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The Rise of the Sweaty Pound and its Impact on North Wales Tourism

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Ironmen, ultrarunners, mountain bikers and plain old marathoners: increasing numbers of us are planning our holidays around what some might consider bloody hard work.

Indeed, for some of us, it’s the only acceptable way to achieve that enviable holiday glow, and the only holiday snaps we want to share on our socials. Some might call it extreme sports tourism. Others call it the rise of the sweaty pound.

What is the sweaty pound?

You may have sweated virtual blood and tears to earn it, but that’s not what we’re talking about here. The ‘sweaty pound’ is the cash increasing numbers of us are choosing to spend in increasing quantities, on taking part in invigorating challenges and pursuits.

At one end of the scale marathons, ultra runs and triathlons. At the other, a holiday which takes in mountain biking, cycling, hiking or any other kind of active experience.

According to Gwion Llwyd, owner of Dioni Holiday Cottages based near Harlech, North Wales, enquiries from guests taking part in organised races and events has spiked in the last two years.

“The enquiry forms we get from our guests at Dioni tell us that increasing numbers of guests are planning weekend getaways and longer breaks around taking part in specific race events and challenges. This slice of the market made up around 8% of our total bookings 3 years ago. It currently stands at more like 18% of our total bookings throughout the year, and we’re pretty confident it will carry on growing.”

Gwion says he increasingly swaps referrals with his friend Matt Ward of RunComm – a sports marketing and race events specialist based near Machynlleth. Matt organises events like the Salomon Trail Marathon Wales and Buff Winter Trail Wales, and also helps run a junior running club at the Coed y Brenin trail centre, academi Coed y Brenin.

“It was actually Matt who coined the phrase sweaty pound – you could say that the rest of us have just run with it”, adds Gwion.

“We are referring increasing numbers of guests and clients between us, matching proximity to action and events with suitable accommodation and vice-versa. There is a real appetite out there.”

Economic value

Most people visiting North Wales to compete in a race or sporting event come as part of a family group or with a bunch of friends. If not to take part in the same challenge, then at least to be part of a cheerleading entourage.

Nigel Kendrick is the director of Always Aim high events, and organises some of North Wales’s most popular challenges and events including the Slateman, Sandman and Snowman Triathlons, the Snowdonia Trail Marathon, the Tour De Mon cycle sportive and the Anglesey Half Marathon. He says their data shows that the average race participant will bring three additional people with them on their trip.

He said:

“Our post-race analysis shows that each participant brings an average three additional people with them when they take part in the race of event. They stay for an average of three nights and spend around £86/night and £66/day. Between 60 – 75% of the people taking part in our events have travelled from outside Wales.

“The so-called sweaty pound equates to a visitor spend of approximately £245 per person per event. Our data also tells us that 20% – 25% of participants will also come a recce the course prior to the event, so there’s a double whammy effect for the visitor economy.”

Over the last three years (2016 – 2018) the economic impact of Always Aim High’s race events has generated more than £37.6 million of economic benefit for North Wales. Visit Wales puts the total value of adventure tourism on the North Wales economy at close to £500 million per year.

And what makes for suitable accommodation for our racing and event heroes? According to Gwion Llywyd at Dioni, hot tubs top the Sweaty Pound wish-list.

“Apart from proximity to their chosen location or event, people really want a cottage with a hot tub because they are so good for muscle recovery and post-race beers. But cottages with outdoor equipment rooms and secure bike storage are much sought after too, and requests for an outdoor shower are also common. Oh yes, and plenty of room for a cheerleading entourage.”

Over 1100 competitors took part in the Always Aim High Superfeet Triathlon at Newborough Forest on Anglesey on 14 & 15 September 2019. The next Always Aim High event is the Jones Crisps Anglesey Half Marathon & 10k on 1st March 2020, with around 3000 runners expected.

Run Coed y Brenin’s next event is the fun-packed, night race, Petzl Night Trail Wales which takes place on Saturday 12th October.

The best places for sweaty pounders to stay in North Wales?

Guests staying at Hafod Y Morfa, near Harlech Castle, can watch mum or dad running the Harlech Triathlon from the hot tub on the balcony. The Harlech Tri is a friendly sprint triathlon, ideal for beginners. Next race is April 2020. Hafod y Morfa sleeps 8 from £800 per week.

Eco-friendly holiday cottage Maes Y Coed sits in the heart of Coed Y Brenin which is a great trail running and mountain biking playground, and home to regular official running events throughout the year. A biomass burner and photovoltaic panels make this beautiful holiday cottage carbon neutral. Sleeps 8 from £600 per week.