Hospitality company hopes China fans will gorge on 2018 World Cup delights

The official partner of the Russian tournament is hoping to lure more Chinese and Asian clients to buy high-end tickets

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 25 February, 2017, 6:42pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 25 February, 2017, 7:08pm

China’s push to become a global football power is already stirring the nation to strengthen its professional teams, import big-name foreign players and boost grassroots development programmes. However, with World Cup involvement – as hosts or participants – the ultimate goal, it is likely that China’s football fans will lead the way.

BH Hospitality, the official partner offering hospitality packages for Asian fans hoping to watch the 2018 World Cup in Russia, has just set up operations in Hong Kong with an eye on luring more Chinese fans to the tournament.

John Parker, managing director of BH Hospitality in Asia, said the number of world-class sports events being held either in the region or within easy access presented numerous opportunities for Asian and Chinese sports fans to take advantage of hospitality packages.

“We set up an office in Hong Kong to really look at ways we can possibly assist or accelerate growth within this region of some of the products we believe we are capable of servicing,” said Parker, who is also a board member at Fifa’s official hospitality partner Match Hospitality.

“We have purchased the hospitality rights for the region [for the 2018 World Cup and 2022 Qatar World Cup]. We are looking to have sales agents in specific countries and at the same time be the sales agents in specific countries where we can’t find suitable agents.”

BH Hospitality will have access to a portion of the 400,000 hospitality packages available for the 2018 World Cup in Russia – across 64 matches – starting from US$850 and rising up to US$4,000.

Charlie Charters, sales director of sister company Winterhill Hospitality, said China and India represented two major Asian growth markets for the sports hospitality industry. BH and Winterhill are majority shareholders in Match Hospitality.

“The Asian market increased as a whole World Cup upon World Cup,” said Charters. “China’s emergence will be a key factor with their commercial involvement in purchasing football clubs, the growth of their league and having entered into partnership with Fifa [through sponsorship].

“Within China itself there is every indication that the game is being embraced by the Chinese people and that China is the next great power to emerge. Certainly, they have all the tools to do that.”

He said hospitality products bought by Chinese fans for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil represented a 500 per cent increase from the 2010 tournament in South Africa, with US$15 million being spent.

“We would hope to see that significantly increase in the 2018 tournament,” said Charters. “Brazil was a wonderful brand but the distances needed to travel and the logistics were a problem. The relationship with China and Russia, culturally, geographically and politically, is much closer.”

Despite extensive television coverage, Parker expects Chinese fans to take advantage of increased hospitality opportunities in Russia, especially top companies that can use such products to provide staff incentives or entertain business prospects.

“At the moment, the vast majority of potential clients consume the World Cup by TV and there is no reason why it has to be like that,” he said. “There is an opportunity through the internet to construct their own travel tours, for them to attend any and every match at the World Cup.

“We will have road shows and meetings with B2B travel operations and investigate opportunities that are there with the Tencents and Alibabas of the world because China has in many ways jumped the travel shop tour operators, Thomas Cook-type model, and gone straight into the internet realm.”

The China football team are struggling to qualify for the next World Cup. While qualification would be a boost for hospitality prospects Parker doesn’t expect China’s absence from the finals to detract from the lure of watching the tournament live.

“We find the success of our products is measured by the demand for opening matches, semi-finals and finals, and clearly those teams are not known yet,” he said.

“What we’re talking about is attending a sporting spectacle and to say that you were there.”

Although the Fifa World Cup tournaments are the foundation of BH Hopsitality’s business, the company is looking to expand into other major events such as the Olympics, which will see a succession of Asian hosts for the winter and summers Games over the next few years.