With the Ashes bowling into Australia next month, the Barmy Army is yours to catch, says Katie McGonagle
Sporting summers don’t get much better than the 2012 Olympics – unless of course it’s 2013, and the home nations notch up a Wimbledon win, Tour de France triumph, US Open golf title, British Lions victory and 3-0 Ashes triumph over long-time cricket rivals Australia.
There’s no time to bask in glory though. Scheduling conflicts with the 2015 Cricket World Cup mean the next Ashes tournament has been brought forward by a year, starting in Brisbane on November 21, followed by Tests in Adelaide, Perth, Melbourne and Sydney, ending on January 7.
Bridging Christmas and the southern hemisphere’s summer, these fixtures provide a lucrative pool of potential bookings during prime holiday time.
There’s no doubt about it: sports and spending go hand-in-hand, so if you don’t know a batsman from a bowler, it’s time to brush up.
The lure of big bookings should prove enough incentive: a report commissioned by Cricket Australia found that during the 2006-07 Ashes, 64% of the 37,000 international visitors who made their way to Australia – the vast majority from the UK – said they wouldn’t have gone if not for the cricket.
Not only that but they stayed longer – 29.5 days on average – and spent more – £6,104 each – than typical holidaymakers. For this year’s series, Cricket Australia expects up to 50,000 visitors.
More recently, the summer’s British & Irish Lions rugby tour saw UK holiday arrivals to Australia up 143% in June compared with the same month last year, providing a £29.3 million boost to the New South Wales economy as tourists filled hotels at rates not seen since the Sydney Olympics in 2000.
HOW TO BOOK
Tickets aren’t just available from direct-sell operators – a handful of trade-friendly firms are licensed to sell ticket-inclusive packages as well. About half of all bookings to Australia are made through travel agents, so there’s no reason to let clients turn to the internet now.
Specialist sports firm Venatour is offering escorted tours accompanied by 2005 Ashes hero Simon Jones and former England one-day international captain Adam Hollioake, with limited places still available on tours pairing the Adelaide and Perth tests, Perth with either Melbourne or Sydney, or twinning Melbourne and Sydney (prices from £5,275).
The operator also offers hotel-and-ticket packages for individual matches, starting at £1,569, or flight-and-ticket deals for those who prefer their own accommodation arrangements – particularly suited to anyone planning to stay with friends or relatives.
The big two also have their own specialist sporting divisions. Thomas Cook Sport has a mix of hotel-and-ticket packages, flight-plus-ticket deals and escorted trips. Tours start from £3,199 including flights, transfers, 10 nights’ accommodation, plus a Bronze Sydney Test match ticket, match programme, new year tour get-together and in-resort representative.
Flights, hotels and tickets are also available for the One Day International matches and Twenty20 games that follow the Ashes in January and February.
Thomas Cook Sport suggests maximising commission by upgrading to better tickets for the best view of the action, and approaching local sports clubs to offer group bookings.
Thomson Sport, meanwhile, has partnered with the Barmy Army supporters’ club to provide the full range of packages, all inclusive of tickets. Availability is very limited for the first three Tests, but the Melbourne and Sydney matches are still on offer. Hotel-and-ticket packages to the former start at £979, while a tour including flights, transfers, hotel and tickets to both Tests costs from £4,795.
Most cricket fans will also be looking for itinerary ideas before, after or even between Tests.
The options are endless: allow a few days for Christmas shopping in Melbourne’s festive arcades, see in the new year with a view of the fireworks on Sydney Harbour Bridge, tag a week’s sunbathing on the Gold or Sunshine Coasts on to the Brisbane fixture, combine the Perth match with a self-drive around Western Australia, or traverse the continent on Great Southern Rail’s The Ghan (pictured below) from Adelaide to Darwin.
Austravel is selling ticket-inclusive packages in association with Gullivers Sports Travel, with suggestions such as a new year holiday in Sydney from £2,649 (including flights, eight nights’ accommodation and a Bronze ticket for Sydney Cricket Ground, departing December 29), or a West Coast self-drive from £2,549 (for a Bronze ticket in Perth with a six-day self-drive through Margaret River, Pemberton and Albany, with Singapore Airlines flights).
Serious cricket fans might even be able to squeeze extra fixtures into their stay: there are warm-up games throughout November, plus the traditional two-day match against the Chairman’s XI team in Alice Springs on November 29-30.
Falling between the Brisbane and Adelaide fixtures, the latter could allow visitors to tick off the Red Centre while still cramming in plenty of cricket. Look out too for the One Day Internationals and Twenty20 fixtures running until February 2, in the same host cities and with the addition of Hobart for any would-be Tasmania travellers.
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