Aug 15, 2014

Choosing the perfect activity holiday

Active holidays and sport specific breaks are great fun and also good business. Fiona Bugler reports on a growing travel tend

From Magaluf to Greece, in 2014 you’re as likely to stumble across a runner, cyclist or boot camp participant as you are to stumble down the street in a drunken stupor.

In recent years package holiday hot spots have begun hosting active tourism breaks and providing as much of a challenge and adventure as far flung destinations, but for less cost.


In a recent webinar Canadian tourism expert Resonance Consultancy outlined some of the trends that might shape travel in the future. These included the importance of millenials - the 18 to 30s and their desire for interest based/group holidays. Could the sporty/active break such as a triathlon holiday replace the traditional binge fest that is the package holiday? Or perhaps it’s the obvious destination for the detoxing 30-plus person who needs to do something healthier as they approach middle age but still want a group-based break.

Not surprisingly, sporty holidays appeal to alpha actives - professionals in the 35 to 50-year old category. “Time poor high achievers who are using their holidays as a way to fine-tune their skills or excel at a sport,” explains Clare Tobin, who ran the specialist business for TUI Travel and was recently included in a list of the 60 most influential women in travel. “Being engaged in an activity and learning a skill is a great way for many people to unwind,” she adds.

Google the words active, sporty, running, cycling, swimming, triathlon, yoga and pilates and add the word holidays and you’ll see for yourself that this is a business with plenty of choice. “Everyone from larger leisure travel companies to the small independents are getting in on the active act,” Tobin says.

In the UK the Youth Hostels Association has had a revamp and in Ireland the government has spent €11 million developing the country’s cycle paths with tourism in mind. Big companies such as Thomson have active holidays included in their offering, which the company says gives customers the chance to learn a new activity or enjoy an existing sporting interest while holidaying abroad. Thomson also sells a three-day running event in Barbados as part of a package break.

“Shorter breaks and longer weekends are also gaining in popularity,” Tobin says. “And sporty/active breaks are well suited to two to three days.” Medium-sized companies include Neilson, which calls itself the active holiday specialist and was sold by Thomas Cook in December 2013 to a private equity firm for £9.5 million. The business offers triathlon training camps run by independent company RnR Camps and led by former pro triathlete Richard Allen, as well as running holidays, swim coaching, personal training, natural fitness and yoga retreats.

The list of smaller independents seems to be almost endless. With these companies, the breaks are usually run by sporty young professionals who’ve decided to leave the rat race and live the dream.


Pablo Rodriguez, a former professional triathlete who runs Running Costa Brava with his wife Cristina, is typical of the smaller independent providers.
Made redundant during the recession, at 33 he realised it was time to take the opportunity to do something he loves. For Rodriguez, running is more than just a sport. His typical customers, he says, are aged between 33 and 45, but he welcomes all ages.

Recently he’s hosted a 79-year-old woman who managed to run 100k in four days and a mother and her 12-year-old son. Many of his customers are North American city people who find running on the trails is the perfect antidote to city life.

He believes the key to the success of his business is that the breaks provide a challenge, as well as allowing people to see parts of the country they would never see if they weren’t running. “People who come on our holidays experience something completely different,” Rodriguez says.

“They often go home different people, less worried about the time on their watch and more concerned about enjoying the experience.

“Most important of all is that it’s about fun. A new idea I have to develop has come from a group of women who visited - singles’ breaks for runners.”

10 to try

  1. La Manga Club Resort, Spain. From golf to a spa break, La Manga has everything you could possibly ask for. The resort also hosts specialist cycling and fitness holidays. Ideal for families, as well as those after a specialist break.
  2. Club La Santa, Lanzarote. Host to Ironman events and popular with triathletes, La Santa offers a number of aerobic classes, as well as multisports. Good for families, winter training and groups training for marathons and triathlons.
  3. Neilson, locations worldwide. Offers skiing, sailing and beach holidays, as well as swimming, triathlon, yoga, zumba, windsurfing and waterskiing breaks.
  4. Girona Cycling, Spain. Run by triathlon coaches, a sports science-based appraisal is offered that includes video analysis and sports massage.
  5. Running Costa Brava, Spain. Run by a former triathlete and natural runner. For runners and walkers wanting to have fun over trails in a relaxed and friendly environment.
  6. Chilly Powder, France. Cycling, kayaking, trail running and mountain biking in the mountains of Morzine. The summer sees the resort transform from a ski resort to a mountain biker’s playground.
  7. Yoga Traveller, locations worldwide. Offers a wide variety of yoga holidays. Venues include Ireland, the Swiss Alps and Morocco.
  8. Boot Camp Marbella, Spain. With an emphasis on getting in shape and losing weight, programmes include exercise classes, nutrition and spa treatments.
  9. Fusion Fitness, locations worldwide. Choose four, seven or 10 personalised one on one activities and treatments from four elements that include cardio, strength and sport, mind and body and renewal.
  10. SwimTrek, Europe and North America. Open water swimming tours in great locations. Suitable for anyone who swims for fitness. Depending on the tour, a certain standard is required. For Swift tours you need to be able to swim one mile in 35 minutes and a mile on 50 minutes for the Scenic tour.

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