NEW YORK -- Steady growth in golf travel and vacations during the
1990s has spilled over into 2000, creating significant sales
opportunity for travel agents and tour operators working in that
An estimated 26 million Americans play golf and, according to
the National Golf Foundation, spend in excess of $24 billion a year
in that pursuit.
That represents a fertile field from which travel agents can
derive commissions on air and ground transportation, lodging and
food, entertainment and, in some cases, golf fees.
Macroeconomic factors going forward could conceivably dampen
demand or, at least, rein in unbridled consumer confidence brought
on by nearly a decade of unprecedented economic prosperity -- the
so-called wealth effect.
For now, though, discretionary household dollars remain ample,
and travel budgets have yet to feel the pinch of inflation or the
bite of recession.
Golf travelers tend to diffuse into a trifurcated market.
At the low end are do-it-yourselfers, golfers looking for the
best possible "deals" in transportation, lodging, greens fees and
all associated expenses. Price plays the dominant role in their
every decision and their likelihood to engage the services of a
travel agent is virtually nonexistent.
In the middle tier are golfers seeking a first class experience,
although not necessarily a deluxe one.
They might, for example, balk at paying the $200-and-up greens
fees that some resorts charge during high season. Price generally
is less a consideration to them, however, than perceived value.
Golf travelers in the middle tier are more likely to tap a
travel agent's expertise than those in the lower tier, though many
opt to make their own plans.
At the high end are golfers motivated by creating memories for
themselves and their travelmates (be they spouses, business
associates or friends).
For this group, the richness and memorability of the overall
experience remain paramount. Or, as one international tour operator
explained, "They'll pay the freight, regardless."
Golfers in the high-end tier are most likely to engage agents to
set up their travel agenda.
It's the latter two tiers that enable travel agents to cash in
on the golf boom.
To maximize revenue potential, agents must identify serious
golfers; ascertain their commitment to golf travel; learn the types
of courses they prefer to play; gauge expectations for the level of
their accommodations, and constantly put before them new and
exciting vacation options.
National Golf Foundation research indicates that, by far, the
greatest influence on a golfer's decision about golf travel is
friends. Therefore, a business strategy based on serving the needs
of key clientele will likely generate referrals, bringing new
customers into the fold.