Cash is king when it comes to golf travel, especially a strong dollar

Cash is king when it comes to golf travel, especially a strong dollar

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Cash is king when it comes to golf travel, especially a strong dollar

There were a lot of happy faces in the travel section of the PGA Merchandise Show this year, thanks in large part to the strong dollar. Scotland and Ireland, the biggest international golf destinations, reported strong doubledigit growth in golf tourism.

Here are five key takeaways from conversations with
tour operators and tourism officials:

MONEY MATTERS – Despite the strong dollar,
international travel remains largely a rich-man’s game.
We’re talking about people who have the means to travel
regardless of the currency situation.

“Since 2009, that dreaded ‘1 percent’ has done
extremely well,” said Sam Baker, founder of tour operator
Haversham & Baker.

The currency advantage might not be enough incentive
to get less affluent golfers to travel overseas, Baker said,
but it “causes the people who are going to travel anyway
to trade up to more luxury, which is usually in the hotel
choices, or they stay longer and put other bells and
whistles in their trips.

Needless to say, this is a good time to be a tour operator.
Gordon Dalgleish, co-founder of PerryGolf, said his
company has been posting strong double-digit revenue
gains, and Baker said his business has doubled over the
past eight years.

GO GREEN – Because of the strong dollar, noted
Alison Metcalfe, executive vice president of Tourism
Ireland, “A lot of my European colleagues who are
promoting other destinations will say, ‘Europe is on sale.’
It’s up to us individually to fight for our (share).”

Ireland appears to be more than holding its own,
capturing 10 percent of American visitors to Europe.
Among the biggest beneficiaries are the links and hotels
along Ireland’s northwest coast.

“Years ago we were maybe the third choice after
you went to the southwest or the east coast,” said John
McLaughlin, who runs North and West Coast Links.

Now the northwest is in the spotlight. The Irish Open,
now part of the European Tour’s Rolex Series, will be
played at Portstewart two weeks before the British Open.
The tournament likely will stay in the northwest in 2018,
and the British Open will make a long-overdue return to
Royal Portrush in 2019.

“Our courses are very hungry,” McLaughlin said.

“We’ve been working at this for a long, long time, and
opportunities are starting to come.”

That’s paying dividends all along the west coast.

“(Golf tourism is) our fastest-growing market segment,”
said Alan Maloney, owner of Mount Falcon Estate, a
popular retreat for golfers in County Mayo. “I think it’s a
trend that was happening anyway, and it’s accelerated by
the currency.”

BOOK EARLY – It’s getting increasingly difficult to
get tee times on the most famous links. Baker, for example,
noted that Royal County Down sold out its entire 2017
inventory of tourist tee times before Christmas.

“We’re just running out of inventory far earlier than we
ever have before,” he said.

This will cause some positive ripple effects. As Dalgleish
said, “You can’t go over 100 percent at St. Andrews.” His
point is that if golfers can’t land the choicest tee times,
they’ll fill in their itineraries with other links that they
might not otherwise have visited.

Baker said this tourism boom also is creating a
rationalization for developers to open new courses. In
Scotland alone, Mark Parsinen is building a second course
at Castle Stuart, Mike Keiser has a links projects in the
works, and a second course has been announced for
Trump International near Aberdeen.

HEY, BIG SPENDERS! – Yes, that means you
tourists lugging your golf travel bags up to the Aer Lingus
and British Airways counters. The tourism folks overseas
want to party with you guys. And why not? Metcalfe
noted that golfers account for only about 9 percent of total
visitors to Ireland but spend at least twice as much as
other leisure travelers.

“So it’s an extremely important market for us,” she said.

SAIL AWAY – Dalgleish said cruises account for
about 25 percent of PerryGolf’s business. This is a couples
business; golf is part of the itineraries but isn’t dominant.
Dalgleish noted that “cruisers are very loyal,” which
means repeat business. And this category opens up new
destinations that wouldn’t normally occur to golf tourists.

Later this year, for example, PerryGolf is running an
Arabian Gulf cruise that includes five rounds of golf over
10 days with stops in Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Oman, Qatar and
Bahrain.

“It’s really hard to get your head around the fact that
you’re in a seriously bad neighborhood, and it’s completely
safe,” Dalgleish said

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