Examining the Economic Significance of the Surfer Traveler

Nancy M. Hritz
Alexia F. Franzidis
Sport tourism has received much academic attention over the last decade largely due to the significant economic impact it has on travel destinations through visitor expenditure (Ritchie & Adair, 2002). As such, there has been a recognized need for further research on active forms of sport tourism (Kurtzman and Zauhar, 1995), and in particular the expenditures and spending behaviors of the participants (Gibson, 1998). This information would be of great use to destination managers and marketers alike.

One form of active sports tourism that has received little attention, in relation to their economic impact, is the surfer traveler. Perhaps this is due to the ambiguity of surfing as a “real” sport, or that surfing is concentrated to only a few areas (Buckley, 2002; Polzat-Newcomb, 1999), or due to the laid back characteristics or stigma attached to the surfing community as being “young, unemployed or uneducated” (Nelson, Pendleton and Vaughn, 2007, p. 32). While the scant research in this area suggests significant expenditure in the host community (Lazarow, 2007), little has been done to segment the market to determine specific spending characteristics. Therefore, the purpose of this study was to calculate the economic impact of this niche segment of sports tourism, and examine differences in spending habits based on the number of years the participants have been involved in the sport.

Data for this study was collected over a year long period with sampling in spring, summer, fall and winter seasons in a coastal destination in the southeastern part of the United States. Participants were approached on local beaches after exiting the water from surfing. The survey contained basic demographic questions and those on surfing experience, such as the number of years spent surfing, and travel behavior questions such as total daily travel budget and length of stay.

A total of 706 surveys were collected. The total economic impact from those participating in the survey alone was estimated at 1.4 million. An analysis of variance (ANOVA) revealed significant differences between years surfing and travel budget (F = 3.959, p = .009), whereby the individuals with more years surfing spent more than those with less experience. Post hoc tests revealed a significant jump at three years of experience surfing. After three years, spending levels increased. In this sample the average daily travel budget jumped from $75 for those surfing for only three years, while those with 4 or more experience spent an average $150 daily. In addition, there were more experienced surfers than not, with 64% of the sample with more than three years spent surfing.

The findings suggest that surfers can have an important economic impact on a destination. They also indicate the surfer tourist can be a lucrative tourism segment for destination. As the more experienced surfers have a higher travel budget, local communities could consider how to focus their marketing to this group. However, further investigation is needed to ascertain their spending habits. Do more experienced surfers prefer luxury accommodations or are they purchasing items related to their sport?