Forbes India 15th Anniversary Special

Not just cricket, sports tourism is also driven by football, tennis and F1: Monish Shah of DreamSetGo

The founder and CEO of the luxury sports travel company on the role of HNIs and corporates, the favourite tournaments for Indians and the lure of the Olympics

Kathakali Chanda
Published: Jun 28, 2024 10:36:18 AM IST
Updated: Jun 28, 2024 10:46:51 AM IST

Monish Shah, Founder and CEO, DreamSetGoMonish Shah, Founder and CEO, DreamSetGo

When he was an investment banker, Monish Shah would often visit London for work, but he would fail to score a ticket to watch his favourite soccer team, Chelsea, in action. Or even if he did, it would burn a hole in his pocket. A few attempts later, he decided to take matters in his own hands. In 2019, he launched DreamSetGo, a luxury sports experiences and travel platform within the Dream Sports group, and signed up with a number of marquee sports tournaments as their official travel agent in India. Till date, DreamSetGo has taken nearly  25,000 sports fans to catch the action across the globe; among them 15,000 plus in the last year itself. The company has also catered to 25-plus sporting events, including the Australian Open, Wimbledon, the T20 World Cups and the Olympics. In an episode of Sports UnLtd, Shah describes the growth of sports tourism in India. Edited excerpts:
 

Q. When you started DreamSetGo, sports tourism was new to India. What convinced you, especially as Covid hit almost immediately after you launched?
We had spoken to a lot of individuals with a love for sports, individuals who, every time they travel, tried to catch some game or a sporting event. And our research told us there was a huge opportunity here. That's why from October 2019, we started building DreamSetGo.

But, six months down the line, Covid hit, and we took a step back saying when there's a storm at sea, the fishermen repair their nets. Similarly, we took this time to keep ourselves relevant by reaching out to the right audience and build the right kind of partnerships with athletes and legends. At the same time, we focussed on our main goal—partnerships with the best sporting bodies, sports franchises around the world, and started building our team so that when normality returned, and fans went back to the stadium, we were ready. I must give credit to our board who were extremely supportive during this period—through this time, we signed up with three football clubs (Chelsea, Manchester City and Manchester United) and partnered with F1 experiences, Wimbledon and the ICC. Besides, we went beyond tournaments and built experiences. We’ve offered over 150 unique sports experiences till now. These include meet and greets with legends, master classes, panel discussions, witnessing the first team train, a private tour of the stadium with legends etc.

Q. What’s your rationale behind partnering with a tournament?
Two things: Official rights and access. We want to make sure that we’re able to give our clients official packages, top tickets and hospitality products and ensure beforehand they know about what’s on offer—where they’re sitting, what kind of experience they are going to have, if it's a hospitality product what is the F&B etc—and that they’re paying official prices as opposed to the absurd rates in the secondary market.  

Q. How has sports tourism grown over the past few years?

At a staggering pace. Overall tourism in India is growing at around 10 percent CAGR, while sports tourism is growing at around 17.5 percent CAGR driven by an increasing want from millennials who prefer experiences over ownership. We're also seeing the luxury space and experiences space in India increasing year on year—it’s expected to increase 3.5x by 2030 and with international travel increasing, sports remain at the heart of it. It's growing at a much faster pace and we want to capitalise on that. In the last three years, we've seen huge demand in all tournaments, going beyond just cricket—we've serviced nearly 25,000 people in the last two and a half years, of which 15,000 were in the last year alone. While cricket leads the way, people are also willing to travel internationally for F1, tennis, football, rugby.

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Q. DreamSetGo is positioned as a premium sports travel company. Give us a breakdown of the different customer groups.
We break up our target audience into three buckets. The first are corporate travellers. Like, let’s say, a private wealth management company looking to take their top 20 clients for the Super Bowl. We get their hospitality tickets, hotels, flights and build some experiences around that—this time it was in Vegas, and there was a U2 event happening, so the clients went for that.

The second bucket is HNIs that are either travelling with friends and family, or as a group for things like chapter retreats or a learning event. And the third category is the upper middle class diehard sports fan who has a sports event on their bucket list.

Q. What’s a typical package priced at?
It varies depending on the sporting event and what sort of product you are opting for. Typically for corporates, the sweet spot is anywhere between Rs 2 lakh and 3 lakh depending on how far they're going. If it's a smaller, niche corporate client that's looking to take 15-20 people and give a high-end experience, it could go north of Rs 6 lakh per person. HNI groups we’ve seen ranging from Rs 5 lakh to Rs 7 lakh, and then for UHNIs we’ve seen this extend to even Rs 10 lakh.

Then there’s the type of tournament. A Wimbledon package, for example, is more expensive because the rates for all the elements—say, semis or finals and hospitality tickets—can be very high.

Q. Which sports and tournaments are most popular with Indians? Are there any surprise packages in terms of travel choices given that India is a cricket dominant country?

Cricket dominates for sure—it is more than 60 percent of the overall mix. We're seeing another 25 percent, which is a mix of tennis, football and F1. Wimbledon is at the top of the demand for tennis, although there is a good pull for French Open as well. For football, Premier League games are very high demand, especially when it comes to the last leg of the season, aside from Champions League, the Euros and the World Cups. And nowadays, we see a huge demand around rugby, golf etc, and less than 5 percent right now is for NBA, NFL and other sports.

But we’re also seeing an increase in demand for non-cricket sports and we anticipate the above mix to change drastically over the next two years.

Q. 2024 is a big-bang year for sports fans. There’s the T20 World Cup, Olympics and the Euros, aside from the usual calendar of Grand Slams and foreign leagues. Where are Indians travelling to this year?
We’ve seen the highest demand this year for the Paris Olympics. Even when we signed on as exclusive agents, our motto was to get as many Indians to Paris as possible. We wanted to educate our clients in terms of what disciplines are happening on what dates, what Indian participation will be there, potential medal events and contestants etc. We're also seeing a lot of clients for this event—HNIs, senior corporate officers and also upper middle-class Indians. And then we're seeing large contingents from the government as well that will be travelling. Aside from this, the demand for Wimbledon is just increasing, and we are seeing a huge demand from Tier 2 as well.

Q. So sports tourism is spreading beyond the metros?
Absolutely. We have clients from Jaipur, Mohali, Raipur, Chandigarh, Ahmedabad, Pune that are regularly visiting London to watch the quarterfinals, semifinals and finals of Wimbledon. The Tier 2 cities are demanding these experiences as much as the metros.

Q. Five years of dabbling in luxury sports tourism—what are the key learnings for you?
The number one learning is that we have to be persistent, keep going at it. When we started off Covid hit, but we’ve managed to come out on the positive side of it with our client-centric approach. We believe this is the decade for India. We're seeing a lot of sports that's going to take place in India over the next decade—three ICC events, and the government has also declared its intentions of hosting the 2036 Olympics. We're seeing a lot of infrastructure and investments being made in sports within the country, which makes us believe that sports outside of cricket will continue to grow at a rapid pace as well.