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The Economic Power of Sports Tourism
Posted: Sunday, September 5, 2010

By Derren Joseph
September 05, 2010


Today, Sunday 5 September marks the kick off of the FIFA Under - 17 Women's World Cup which is being hosted by us here in Trinidad and Tobago. There are about 336 of the world's best players taking part in the three-week competition. Although I am not the biggest sports fan (I know - some of my friends call me a nerd), I see the honor and prestige that this tournament brings to our nation. As a fan of the tourism sector however, I cannot help but get excited about the socioeconomic benefits that sports tourism has to offer. I spoke to a hotelier who is pleased that this tournament is filling rooms during a time of the year considered to be "off peak".

It is already clear that as travel costs to the Caribbean from Europe rise, Caribbean tourism destinations offering Europeans the traditional sun, sand and sea holiday are under increasing pressure to diversify their offerings, if they are to compete effectively with similar destinations that are cheaper, closer to Europe and are reputed to provide higher service levels. Most of us in the industry have heard many stories about Dubai with its guaranteed sunshine, 7 star hotels (if there is such a thing) and legendary levels of customer service.

Regionally, aside from Jamaica, other islands seeking to exploit this niche include Antigua with water sports, St Lucia with golf, Anguilla, which has the region's only tennis academy, and Grenada, which is focusing on R&D (through its American university). Critics are quick to point out that the 2007 ICC Cricket World Cup may have boosted infrastructure investment and furthered functional cooperation across the region, but many in the tourism circles did not reap the kind of dividends they expected from the sporting event. To some extent it was because of the unexpected early defeat and exit of major cricketing nations such as India and Pakistan and the absence of traditional winter visitors. Regardless, we have learned and we are ready to move on.

In terms of sports tourism, however, the Travel and Tourism Competitiveness Report for 2009 suggested that, given the number of and quality of our sporting stadia, there is a potential competitive advantage in the area of sports tourism for Trinidad and Tobago. We have stadia, several swimming pool facilities, golf courses, hiking trails crossing through our beautiful mountain ranges and densely forested terrains, kayaking facilities, yachting and sailing facilities.

I was speaking recently to a Trinidadian Hotelier who hosted an American College swim team over the Christmas break. During the day they trained hard in the pool but he had put together a package that included Maracas Beach (where I am sure they fell in love with our Bake and Shark), boating "down the islands", clubbing at some of our local night spots as well as shopping excursions. The team could not stop talking about Trinidad and Tobago, on their return to the US. So hotels, taxi drivers, tour operators, tour guides, food vendors, shop owners and all the other members of the tourism eco-system can and do enjoy the benefits that Sports Tourism brings.

None of this is a secret as there are many sports enthusiasts already exploring the nexus between sports and tourism. To these enthusiasts, I beg you to please keep up your efforts. I have, through Geoffrey Charles, seen numbers on the annual Tobago Cycling International Classic. Looking at the average activity of this event over the past 5 years, the event attracts about 750 fans from Trinidad, the region and internationally who spend about TT$1.8 million. Furthermore, the teams tend to stay beyond the duration of the actual tournament which contributes an additional TT$85 000. All this was from an initial budget of TT$600 000 raised from sponsors. So TT$600 000 invested, returned about TT$1.9 million on top of the original TT$600 000. That of course, is the direct spend by these cycling fans and teams but if a more robust economic impact study was conducted, obviously we would expect a much higher contribution to the economy.

Economic diversification away from our energy dependence is the name of this game. Sustainable economic development must of course encompass community empowerment and otherwise touch our other social indicators in a positive way. Or more simply, I know it is not just about money and jobs it is about strengthening our young people and our communities. Tourism is arguably the one sector with the potential to deliver the socioeconomic benefits we all seek.

My name is Derren Joseph and I love my country. As always, I end by saying that despite our challenges, we are so blessed to live in this beautiful land. Let us continue to have the audacity of hope in the future of our beloved country.



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