Sport tour operator Gullivers expecting an uplift from this year’s tournament
With an estimated 466,000 international visitors flocking to England for this year’s Rugby World Cup, companies with an interest in rugby do not necessarily need to have their names brandished on every stadium’s advertising boards to reap the benefits.
Take Gullivers Sports Travel, Britain’s oldest sport tour operator which has had rugby packages at the forefront of its business since its earliest days. They have opted not to pursue an official licence for the tournament. Yet the convergence of the world’s best teams and players on UK shores for the six-week spectacular will surely be something to be embraced by a group so invested in rugby.
“Inevitably there will be an uplift in commercial players wanting to be associated with the game,” says Gullivers managing director Sam Seward. “If you think back to 2003, when England won [the World Cup], the sort of groundswell of interest in grassroots rugby, even just getting sponsorship for my local rugby club, I remember being much easier.”
“Having something like England 2015 on our doorstep stimulates the rugby public’s interest and broadens the rugby public in general so people are more interested in the idea of using an international rugby fixture as the focal point of their weekend.
“That’s the core of what Gullivers’ Six Nations product is, so we’re probably going to benefit from that halo effect.”
The World Cup may be missing from Gullivers’ packaged events, but little else is. From comprehensive Six Nations coverage to Dubai Sevens getaways to the Lions’ 2017 tour of New Zealand, the international rugby calendar is well covered for corporate weekends or scrumthemed holidays.
Just today, the firm owned by the TUI Group has announced a new four-year partnership with the Scottish Rugby Union to add to its existing relationship with the Welsh Rugby Union, which Seward says has helped Gullivers “get involved with other commercial partners of theirs, so we’d be supported by people like Natwest and RBS in our activities.”
Following the World Cup, Seward anticipates more of those big commercial partnerships to follow a larger general customer base as the country - from boardroom to bootroom - gets the rugby bug.
Not that it is insignificant now, mind. Uptake on Gullivers’ Six Nations travelling packages – “our bread and butter”, according to Seward – has increased by 20 per cent in the last two years.
“It’s a growth market, people are more interested in rugby, in travelling for rugby. There’s been a general increase in the rugby public’s interest in following the teams and getting away,” he says. “And having been appointed the official agents for Wales, that sort of exposure has really helped us grow our profile. It’s helped us grow our audience from a very, very loyal customer base of people who come back year on year to reaching lots of new customers.”
Corporate clients are increasingly looking to Gullivers to put together hospitality packages for Six Nations fixtures on the continent or a week in Hong Kong. “That’s really for us of late,” Seward explains. “Companies taking their top 10 or 20 performing employees away on a rugby supporters’ weekend.”
The opportunities for new destinations are growing too, with sevens tournaments set to be introduced in Singapore, Vancouver and Paris – “really exciting event-led rugby occasions, broadening the international audience and introducing new destinations... We’re quite excited we’ll be able to combine a rugby weekend in Vancouver with a bit of skiing in Whistler.”
“As we approach the Olympic year  we might well see much bigger names, maybe a few huge rugby stars, especially from the Southern Hemisphere sides, migrate from fifteens rugby into sevens because they want the chance to win an Olympic medal. That will ultimately have a massive positive boost on the profile of sevens.”
In the weeks and months approaching the World Cup kick-off in October, as Stuart Lancaster narrows down the list of names in his squad, the directors at Gullivers will set fixed EBIT-driven objectives as well as other KPIs such as market share, profile and visibility for its key tournaments.
Unlike Lancaster, whose emotions will spend the tournament’s length balanced on a tightrope between disaster and glory, things can only really go one way for Gullivers. Cricket, motorsport, football and other sports will of course contribute, but rugby looks set to grow in importance.
“Rugby’s ingrained in the business and it has been since the beginning,” says Seward. Do not expect that to change once November rolls around.