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The Geographies and Psychologies of Global Transitions: Implications for Sport, Tourism, Climate, Health, Wellbeing and the Economy

Les géographies et psychologies des transitions globales: implications pour le sport, le tourisme, le climat, la santé, le bien-être et l'économie
Mike Weed


Cette contribution traite des transitions à trois niveaux. Premièrement, les transitions mondiales : à la fois transitions temporaires vers et depuis les restrictions de comportements, de mouvements et de liberté requises pour combattre le COVID-19 ; les transitions mondiales permanentes attendues pour les sociétés, les organisations et les individus, dans l’objectif de combattre le changement climatique. Deuxièmement, les transitions des destinations qui se tournent vers les loisirs sportifs pour étendre, améliorer, diversifier ou adapter leur offre touristique. Troisièmement, les transitions des touristes sportifs qui recherchent un sentiment de mobilité vers ou à travers des lieux qui sont distincts de l'habituel, du banal ou de la routine, et qui découlent d'une interaction entre l'activité, les personnes et le lieu que les touristes sportifs perçoivent comme ne pouvant pas être vécu "chez eux". Cette contribution suggère donc que l'expérience des transitions mondiales vers et depuis les restrictions COVID-19, ainsi que les transitions mondiales attendues qui seront nécessaires pour lutter contre le changement climatique, ont créé un héritage qui pourrait entraîner une croissance du tourisme sportif quotidien, qui donne un sentiment de mouvement, de visite ou de transition à travers un voyage mental, plutôt qu'un voyage à l'échelle géographique. Les conséquences pour les destinations sont qu'elles devront de plus en plus rivaliser, non seulement avec d'autres destinations, mais aussi avec les touristes sportifs qui décident activement de ne pas voyager du tout et de rechercher plutôt des expériences qui améliorent la santé et le bien-être chez eux ou à proximité. Pour être compétitives, les destinations devront mettre l'accent sur le caractère véritablement unique des expériences liées à l'interaction spécifique entre l'activité, les personnes et le lieu qu'elles proposent.

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1The notion of transition has much greater global salience now than in 2019. While this thematic issue of Geocarrefour and, indeed, this commentary, have been conceived to focus on the geographies and psychologies of transition for sport and for tourism, citizens, companies and governments around the world have been wrestling with the all-encompassing impact of transition to, and the struggle to transition from, the most far-reaching global disturbance in peacetime for more than a century. Namely, the COVID-19 pandemic.

2While the first cluster of COVID-19 cases was recorded in Wuhan, China on 21st December 2019, and the first death on 11th January 2020, in most countries around the world, March 2020 was the month in which a major transition became necessary. This followed the declaration of COVID-19 as a global pandemic by the World Health Organisation on 11th March, at which point 118,000 cases and 4,291 deaths in 114 countries had been reported (Ghebreyesus, 2020). Faced with a virus for which, at the time, there was no vaccine and no treatment, countries in every continent around the world were forced to transition in a matter of days to lockdown measures that represented previously unimaginable restrictions on people’s movement and freedom. Needless to say, tourism and sport came to an abrupt halt. As of the end of April 2022, the global death toll from COVID-19 is estimated to have been 6.26 million (Worldometer, 2022). However, in all but a few countries around the world the vast majority of restrictions have now been lifted, and the focus in 2022 is on transition from COVID-19 to ‘build back better’ to a ‘new normal’ – catchphrases that have become a familiar and common part of public discourse.

3But what does it mean to ‘build back better’? And what does a ‘new normal’ look like? While the vast majority of COVID-19-related restrictions have been lifted, the geographical and psychological legacies of the transition to, and the expectation of a transition from, COVID-19 are unclear, and are likely to remain so for some considerable time to come. The transition from the global requirements of COVID-19 will be significantly longer that the transition to them. What this long transition will mean for global climate, health and wellbeing, and economic recovery is yet to be seen, as are the implications for tourism and for sport.

4The first twenty years of the 21st Century, along with the last twenty of the 20th, saw a significant growth in the number of destinations turning to sport to extend, enhance, diversify or adapt their tourism offer. This has ranged from attempts to use major events to deliver social and economic regeneration in cities (eg, Weed, 2014), through the use of sports like skiing and golf to attract tourists perceived to be high-spending (e.g., Hudson, 2004), to the development of rural sports tourism utilising natural resources such as forest trails, rivers and mountains (e.g., Perrin-Malterre, 2018). And there are further recent examples of destinations transitioning to a sports tourism offer in this thematic issue.

5Driving these transitions in supply has been an increasing demand for sports tourism destinations and activities derived from sports tourism’s unique interaction of activity, people and place (Weed & Bull, 2009) which, importantly, involves a sense of movement or visit engendered by the different places through which, or to which, such movement takes place (Weed, 2021). Transition, therefore, also features in the demand for sports tourism, with sports tourists seeking a transition at the intersection of geography and psychology, involving a sense of movement to or through places that are perceptually distinct from the usual, mundane or routine, with the sense of distinction deriving from an interaction of activity, people and place that sports tourists perceive they cannot experience ‘at home’.

6As societies and governments around the world consider the prospect of a long transition from a global pandemic, questions inevitably arise about the legacy of COVID-19 and how this might interact with considerations of climate, of health and wellbeing, and of economic recovery. Furthermore, what are the implications of these considerations for destinations that have transitioned, or are seeking to transition, to a sports tourism offer, and for sports tourists themselves, for whom a perceptual transition is at the heart of the experiences they seek?

Considerations of Climate

7One of the lessons of the global transition to the restrictions required to manage COVID-19 is that it is possible for societies to make changes on a previously unthinkable scale to the way in which people live their lives. Restrictions on movement and restrictions on freedom were accepted willingly for the common good. Climate advocates and activists might argue that this willingness to make changes at scale for the common good is precisely the type of action that is needed to combat the climate emergency, and that the COVID-19 pandemic shows that such a previously unthinkable global transition is possible. Of course, the difference is that, firstly, the threat of COVID-19 was immediate, rather than the more distal threat of the consequences of climate change and, secondly, that there was an expectation that the transition to these restrictions would be temporary. Certainly, the appetite of societies around the world for restrictions to be lifted during 2020 and 2021 showed that the expectation of a subsequent transition from such restrictions was an important factor in societies’ willingness to transition to them in the first place. There can, of course, be no such expectation of a subsequent transition from any changes that may need to be made to combat climate change.

8Other climate-relevant lessons included that the COVID-19 restrictions had positive impacts on biodiversity and both urban and rural ecosystems, on greenhouse gas (carbon) emissions, and on air quality (EEA, 2020). In particular, this was related to reduced motorised transport volumes for commuting, leisure and business in all travel sectors (road, rail, air), one further implication of which was an increase in cycling volumes linked, at least partially, to a greater sense of safety on roads given the reduction in motorised transport. Additionally, people came to appreciate and more extensively utilise natural resources closer to their home environment for recreation (Weed 2021). While the impact on direct climate measures reversed once initial lockdowns were lifted (EEA, 2020), there remains some enduring impact on transport volumes. In the UK, although commercial motor transport and weekend use of cars in April 2022 exceeded pre-pandemic levels, the use of cars for commuting on weekdays was 5-7% below pre-pandemic levels, and weekday cycling volumes remained 30-35% higher, and weekend volumes 100% higher, than pre-pandemic levels (DfT, 2022). At the start of 2022, global air transport demand was circa 50% of pre-pandemic levels (Weston et al., 2022).

9Estimates for the global climate burden of sport suggests that it may account for around 1% of global emissions (Goldblatt, 2020), and that this exceeds its global share of GDP, which is estimated at 0.6% (The Business Research Company, 2020). Much of the climate burden of sport is related to the travel volumes that it generates among those participating in, spectating at, or supporting the delivery of sport. While the most obvious climate impacts are those arising from the international travel that sport generates, the weekly use of motorised transport for local and regional competitive and recreational sports participation is of major significance. Furthermore, even when the activity seems environmentally friendly, such as the use of hiking or cycling trails, there is a considerable motorised travel impact. Weed et al (2014), for example, showed that 62% of cycle route and trail users in the UK arrive at the route by motorised transport, and that this increases to 80% if local residents are excluded. Thus, there is considerable travel through places by motorised transport to facilitate cycling activities at the places to which people have travelled.

10COVID-19 has shown that changes in behaviour at a societal level can positively impact biodiversity, carbon emissions and air quality, whilst there appear to have been changes in travel behaviours that have not yet returned to pre-pandemic behaviours. Does this mark a sustained change in behavioural preferences as part of a ‘new normal’ or is it simply a longer transition from COVID-19? Certainly, there is a growing consensus around the need for societal, organisational and individual behaviour change to combat the climate emergency, as evidenced by the Glasgow Climate Pact (UK Parliament, 2022). However, it remains to be seen whether this will have long-term implications for sports tourism.

11It is possible that a greater consensus around climate action, and the experiences of behavioural changes during COVID-19, may lead to sustained changes in behavioural preferences that will affect the demand for destinations that have transitioned to a sports tourism offer. On one hand, there may be a reduction in the number of sports tourists who seek a sense of movement through travelling long distances. On the other hand, as people increasingly appreciate the value of local resources, there could be an increase in sports tourists for whom the perceptual distinction from the usual, mundane or routine could be satisfied by experiences of activity, people and places closer to home. In short, it may be that considerations of climate result in less of an emphasis on the geography of movement, and more of a focus on psychological or perceptual distance. For destinations situated within large nearby populations, this could be a net positive outcome, but more remote destinations are likely to struggle, and may find that considerations of climate mean that another phase of adaptation and transition will be necessary.

Considerations of Health and Wellbeing

12Sport is universally promoted as having both physical health benefits, and supporting mental health and wellbeing. Conversely, the global transition to the restrictions necessary to combat COVID-19 was driven by a significant threat to physical health, and was tolerated despite expected negative impacts on mental health and wellbeing (Boden et al, 2021). Consequently, in most countries around the world, no matter how severe the COVID-19 restrictions, some allowance was made for people to undertake physical activity or exercise, largely on the basis that it would support mental health.

13In the UK in the first six weeks of lockdown, over three-quarters of people said they had taken up a new physical activity (Nuffield Health, 2020) and almost two-thirds said physical activity was important for their mental health and wellbeing (SavantaComRes, 2020). But there was debate about how outdoor green spaces could be accessed for the purposes of activity, and on the social and health inequalities created by not allowing those without such access to travel to green spaces (Duncan, McIntyre, & Cutler, 2020). As a result, the first restrictions that were lifted in the UK were on the time and travel that could be spent for the purposes of accessing spaces for physical activity (HM Government, 2020).

14What this illustrates is the importance not only of activity but also of the place in which it takes place, with the wellbeing impact of activity in natural green spaces being acknowledged as significantly greater than in urban areas, something that the literature on green exercise supports (Barton et al., 2016). But the wellbeing impact also appears to be linked to a sense of movement, no matter how small, to places that are perceptually distinct from ‘home’. And, of course, during lockdowns, ‘home’ had a much more restrictive definition than would usually be the case and, as such, it seemed that people valued more than ever the opportunity to utilise places that were perceptually distinct from it.

15Consequently, the experience of lockdown appears to show that an everyday opportunity to step out of and away from the usual, mundane and routine has been valued by the public as enhancing mental health and wellbeing (Weed, 2021). Furthermore, the demand for access to green spaces and places that increase this sense of movement suggests that it may be necessary to re-assess what is considered to be perceptually distinct from the usual, mundane and routine in considering how sports tourism may evolve in the future. Specifically, can a sense of movement be provided as much by a short walk or cycle to a different place or environment, regardless of its distance from home, as much as it might be provided by international air travel? And, if so, does that sense of movement and perceptual distinction from ‘home’ provide an alternative way to enhance mental health and wellbeing to that associated with greater geographical distances travelled?

16There is a growing body of literature on the positive impact of travel for wellbeing (De Vos et al, 2014; Mokhtarian, 2018; Zins & Ponocny, 2022). However, in the context of sports tourism, if the sense of movement or visit necessary to distinguish a unique experience of activity, people and place from the usual, mundane and routine does not necessitate significant travel, then it may be that a transition to what Weed (2021) has called everyday sports tourism may feature in future demand and preferences for sports tourism, particularly where the demand is related to considerations of health and wellbeing. Research on green exercise shows that natural environments enhance both wellbeing and adherence to activities (Barton et al., 2016). But a further question now appears to be whether and how everyday sports tourism can create a sense of movement and perceptual distinction from the usual, mundane and routine that can further enhance wellbeing and physical health outcomes. And, what implications might a behavioural shift to enhancing health and wellbeing through everyday sports tourism have for destinations that have transitioned their offer to one dependent on sport and, more importantly, to travel for sport?

Considerations for Economic Recovery

17COVID-19 has led to severe negative effects on the global economy (Szmigiera, 2022). Despite aspirations to ‘build back better’, it is accepted that economic recovery will be slow (World Bank, 2022). In the tourism context particular challenges are likely to be felt by destinations that have previously transitioned to an offer that is dependent on tourists travelling significant distances, particularly by air. And where this offer involves sport, considerations of climate and different ways to enhance health and wellbeing may result in a transition to post-pandemic preferences for a type of sports tourism that can be experienced closer to home.

18With the pace of global economic recovery likely to be slow, and considerations of climate and different ways of enhancing health and wellbeing perhaps driving a preference to reduce travel over longer distances, particularly by air, how should destinations that have transitioned to a sports tourism offer respond? The answer may lie in considering the transitions that sports tourists seek, involving a sense of movement to experience an interaction of activity, people and place that they cannot experience ‘at home’. Some of these experiences may be more dependent on the perception of being distinct from ‘home’ than the geography of movement. However, a genuinely unique interaction of activity, people and place that cannot be experienced at home, or in places closer to home, is likely to give a significant competitive advantage to destinations that are able to articulate their offer in this way, and may persuade sports tourists that the experience is worth more extensive travel, despite wider considerations of climate or the potential to enhance health and wellbeing closer to home.

19Consequently, as destinations consider how they can best transition from the restrictions of COVID-19, and how they can accelerate the pace of their economic recovery, questions might focus on how to articulate what is genuinely unique about the interaction of activity, people and place that a destination can offer. And to understand that destinations are now competing not only with each other, but with opportunities that sports tourists and potential sports tourists have to gain similar experiences closer to home. For example, what aspects of activity, people and place distinguish a golf destination in Spain from a golf club close to the potential sports tourist’s home in another European country? Both, arguably, can provide a sense of transition, a sense of movement to a place that is perceptually distinct from the usual, mundane or routine, but what is genuinely distinctive about the Spanish golf destination, and how can that be articulated to the potential sports tourist? Humphreys and Weed (2014) argued that for many golf tourists, the question of whether to take a golf tourism trip was never meaningful considered, the key questions were when, where and with whom to go. Post-pandemic, and given considerations of climate and different ways to enhance health and wellbeing, it may be that the question of whether to take a trip is becoming more prominent, and that destinations are now competing with active decisions that people might take to seek their sports tourism experiences at or closer to home.

20For destinations that have transitioned, or are seeking to transition, to a sports tourism offer, economic recovery is likely to be faster and stronger when the offer that can be articulated to the sports tourist is of a genuinely unique experience of activity, people and place that is not available at or close to home. This might involve a cultural or social uniqueness provided by the mix of people with whom experiences are shared, or by a place imbued with significant cultural or sporting meaning. It could involve a specific challenge not available elsewhere, or in an environment not available elsewhere, or with a mix of people unlikely to be found elsewhere. Most strongly, if destinations can articulate that there is a specific interaction of activity, people and place that can only be found at their destination, then they are likely to be most successful in competing not only with other destinations, but with what might be an increasing tendency to actively consider not travelling at all in favour of seeking similar experiences at or closer to home.


21This commentary has considered transitions at three levels. Firstly, it has considered global transitions, both the temporary transitions to and from restrictions on behaviours, movement and freedom required to combat the COVID-19 pandemic, and the likely legacy of those transitions; and the permanent global transitions for societies, organisations and individuals likely to be required to combat climate change. Each of these have potential implications for the future evolution of sports tourism. Secondly, linked to the theme of this thematic issue, and the contributions it contains, this commentary has considered the transitions destinations have made, or are seeking to make, as they have turned to sport to extend, enhance, diversify or adapt their tourism offer. Thirdly, on the demand side, the transition that sports tourists seek, which lies at the intersection of geography and psychology, has been considered. It is a transition that involves a sense of movement to or through places that are perceptually distinct from the usual, mundane or routine, and derives from an interaction of activity, people and place that sports tourists perceive they cannot experience ‘at home’.

22In considering the implications of global transitions for sports tourism demand, it is suggested that the experience of the transition to, and the struggle to transition from, the restrictions of the COVID-19 pandemic have created a legacy for sports tourism demand, and thus for destinations. This legacy, which is also driven by the global transitions that will likely be required to combat climate change, may result in a growth in everyday sports tourism, in which sports tourists seek to enhance their health and wellbeing through everyday opportunities to step out of and away from the usual, mundane and routine. This delivers a sense of movement, visit or transition through a psychological and perceptual journey, rather than a journey at geographical scale. The implications for destinations that have transitioned to a sports tourism offer is that they will increasingly need to compete not only with other destinations, but with sports tourists’ active decisions not to travel at all, and to instead seek experiences at or closer to home. To effectively compete destinations will need to emphasise and articulate to their prospective markets the genuine uniqueness of the experiences of the specific interaction of activity, people and place that their destination offers.

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Mike Weed, « The Geographies and Psychologies of Global Transitions: Implications for Sport, Tourism, Climate, Health, Wellbeing and the Economy »Géocarrefour [En ligne], 95/2 | 2021, mis en ligne le 06 juin 2022, consulté le 03 octobre 2023. URL : ; DOI :

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Mike Weed

Centre for Sport, Physical Education & Activity Research (spear) Canterbury Christ Church University, UK

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Le texte seul est utilisable sous licence CC-BY-SA-4.0. Les autres éléments (illustrations, fichiers annexes importés) sont « Tous droits réservés », sauf mention contraire.

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