Mountain races, endurance, and/or Ultratrail have experienced important developments in the last 10 years in terms of both participants and the public, with more than 8300 races posted by the International Trail running Association accredited organizations in 2016, compared to the 1651 in 2015 [1
]. Even if, according to Wilson [2
], this kind of sport tourism competition is considered a minor sport event, generating limited economic activity, mountain public administrations (i.e., municipalities or union of municipalities) are becoming increasingly interested in hosting these trails in their mountain valleys.
In Italy, the data for 2015 show 183 endurance races in mountain contexts occurring during different months [3
], and other circuits have been planned for the coming years [4
]. There is, of course, a concentration during the summer months (the high season: June, July, and August), but a significant number of endurance races are organised during the spring and autumn, expanding the tourist season. According to data provided by the Trail-Running Association for 2015 [3
], the year of the last edition of the CollonTrek, the Alpine regions host 108 races (59% of the total), and 60 of these races (56%) are organised during the so-called low season.
Endurance trails represent a particular activity among the events connected with the concept of sport tourism. Although a few events have gained international appeal (above all, the Tor des Geants and the Ultra-Trail Du Mont-Blanc®), there are a limited number of professional athletes involved in this kind of sport activity. On the other hand, the specific context in which these events are held requires the presence of qualified personnel in order to guarantee the participants’ safety. Consequently, some specific mountain associations are involved in the organisation of the trail, above all the “Corpo Nazionale del Soccorso Alpino e Speleologico” (National Unit for Mountain and Speleological Rescue; translation provided by the Authors). Another significant peculiarity or this kind of small-scale sport tourism event is the public itself; in fact, differently from the great majority of sport competitions, the public does not need a ticket in order access the trail. Therefore, it is difficult to calculate the direct economic return for the organisation derived from the public because it can be difficult to identify the people who travelled specifically to participate as spectators at the competition.
Furthermore, this kind of sport tourism event may have important consequences for local tourism: in fact, differently from the major sport tourism events, it can be considered as a form of sustainable tourism [1
] in terms of economic and social implications thanks to both the direct and indirect impacts on the local community. In fact, in addition to some economic direct effects on the area, it can improve the visibility and attractiveness of the mountain valleys and therefore be a vector for improving the tourist sector.
In this general context, this manuscript presents a specific case study on the last edition of the CollonTrek trail in 2015 (being the Collon Trail a biannual event, the next competition is planned for September 2017) in order to estimate the impact on the economy of the mountain valley in which this race has been hosted and to compare the economic revenue with the public funds invested by the public administrations. Moreover, thanks to a set of devoted questions, the athletes were asked to analyze the social impact of CollonTrek as well as some indirect economic impacts.
This work is organised as follows:
provides the conceptual framework on the concept of sport tourism and the different kinds of sport tourist.
focuses on the methodological approach adopted in the case study, CollonTrek, in order to analyse the economic implications of the trail as well as the athletes’ attitudes.
focuses on the main results from the application of the methodology and discusses these results.
Finally, the conclusion presents the strong points and limitations of the research in order to make suggestions for further studies.
2. Conceptual Framework
It is popular opinion that the concept of sport tourism dates back to 1966, thanks to the first formulation by Don Anthony in his book Sport and Tourism [5
]. Starting from this work, where the author tried to understand the role of sport in tourists’ holidays [6
], the literature associated with sport tourism has shown more and more interest from researchers, and this theme has been studied sometimes from the point of view of sport and sometimes from the point of view of tourism.
In effect, the concept of sport tourism is broad, because it is related to both the direct and indirect benefits from tourists who travel in order to actively participate in or attend an event associated with sports [7
], with a wide range of activities involved and an increasing attendance [8
]. Moreover, some sport tourism fields may include “niche activities”, such as adventure sports [9
]. Furthermore, as Ritchie and Adair point out, a wide variety of disciplines and sub-disciplines may contribute to the study of the sport tourism phenomenon [10
Therefore, a univocal and shared definition does not exist [11
]. In chronological order, definitions have been offered by Hall [12
], Standeven and De Knop [13
], Gammon and Robinson [14
], Pigeassou [15
], and Ross [16
Despite some differences among the authors, if the attention is paid to the sport tourist, it is possible to divide it into three main categories [11
People who travel in order to participate in a competition (Active-based Sport Tourism);
People who travel to participate as spectators at a competition (Event-based Sport Tourism). This category also contains tourists who have the characteristic of “fan”;
People who travel to see the most famous sport places for specific events, museums, or personalities (Nostalgia-based Sport Tourism).
These macro-categories can be divided into sub-categories, and, as far as active-based sport tourism is concerned, “amateur” sport events have become more common, and researchers have focused their attention on participants in this kind of event [22
Other typologies of “participants” can play an important role in order to evaluate the economic and social implications of sport tourism events, such as volunteers (for the organisation, the athletes’ safety), the media, and residents [24
]. Figure 1
summarises the different “actors” involved in a sport tourism event.
The different typologies of sport tourists depend on the specific sport tourism event. In accordance with scholars, sport events are classified into five typologies. The categories from A to D ([25
], p. 26) have the common wording “major”, intended as importance of the consequences of the sport events even if not all major events can have as many major economic implications. This classification was implemented by Wilson ([2
], p. 68), who added a fifth category (category E), which takes into consideration minor events, with local consequences, as reported in Table 1
(adapted from Gratton et al. [25
] and Wilson [2
“Major” or “minor”, the links between sport events and their economic implications are recognised by several studies that highlight both the strong and critical consequences of the event on the host area [23
]. These studies often focus their attention on mega events—i.e., the Olympic Games [29
]—or the so-called “hallmark” events—i.e., the Super Bowl [31
]—paying attention also to the social impacts of the events [32
]. Other authors, however, turn their attention to the small-medium dimension events [2
], starting from the assumption that the so-called small events (the afore-mentioned category E) may have more positive repercussions on the host community than the mega ones [34
]. Furthermore, some studies underline that a small-scale sport tourism event can be a viable form of sustainable tourism for a local community [36
]. The concept of sustainable tourism emerged in the ’90 as an evolution of sustainable development [38
], deriving from the Report “Our common future” [39
]. Even if scholars have debated the terms as well as the definitions since the beginning, in this study the authors refer to the official definition provided by UNEP/WTO in 2005. According to this definition, sustainable tourism is a “Tourism that takes full account of its current and future economic, social and environmental impacts, addressing the needs of visitors, the industry, the environment and host communities
], pp. 11–12).
As far as the economic impact of small-scale sport events is concerned, however, some evidence from past studies indicate that the most important economic benefits at the local level are related to two main fields: food and accommodations [41
]. Daniels and Norman [42
], for instance, comparing seven events in South Carolina, USA, in 2001, show that lodging and meals held the top two positions for each event. On the other side, “entertainment” ranked lowest in each case, except for one (the youth softball tournament). In their discussion, the authors show how their study supports previous research carried out by Nogawa, Yamaguchi, and Hagi [43
], who concluded that sport tourists spend little on activities outside the sport event.
4. Materials and Method
4.1. The Case Study
The CollonTrek trail is a transnational mountain race competition that is held every two years on the first weekend of September. For the last event, in 2015, the days chosen by the organisation were the 4th and 5th of September.
The path of the trail is located between the Unité du Grand Combin (Aosta Valley, Italy) and the Val d’Herens (Canton du Valais, Switzerland) northwest of the Pennine Alps. As far as the Aosta Valley is concerned, the Unité du Grand Combin consists of 11 municipalities, each contributing €1000 for the organisation of the event (a total contribution of €11,000).
The trail starts from the Municipality of Valpelline (Italian side) and, after 22 km and 2500 m of difference in altitude, reaches the Municipality of Arolla in Switzerland, crossing the Alps through the “Col du Collon” alpine pass (3080 m a.s.l. (above sea level)). Therefore, the path is distributed as follow: 48% mountain path, 30% hiking path, 16% glacier, and 2% road.
a contains the official map of the trail, Figure 2
b shows the territory, whereas Figure 2
c represents the location of this alpine transnational area.
Differently from all other endurance trails in the mountain context, a significant part of the CollonTrek trail is on a glacier (the Arolla Glacier at about 3000 m a.s.l.). Therefore, participating athletes need special sport equipment (crampons), and special safety procedures have to be planned. The CollonTrek 2015 edition involved 920 participants, of which 915 took part in the competition. According to the data provided by the organisation, most of the athletes were amateurs.
4.2. Data Collection and Analysis
Primary data were collected in two ways.
On the one hand, the CollonTrek organisation had its own complete statistics, collected during the athletes’ registration, on the gender, age, and country of the participants. Furthermore, data related to accommodations were also available thanks to the official statistics of the organizing committee that achieved them directly from the hotels involved.
For the collection of other data related to the evaluation of the economic and social implications of the endurance trails, the methodology consisted of a questionnaire provided to the participants two weeks after the end of the CollonTrek trail.
The questionnaire was sent to all the 915 athletes and after a week, a reminder was sent. After the first mailing, 121 athletes responded (13.8%), and after the reminder, another 59 athletes responded (6.7%).
Furthermore, the research group carried out a semi-structured interview with the president of the organising committee in order to examine some aspects of the organisation of the trail related to the identification of suppliers. This semi-structured interview was necessary to better understand the amount of total revenue that can be considered a direct economic impact for the host community. In particular, the interview was focused on sharpening the data related to the registration fee, the cost and the origin (local or regional) of the athletes’ meals, the origin of the suppliers, sponsorships and the public funds provided by the Unité di Grand Combin municipalities for the organisation of the event. This information was necessary to estimate the economic revenue from the Collon trek that can be considered as a direct benefit for the host valley.
The questionnaire provided to the athletes was divided into four sections related to:
4.2.1. Personal Data
Despite the availability of official statistics provided by the organisation, the questionnaire contained fields related to age, gender, education and origin. The collection of these data in our survey was useful in order to evaluate if the respondents could be considered as a sample of all the participants. Furthermore, statistical analysis were made in order to evaluate the role of origin, age and education.
4.2.2. Preliminary Questions
The preliminary section contained three questions. The first question was useful in order to divide the athletes between professionals and amateurs, the second in order to determine whether the athletes came alone or with other people, and the third for verifying whether the athletes paid for lodging in the Valpelline Valley.
4.2.3. Athletes’ Expenditure
According to other studies focused on small-medium scale sport tourism events [30
], the fields on the athletes’ expenditure take into consideration the following categories: restaurants, bar and pub, souvenirs, local food products, sport equipment, informative materials, local public transport, fuel (only if in the valley), and culture (e.g., museums). A specific field (hike with guide) was added because it was a specific added activity provided by the organisation.
4.2.4. Athletes’ Social and Economic Perceptions
This section of the questionnaire was composed of 13 questions in order to understand the participants’ attitude/evaluation connected with the social and economic aspects of the event. Using a Likert scale [44
], for each affirmation the athlete could answer using a scale from 1 (strongly disagree) to 5 (strongly agree).
4.2.5. Data Analysis
The data analysis was carried out using descriptive statistics: frequency, percentages, means, medians, and statistical indexes: Cramer’s V, Mann-Whitney U-test and Kruskal-Wallis χ2 test.
5.1. The Athletes’ Profile
In total, the survey involved 180 athletes, representing 19.7% of the total. Table 2
reports the profile of the athletes.
The comparison between the statistics provided by the organisational committee (related to all participants) and the data we obtained on gender, age and origin showed that the 180 respondents can be considered as a sample of all of the participants on the trail because the differences between the sample and all the athletes are always minus then 5%. Only for the Age variable, the class age 41–55 is slightly overrepresented in spite of the class age 26–40.
Consequently, the declared expenditure provided by the sample was considered as the basis on which the total athletes’ expenditure was estimated. Out of the 180 athletes, 175 (97.2%) defined themselves as amateurs and 5 as professionals. Ninety-five participants (52.8%) joined the competition with other people. The total number of accompanying people was calculated at 217. Referring to all the respondents (n = 180), this means an average datum of 1.5 accompanying people for each participant.
contains a segmentation by origin of the Italian athletes. This subdivision has been proposed in order to show the “weight” of the local athletes (from Aosta Valley, the region in which the trail is organized) respect to other Italian regions. This aspect, in fact, may affect some outputs of the study both in terms of expenditure (accommodation and fuel, see Section 6.1
—The athletes’ expenditure) and the athletes’ opinions on some social and economic implications of the trail (see Section 6.2
—Athletes’ social and economic perceptions).
5.2. The Athletes’ Expenditure
For the athletes’ expenditure, two kinds of data were taken into account:
Primary data provided by the organisational committee concerning the registration, transport, accommodations, and sport equipment;
Data from the answers offered by the 180 participants in this study for the other considered fields.
Apart from the public funds, the most important economic items were the athletes’ registrations, the private sponsors, and the transports. The registration for the 2015 event was fixed at €63 for the Italian side and 95 Swiss francs (€88) for the Swiss side. Private sponsors contributed wit €50,000, as the president of the organisational committee pointed out. In this case, the sponsorship money was paid to the local organizing committee, composed by the Unité of Grand Combin and the Association des Communes du Val d’Hérens. Furthermore, the transfer of the Swiss athletes from Arolla (Switzerland) to Valpelline (Italy) by bus the day before the trail was provided by the organisation. The cost was fixed at €22 for each participant. Finally, Table 3
reports the number of pairs of crampons purchased or rented by the athletes. The organisational committee provided this specific sport equipment for the participants. All other participants had to bring their crampons with them.
estimates the athletes’ expenditure related to accommodations.
reports the estimations of the athletes’ expenditure for the other fields of the questionnaire. Table 5
is divided into three different scenarios: conservative, average and liberal scenario. In fact, the athletes have been asked to indicate an amount of expenditure depending on a range. In Table 5
—Conservative scenario—the responses offered by the respondents were multiplied with the minimum value of the category (i.e., for the category €1–€10, the average value considered was €1). In Table 5
—Average scenario—the responses offered by the respondents were multiplied with the average value of the category (i.e., for the category €1–€10, the average value considered was €5). Finally, in Table 5
—Liberal scenario—the responses offered by the respondents were multiplied with the maximum value of the category (i.e., for the category €1–€10, the average value considered was €10). Only for the field “fuel (only if in the valley)” was the highest value of the category always adopted (i.e., for the category €11–€20, the value considered was €20), starting from the assumption that fuel is normally done in “factor 10”.
Considering the particularity of this kind of competition and, more specifically, of the CollonTrek trail, the research tried to point out whether it was possible to outline a correlation between the athletes’ expenditure and the participants’ origin.
contains the Cramer’s V statistical index calculated on the same fields as in Table 5
Finally, Table 7
shows the revenue of the event divided into two main categories. “Revenue A” contains data provided by the organisational committee thanks to its official statistics, whereas “Revenue B” reports the data from the study conducted with the 180 athletes. Starting from the results of the sample, a proportion to all 915 participants was calculated. According to the different scenario adopted, the calculated proportion of Revenue B is divided into three patterns: Revenue Ba
(Conservative scenario), Revenue Bb
(Average Scenario) and Revenue Bc
The second important issue in this study is related to estimating the percentage of the economic revenue from the trail that can be considered as a direct benefit for the host community, the Unité du Grand Combin.
An interview with the president of the organising committee was carried out in order to analyse some specific aspects of the organisation related to the supply of the raw materials and the identification of the suppliers in order to determine the short-range (Unité du Grand Combin) suppliers. According to the organising committee, for the athletes’ meals (two meals included in the registration fee were provided by the organisation to 920 participants), the related cost was 7.5 €/person. Out of this total, €5 (2/3) were invested in the area of the Unité du Grand Combin for the purchase of local food products (e.g., cheese, wine).
All other suppliers were identified in the Aosta Valley (media, transport of the athletes, helicopter for the media, etc.—medium-range) or out of the region (for the crampons provided by the organisation, the companies are located in Austria—long-range).
contains all of the items that can be considered short-range and, consequently, the direct economic impacts on the host community.
Finally, Table 9
reports the direct economic return for the host valley of the Collon Trek, comparing it with the global economic return datum for the three different scenarios.
5.3. Athletes’ Social and Economic Perceptions
As previously mentioned, the questionnaire contained 13 questions related to the evaluation of the social impact of CollonTrek as well as some indirect economic impacts.
The athletes were asked to give their opinions indicating a value between 1 (strongly disagree) to 5 (strongly agree), in accordance with the Likert scale.
Some of the fields of the questionnaire concentrated on the perception of social aspects of the trail, according to previous studies that, on the one hand, affirm the role of this kind of sport tourism event in providing more social benefits than big events [45
] and, on the other hand, suggest that small-scale sport events have fewer environmental impacts [37
Due to the particularity of this sport event and in accordance with other studies carried out in this area [46
], a specific focus on the consequences on the mountain paths was proposed. Figure 3
reports the average data.
The non-parametric Mann-Whitney U-test and Kruskal-Wallis χ2 test were used in order to identify the role of origin (Italians and Foreign), age and education in evaluating the athletes’ perception (Table 10
reports the differences in mean by the Athletes’ origins.
This paper discussed the estimation of the economic impact of a particular small-size sport event, a mountain trail. At the same time, the study aimed to analyse the athletes’ evaluation of the social implications of the event.
As far as the hypotheses of the research are concerned, it is possible to affirm that all are supported by the results, because:
An important economic return on the public funds invested by the municipalities was estimated by the researchers with an economic multiplier from 17.62 to 18.92 depending on the scenario adopted. In other words, for each euro invested by the public administration of the Unité of Gran Combin, an economic return form €17.62 to €18.92 has been estimated. Furthermore, the highest percentage of the economic value from the trails, specifically 32% (Conservative scenario), 34.07 (Average scenario) or 36.47 (Liberal scenario), can be considered a direct benefit for the host community.
There may also be indirect benefits for the host area coming from the organisation of the trail, especially due to the intentions expressed by the foreign athletes to return to this area for tourism.
According to the research findings, these kinds of minor sport events are the roots of sustainability in terms of economic and social implications of the sport tourist activities.
This paper, moreover, seems to support the idea that it is possible to consider a small-size sport event of this kind as a hallmark for the host community, and, in the case of CollonTrek, this regular event has significant potential for the local valleys. Additionally, the work also supports some of the benefits highlighted by Higham ([34
], p. 85): “local community more likely to share the positive economic benefits associated with sport”, “greater levels of local access to sporting occasions”, and “infrastructure generally existed”. Furthermore, this specific sport tourism activity may be used, if not for mitigating tourist seasonality [50
], at least as a vehicle to expand the high season to the first week of September. In line with others studies [41
], however, this research seems to confirm the conclusions of Nogawa, Yamaguchi, and Hagi [43
], highlighting how the direct economic impacts from the event are polarised into two specific fields: accommodations and food. As the data show, the athletes did not invest their money in fields not strictly connected with the competition (i.e., culture and hike with guide).
This study has some limitations, and the main of them is recognisable in the respondents. Firstly, as reported in “The athletes’ profile” section (Section 5.1
), the 180 respondents can be considered as a sample of all of the participants for the variables related to age, gender and origin. For the Age variable, moreover, the class age 41–55 of the sample is slightly overrepresented in spite of the class age 26–40. Future studies should sharpen the sample in order to include other characteristics, i.e., the education and occupation in order to sharpen the analysis. Secondly, due to the specificity of this kind of event (the spectators in loco do not pay to attend the event, and it could be difficult to determine the real sport tourists from the “only” tourist), the survey took into consideration only the athletes. As shown, though, an average datum of 1.5 accompanying people for each athlete was estimated. This datum, taken together with the athletes’ perceptions related to tourism after the event (numbers 9 and 10 of Figure 3
), suggests that the indirect economic impacts may be interesting, but more research is necessary in order to find out the real impact on the host community. Therefore, a direct engagement with spectators in future studies should be taken into consideration.