August 8 marks the third annual National Pickleball Day. While the sport is more than 50 years old, with a striking smack, pickleball has suddenly served its way into American culture, both as a leisure activity and a professional sport, and it’s making quite a racket in the hospitality industry.
“Pickleball is trending towards the forefront of activities that guests partake in during their time with us,” says Ashley Kohler, Director of Wellness at Destination Kohler, a 100-year-old five-star accommodation in Green Bay, Wisconsin. The resort has experienced a staggering 700% uptick in engagement with its pickleball courts.
In 2022, 1 in 9 Americans (36.5 million) played the sport at least once, and 45% say they plan to do it more often in the next six months. What about pickleball has prompted luxury resorts like Club Med and Ritz Carlton Grand Cayman to pay attention to what’s happening in the world of leisure sports?
The answer is its increasing popularity in influencing vacation choices, with many Americans choosing destinations based on the availability of pickleball courts.
Meaghan Clawsie, owner of Elated Escapes Travel LLC, in Austin, Texas, says, “I’ve had clients come to me wanting me to book their vacations, but they tell me to limit the resorts I quote to ones with pickleball. They literally won’t stay at a property that does not offer pickleball!”
In short, the popular sport with the quirky name is scoring major points when it comes to hotel bookings. Major league points.
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Funny Looking Ball Makes a Big Impact
Worldwide, the pickleball market was valued at USD 1.3 billion in 2022 and is expected to explode to USD 2.4 billion in the next five years. Many hotels across North America report increased bookings as a direct result of the sport.
The Broadmoor in Colorado Springs, Colorado, has seen an increase in bookings directly related to pickleball. “We’ve always been known for our tennis camps, but this year we’ve booked five-weekend adult pickleball camps, resulting in 120 room bookings,” says Karen Schott, Director of Racquet Sports at the hotel. “In addition, we’ve conducted two pickleball tournaments responsible for approximately 40 room bookings.”
Why Is Pickleball Serving up So Much Appeal?
Blending elements of ping pong, tennis, and badminton, pickleball has seen a surge in popularity, in part due to its low entry barrier. The game is relatively simple to learn and play, takes place on a court that’s only a quarter the size of a tennis court, and doesn’t involve as much running, making it an attractive option for a wide range of players.
Christine Lozada, an avid traveler and fervent fan of the sport, often bases her accommodation choices on her love for pickleball. She adds, “When deciding what resort gets my business, I always check to see if they have organized pickleball play or if it’s reserved court time only. Playing with the locals during open play can get you some of the best secret travel tips!”
Todd Ponder, a pickleball pro player, and instructor at Watersound Club in Northwest Florida, says, “A lot of people are looking at it and seeing they can save their knees, save their joints and learn to play a much faster-paced game on a very small surface. I have 80-year-old grandmothers who come up with knee braces on, and those are the ones that scare me the most. Because those are the ones I’m going to get annihilated by.”
“Regardless of sports background, age or experience, Pickleball is something that can be enjoyed by anyone. It’s fun and brings people together, and it’s a sport we really wanted to align ourselves with,” says Clayton Langheim, Director of Tennis at Wild Dunes Resort. “I believe everyone is capable of playing pickleball, and the instant success, enjoyment, and comradery is the foundation for its success, growth, and popularity.”
Resorts Strive To Meet Demand
Lozado doesn’t have to try hard to find vacation destinations that meet her expectations. More than 11,000 properties nationwide are certified as official pickleball venues, according to USA Pickleball, many of which are in the hotel industry.
Many resorts and hotels are converting their seldom-used tennis courts into fully booked pickleball courts to meet demand.
In 2023, Club Med has seen an estimated 70% increase in bookings to play pickleball at their North American resorts in the Caribbean and Mexico versus 2022. In response to this increase, they recently refreshed the four onsite pickleball courts at Club Med Cancun, aiming to increase them to 10 courts by 2024.
“Pickleball tourism has grown tremendously in recent years, and this shift has been especially prominent in our tropical North American resorts,” says Amelie Brouhard, Vice President Marketing North America and USA Sales at Club Med. “Our immediate response was to accommodate for this growing pickleball trend by investing in our infrastructure by building all-new courts (some oceanside!) and facilities.”
The sport has also become popular for wedding parties at The Broadmoor in Colorado Springs, with guests incorporating time on the courts into their weekend wedding agendas. Schott reports they’ve already booked ten wedding parties in 2023 and expect that number to increase.
Hotels like The Broadmoor are innovatively adapting to the trend, striving to meet customer demands for the sport, even if it requires unconventional approaches.
Creating a One-Stop Shop for Pickleball
The Aspen Meadows Resort in Aspen, Colorado, has seen a 200 percent increase in the use of its pickleball courts. They’ve added three permanent courts and plan to add three more next year.
“The greatest appeal seems to be that our Tennis Center, operated by Cascades Tennis, offers pros that can set up private & group lessons and clinics,” says Annie Pinkert, director of sales & marketing at the Aspen Meadows Resort. “They can come and use or buy racquets, balls, even shoes, and other apparel. That is a hit, so guests don’t have to come with gear or find a pro on their own. Everything is here when they arrive, or they can arrange it all in advance of their stay.
Cruise Lines Also Make Waves in The Industry
Major companies like Margaritaville and Holland America Line are getting in on the action by sponsoring pickleball leagues and adding courts to their ships. Carnival and Royal Caribbean cruise lines are hosting pickleball tournaments for their guests.
Kacy Cole, Vice President of Marketing for Holland America Line, says, “Mirroring its rapid growth as the fastest growing sport in the U.S., pickleball is the most popular sport on our ships. It’s wonderful to see guests bond over their shared love of the game — and the ever-changing scenery makes the perfect pickleball backdrop.”
All ships in the Holland America Line fleet feature pickleball courts. In addition, they now offer complimentary beginner lessons by shipboard instructors who teach guests the rules and basics of playing pickleball, including where the “kitchen” is and what it means to hit a “dink” shot.
Big City Hotels Get In on The Action
You won’t have to visit a beach in Mexico or cruise to the Caribbean to get in on the pickleball action. Even big-city hotels like the 110-year-old Amway Grand Plaza Hotel are picking up the paddle. The historic upscale accommodation in Grand Rapids, Michigan, recently added four rooftop pickleball courts.
Ross Bartlett, General Manager of the hotel, says, “Since the completion of our RoofTop Pickleball Courts in July 2022, we have seen a steady increase in their usage and demand, from early morning sunrise players to night owls wishing to play under the lights.”
Bartlett reports the hotel has seen a 400% increase in year-over-year revenue for court bookings and a drastic rise in positive comments from guests regarding the hotel’s pickleball activities.
Resorts Put an Innovative Spin on Pickleball
Not merely content with adding pickleball to their roster of amenities, some resorts are introducing innovative spins to this already popular game. Omni La Costa Resort and Spa in San Diego has doubled its pickleball footprint since 2021 due to its increased popularity.
Club Director, Dustin Irwin, says, “We now offer a popular ‘Put & Pickle’ program where participants play nine holes in the morning, followed by a pickleball match, then lunch.”
The sport has become so popular with guests that they now have a dedicated pickleball professional on staff, allowing the resort to offer Pickleball 101 classes, intermediate clinics, open play, and private and semi-private lessons.
The Margaritaville Beach Resort Riviera Maya offers fun-filled offerings like glow-in-the-dark programming to help differentiate their resort within the marketplace.
More Resorts Increase Their Pickleball Presence
The Hilton New Orleans Riverside began offering pickleball nearly a decade ago when a long-term tennis member needed a lower-impact sport. It became so popular they now maintain six indoor courts.
The Ritz Carlton Grand Cayman offers two new pickleball courts with private lessons, group lessons, a junior academy, and more.
As recently as June 2023, the Fairmont Chateau Whistler replaced an outdoor tennis court with four pickleball courts due to visitor demand.
Later this year, the Hacienda del Mar Los Cabos Resort will host an international pickleball tournament supported by the Los Cabos Tourism Board.
Scottsdale is proving to be a hot spot for pickleball getaways. The Four Seasons Resort Scottsdale is just one of many hotels in the city getting in on the action. They’ve recently introduced four new pickleball courts featuring state-of-the-art ProBounce technology, uniquely designed to keep cool and reduce stress on the body, with options for all skill levels.