre of Excellence in Food, Tourism & Leisure at Deree - The American College of Greece and ActiveMedia Group. The Centre promotes the research, teaching, and outreach infrastructure necessary to make Greece a leading academic innovator in these sectors. Through fostering innovative research, teaching, and public outreach in food, tourism, leisure, and sports, the CoEFTL seeks to help propel Greece’s economic growth.

Dr. Stella Leivadi, the research fellow in the area of Leisure, who also serves as the coordinator of the Sports Management Program, stresses the importance of engaging in academic research in sports tourism, a research topic of interest both for the Tourism and Leisure areas. “Despite the ongoing growth of the hard-hit sports tourism sector, the academic research in the Greek context is largely underdeveloped. This is the gap that we are aspiring to bridge through this multi-step research protocol. It is worth mentioning that due to the complexity a collaboration among our faculty, world-class academics, student scholars, as well as major industry stakeholder like Active Media Group was established.

The research includes data collection for three fundamentally different sports events, with substantial financial and social impact.

The Authentic Marathon Swim at Pefki, Evia, a newly introduced swimming event, with a historical character. The competition provides the opportunity for modern swimmers to revive, after 2,500 years, the authentic swimming marathon the historical achievement of Skyllias and Hydna, swimming over the wrecks of the historic naval battle of Artemisio. It includes various open water swimming routes and is organized by the Municipality of Istiaia-Edipsos under the ActiveMedia Group sports production. The event provides the opportunity for destination development, helps in creating a more desirable destination image, contributes to extending and positively impacting the local economy.

Zagori Mountain Running – A large-scale mountain running event organized for the past 10 years at Zagori, in July, which is considered an off-season for Nothern Greece destinations in general and Ioannina in specific. The 2021 event noted the participation of approximately 2,500 resulting in over 90% hotel occupancy at the broader area of Zagori as well as economic and social benefits, through the creation of a loyal community of mountain runners and returning visitors.

Navarino Challenge, a unique large-scale multiple award-winning sports tourism event at Costa Navarino, Pylos that started with the emphasis placed on the running competitions, and has now become a 3-day sports wellness festival, where friends and families come together and celebrate sports literally and metaphorically. All attendees regardless of their participation in the Navarino Challenge runs have the opportunity to take upon more than 30 sports activities designed for amateur athletes of all ages and abilities and are as diverse as beach volley, basketball, boxing, tennis, biking, pilates, etc.

Contrary to the abovementioned events, for which the attendees of a single sport, more specifically open-water swimming or mountain running are the focus, and their co-travelers are viewed as a positive externality, in the case of Navarino Challenge, a unique sports community blended with professional and amateur athletes has been created.

Through its core message #sportsunitepeople, Navarino Challenge brings together people of all ages and different backgrounds and promotes the Olympic ideal highlighting that the important thing in life is not to triumph but to compete and focuses on the respect for equality and diversity through sports, and the education of youth through sports, without any kind of discrimination, maintaining the principles of the Olympic spirit and ideals, which require mutual understanding with a spirit of friendship and brotherhood.

Research Findings

Dr. Eugenia Tzoumaka, Lecturer at Deree -The American College of Greece and member of the Centre of Excellence in Food, Tourism & Leisure was the primary investigator in this multi-step research and noted: “The preliminary findings of the research confirm what is being informally discussed for many years, that is the high potential of the sports tourism industry”.  The high socioeconomic status is common across events and is exhibited in different ways.

With regards to the Authentic Marathon Swim at Pefki, the major implication is that the event contributed into increasing the traffic in the area, early in July when the peak season has not yet started. Despite the fact that the destination awareness among the respondents was relatively high, 75%, but the majority of the participants (55%) had never visited Pefki before as exhibited in the figure below.

This is particularly important, especially after the 2021 wildfires. It is worth mentioning that the New York Times included North Evoia in the 2022 list that highlights places around the globe where travelers can be part of the solution, and the Authentic Marathon swimmers are a primary target group.

The Zagori Mountain Running survey results point towards very positive implications as well. To begin with, despite the very high awareness of the destination (90.63%), there was still a substantial proportion of the runners, 35,8% who visited Zagori for the first time as a result of the sports event. The financial impact for the area is also substantial since this is not a regional event, 80% of internal tourists come from other Greek regions.

Interestingly, the competition seems to have created a strong community of runners, who engage in repeat participation, as 55.4% of the respondents have taken part in the previous runs.  Approximately 20% are considered loyal having participated in 3 or more ZMR runs, while 6.13% are avid fans of the event having participated more than five times out of the total 10 times the event has been conducted.

Regarding the Navarino Challenge event, a different narrative is evident. Although it revolves around three running trails, the attendees may also engage in a multitude of sports & wellness activities, i.e. beach volley, pilates, spinning, tennis, etc. The participants by majority make use of this opportunity, therefore experiencing a sports retreat. It is noteworthy that only 9.1% are professional athletes, while the majority self-identify as amateur and recreational athletes.

The participant profile comprises both males (57.6%) and females (42.4%), who are well-educated (66.9% have completed up to graduate studies) and of high socioeconomic status (average income >2200euro) and an average age of 41.1 y.o. 91% of the respondents are active sports tourists, who reside in areas other than the regional unit of Messinia, thus contributing to the economy of the area.

The socialization component is evident, as 82% joined this event accompanied by their partners, friends, family, and/or other athletes.

The average daily spending for each participant was 847 euros including the accommodation costs, meals, and other expenses !!

Some very important characteristics of these three Top Greek Sports Tourism Brands :

  • They are Greek World Brands. Their organizers embraced Greek culture, Greek History & Greek Landscape to create a new age of Greek Sports Tourism Event. Adopting this positioning, they develop, promote Greece and generate relatively higher added value for the Greek economy in comparison to the value produced by other business models.
  • They are taking place in three regions that according to SETE are considered to present great opportunities for sports tourism development.
  • They have managed to be recognized worldwide as top events in their area of expertise:
    • Zagori Mountain Running is the leading ultra trail run in Greece & the biggest mountain race in Greece. It is also a member of the International Trail Running Association with participation even in the USA Trail Calendar.
    • Authentic Marathon Swim is already listed among the top five world open water swimming events.
    • Navarino Challenge is the first Greek Wellness Brand & first Greek Sports Tourism Event to win 1st place in Europe and 2nd in the World in the Tourism Awards in London in WTM (2019) as Best in


Akis Tsolis

ActiveMedia Group

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