Golf tourism – a new way to see the world
Golf is undeniably catching on as a sport of choice across the world. And perhaps one of the most striking manifestations of this newfound craze for the sport is the emerging trend of “golfing vacations”.
How often have we, in the golfing community, heard of a group of golf enthusiasts take off on a golfing vacation? A golfing holiday, for those who are unaware, refers to a trip undertaken primarily for playing golf. This can be on different courses in some city/cities, or many rounds on the same course.
Thailand sets the bar high when it comes to promoting golf as a means of tourism, and is arguably the world’s leading golf tourism destination. With over 250 golf courses spread across the country, the economy benefits from this phenomenon by a staggering eight billion baht annually. This is obviously apart from the revenue generated from other forms of tourism.
Cities and towns like Bangkok, Pattaya, Chiang Mai, Koh Samui, and Hua Hin host world-class courses covering the length and breadth of the country, with varying terrain and playing conditions. This ensures that tourists are truly spoilt when it comes to choosing where they want to play.
Some of the best golf courses in Thailand, in my opinion, are Black Mountain Golf Club, Santiburi Samui Country Club, Phoenix Gold Golf and Country Club, and Laguna Phuket Golf Club.
What separates Thailand from some of the popular western golf destinations is the affordable golfing that it offers. The country does have one disadvantage though: the intense heat and humidity that golfers face in this outdoor sport for most parts of the year. Rarely does Thailand boast of pleasant weather.
Nevertheless, having played on a few courses in Thailand over the years, I can safely say that it is one of my favourite countries to play golf in – despite the weather.
Video Credit: Mark Siegel’s (founder of Golfasian) YouTube channel
There are some other undiscovered markets as well. As American journalist and author Raymond Bonner put it, “Think Indonesia and tourism, and the first thing that comes to mind is probably Bali. Think golf holiday, and most people would dream of Scotland or Ireland. But Indonesia harbours one of the best-kept secrets in the world of travel: it is a golfer's paradise.”
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Not much information is available on the current state of golf-related tourism in India – that's an indicator by itself that it has not caught the popular imagination as a touristy pursuit yet. Although the Ministry of Tourism website does state that the department will strive to improve the situation, and act as a catalyst for the development of golf tourism in India, I doubt that much is being done.
If India aspires to become a sought-after destination in this space, there is no better model to replicate than Thailand. Apart from the obvious measures that the department needs to take, like promoting golf tourism on various platforms, there needs to be synergy between the federation and the tourism department. The federation can act as a link between privately owned courses across the country and the department.
Golf courses across the country need to become tourist-friendly and offer concessional rates for tourists and foreigners. Also, their staff need to be proficient in offering the best hospitality. This will not only serve as a good initial experience to a first-time visitor, but also ensure that some tourists become repeat visitors.
Even aspects like infrastructure at clubs for post-golf activities, like spa, restaurants, gymnasium, health club and so on, are required to lure tourists.
Travel agencies also have a role to play in this matter. They need to be well-informed and aware of the different kinds of courses that are available. They should be able to customize special packages depending on the requirements of the client.
A perfect combination of golf and leisure needs to be met. There is a clear and open opportunity here to create a Blue-Ocean market in India in the golf tourism space.
I get asked a lot if I ever go on golfing vacations. My usual response, which often garners some amusement, is to ask whether a working professional will choose to take his laptop along for a vacation and work! I personally prefer to separate the two. As the saying goes, “Don’t mix business with pleasure”.