Golf travel has taken a hit during Covid, but that hasn’t dampened Valerie Gossett’s confidence in the profit potential of this high-spending market.
Gossett is the owner of Premier Resources Travel in Ellijay, GA. A travel advisor since 2007, she has worked in the golf travel market for about a decade. In 2019, Gossett booked between $4.5 million and $5 million in golf vacations or about 40% of her personal sales.
Most of Gossett’s golf sales consist of group trips designed around tournaments that she organizes and promotes jointly with local golf pros. Her typical golf tournament trips are for groups of 50 to 75 people and sometimes as many as 100.
Because of the pandemic, it will be a while before Gossett’s golf sales reach 2019 heights again. She said that next year looks to her like “a big old question mark.” In fact, she’s rescheduling canceled golf trips for 2023, skipping over 2022 altogether.
“I’m not going to go through another 16 months like I’ve been through, so I’m looking farther out than 2022. So 2022 will be a lot of FITs and smaller groups. The big things I’m looking at for golf will be for 2023 and beyond.”
No recovery yet
Golf wholesaler PerryGolf is hedging its bets for 2022 as well. “We don’t know what next summer’s going to look like. We’d like to think back to normal, but . . . ,” said president Gordon Dalgleish, his voice trailing off.
This year, recovery for PerryGolf, which specializes in long-haul international golf travel, has been slow at best. In fact, it wasn’t until early August that PerryGolf sent its first golfers overseas, after shutting down departures in early March 2020.
“A full bounceback is certainly a long way away,” Dalgleish said. About 50% of PerryGolf’s business is to the British Isles, where Covid restrictions have created what he called “a fairly challenging environment.”
Even in normal times, availability in the British Isles is an issue, because of the finite supply of the golf courses favored by PerryGolf.
Next year's availability there will be even tighter since so many golf bookings from 2020 and 2021 were rescheduled for 2022. For example, he said, the Old Course at St. Andrews in Scotland and Royal County Down and Royal Portrush, both in Northern Ireland, filled up for 2022 on the day they began accepting bookings for next year.
“Effectively we’re sold out in 2022 for some programs,” Dalgleish said.
As far as this year, PerryGolf was able to accommodate some last-minute bookings for the British Isles. But with a season that only extends into early to mid-October, opportunities were limited. And the firm’s usual winter golf destinations – notably South Africa, New Zealand and Australia – have been “dead in the water,” Dalgleish said.
One bright spot for PerryGolf is its golf cruise product, which it offers in partnership with Azamara. “We just launched our 2023 cruise programs with Azamara and that looks promising. To me that speaks volumes about the resiliency of cruising,” Dalgleish said.
For 2022, the firm’s cruise programs “look very good,” he said, though here too he added a cautionary note due to Covid, saying, “I don’t want to assume that 2022 is going to come off without a hitch.”
Positive outlook, but patience required
Both Dalgleish and travel advisor Valerie Gossett are gung-ho on golf travel’s long-term potential, given the nature of golfers who travel.
“Golfers always want to try out new championship courses, and they have the bandwidth to travel and to try out courses outside the U.S.”
For travel advisors, “the profitability is in putting together groups – that’s repeat business. They always want to go to another tournament; that’s what golfers do,” Gossett said.
Dalgleish also noted that golfers are passionate about the sport, as well as being affluent, high-spending and hungry to try new experiences. “It’s a resilient market,” he said.
In addition, many golf travelers are 60 or older, so while they have the money to travel, they face a shrinking window of opportunity as they age, he noted.
That’s significant in an era when Covid has limited travel. “They’ve lost two years of travel – it’s kind of a perfect storm for revenge travel. And people have got bucket lists, whether it’s to play Kauri Cliffs in New Zealand, to go on safari, or to play golf with your son.”
All those factors make Dalgleish too is optimistic about the outlook for golf travel. “As confidence comes back, international travel will be very strong. We just don’t know when that’s going to be,” he said.
For her part, Gossett is willing to wait. She’s a big believer in patience and long-term business planning. Golf travel has rewarded her efforts in the past, and she trusts fully that it will again.