Rugby continues to buck the gloomy economic outlook as sales of expensive tour packages for the 2011 World Cup in New Zealand hit record levels.
Earlier this month, figures revealed the healthy state of the Six Nations championship and organizers of English travel packages for next year's Sept. 9-Oct. 23 event have reported a 37 percent increase in sales compared with same stage of the 2007 tournament in France.
England Rugby Travel, the official travel company for England fans, have reported revenues in excess of 1.2 million pounds after six weeks of packages being on sale.
The most popular package is a 19-night quarterfinals-to-final option starting from $6,158 for a basic international flights and match tickets deal and higher for full "all inclusive" arrangement with accommodation, internal flights and various excursions.
Justin Hopwood, head of sales and marketing for English rugby travel, said he was pleased but not entirely surprised by the figures.
"This was always going to be a special event as with the growth of the tournament this could be the last time New Zealand host it," he told Reuters on Wednesday.
"We find that rugby World Cup is very different from a soccer World Cup. It is less about the pure match attendance and more inclusive of the whole experience.
"With New Zealand being so far away people have decided to make it a "once in a lifetime" trip, taking in all the great tourist opportunities on offer alongside the rugby.
"The price is something they have had to work towards. The interest has been high on many fans' agenda for a long time — sales are probably two-thirds towards to top-end packages.
"They've seen this as a chance to combine it with a RWC and they know New Zealand will deliver a World Cup like no other — the whole country is immersed in the sport."
Comparisons with 2007 could be misleading as so many fans opted for short visits, sometimes several of them, and the best-sellers then were three-day packages.
Nevertheless, the early figures for 2011 certainly indicate that the sport remains in a healthy place and continues to attract fans with the time and money.
"People say that sports tourism is a growing market but it is not as general as that," said Hopwood. "A lot of our target market are people not necessarily affected by the economic conditions. Those kinds of people want an experience for their money and prioritize that possibly over value for money.
"They have been saving towards this for a long time and they want to make memories for a lifetime."