For some time, we have been literally begging the governmental authorities in St Vincent and the Grenadines to give due consideration to sport tourism as a viable economic option that can bring immeasurable benefits to the country over time.
There is every reason for us to understand that given St Vincent and the Grenadines is an open, vulnerable economy we ought to seek out as many viable endeavours as possible to move beyond mere survival in economic terms.
We argue that sport tourism ought to feature as a fundamental pillar of the national development strategy of our country and that we can expect great results from such a stance.
Sport tourism is often general defined as travel to participate or view a sport activity. Its emphasis is on travel from one place to another either to engage in a sporting activity or to be part of the spectatorship of the event.
Sport tourism therefore focuses on the benefits to be derived from the expenditure of the traveller to the event. This would include the cost of transportation, air, land or sea, accommodation and meals, tickets to the event, refreshments at the event, visits to places of interest in the area in which the event is held, meals and refreshments associated with such visits, purchase of memorabilia of the event, souvenirs of the community and/or country and associated taxes.
Over time many organisations have deliberately engaged in the development of sport tourism as an industry to the extent that today it remains one of the fastest growing industries in the world.
Globally, tourism is often seen as the leading industry and sport forms an important segment of it.
One has only to reflect on the tremendous global movement of peoples to the host country of the quadrennial Summer Olympics or the FIFA World Cup to glean an appreciation for the immense financial contribution of sport tourists to the host nation’s economy for the duration of the sporting spectacle.
It remains an unfortunate reality that here in St Vincent and the Grenadines, despite repeated efforts at enlightening the governmental leadership on the immense value of adopting a sport tourism strategy, we have failed to even give it much thought.
The Canadian experience
Rick Traer, at the time CEO of the Canadian Sport Tourism Alliance, addressed a CARICOM sport Conference on Sport Tourism, held at the Cave Hill Campus of the University of the West Indies in December 2009, on the Canadian approach to this rapidly developing global industry. At the time Canada ranked fifth in the world among countries hosting international sports events.
Canada became the first country in the world, for example, to host all of the international Championships of the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF).
There are over 200,000 sports events in Canada annually. Many are not international events but that does not prevent them from being part of the sport tourism strategy of the nation since it allows for travel from one place to another to engage in or view sport events. Sport tourism does not only mean traveling across national boundaries.
In Canada, sport tourism is seen as a grassroots economic development initiative involving municipal, sport and tourism partners.
The domestic sport travel in Canada shows an estimated $2.4b industry annually and growing.
Sport tourism has become a stabilising force within the tourism industry in times of volatility.
Federal government has established and approved a Federal Hosting Policy effective April 2008. There is a $500m annual dedicated sport and recreation infrastructure fund. Without appropriate infrastructure it is not possible to host sporting activities that would prove attractive to anyone.
As a result of the country’s commitment to sport tourism fully supported by governmental authorities because of their understanding of the economic impact a number of sport tourism tools have been developed. These include but are not limited to:
- A Sport Tourism Planning Template. A step by step community planning process.
The sport tourism planning process is taught in the school system as well.
- A Sport Events Directory.
- A Business Plan Template
- A Sport Tourism Teaching Module.
- STEAM – Sport Tourism Economic Assessment Model. Launched in 2002. It predicts the economic impact on a host community. It is the first web-based tool of its kind in the world specifically customised for the sports tourism industry.
- STEAM PRO – an advanced programme of STEAM. This is to survey people at the particular sport event. The spending profile ascertained by this method is taken on board re the economic impact of the event on the community
St Vincent and the Grenadines
Ross Biddiscombe of the Sport Business Group Ltd in addressing the Business of Sport Tourism wrote …The intriguing nature of the business of sport and tourism comes from the fact that it knows no barriers of language or culture; it spans every sport imaginable, every age group and every demographic; and it includes both those who travel to play or watch their sport of choice.
In the recent past the St Vincent and the Grenadines Amateur Swimming Association (SVGASA) hosted the annual OECS Swimming Championships. This was the first time that this country was able to undertake the challenge.
There were more than 184 competitors and many of the athletes were accompanied by parents.
Unfortunately, not a single member of the government found it appropriate to even out in an appearance at the OECS Swimming Championships at what is a tremendous facility, at Shrewsbury House in Ratho Mill.
Could it be that no one in government has an understanding of the significance of the event?
There were two Column written on the Championships in an effort to bring it into the consciousness of the entire country.
That there was inclement weather and LIAT lived up to expectations regarding the failure to keep schedule to have all teams arrive in the country on time, had nothing to do with the failure of any government representative to attend and show some measure of understanding of the endeavour.
It is not that Swimming was asking anything of the government beyond recognition of the immense opportunities that sport offers the country by way of greater international awareness and recognition as well as the general sport tourism potential.
Ignorance does not really mean bliss.
The economic impact of the country hosting the OECS Swimming Championships has not really been appreciated. What is more is that the lessons to be learnt have also been missed.
This country is known for hosting annual Regattas. These involve appealing to the adventurous owners of yachts from around the world.
This Caribbean is literally inundated by Regattas. Almost every one of our islands hosts a Regatta at some point in any given year so there is plenty of competition.
For many years the annual Bequia Regatta has been this nation’s premier sailing event. Unfortunately, the governmental authorities have done little to render this a major national sport tourism thrust.
The yachting fraternity is well known for communication amongst themselves and so constitute an ideal cohort with which to strike a poignant note regarding efforts at transforming the event into a sport tourism undertaking.
There has as yet been no effort on the part of government authorities in our beautiful country to establish a link between our several Regattas and facilitating an international strategy to transform them into critical components of a national sport tourism policy.
Team Athletics St Vincent and the Grenadines recently hosted, for the second consecutive year, the NACAC 10K, billed around the world as the world’s most challenging 10K road race. Here again the government failed to grasp the potential for this to become a major pillar of a sport tourism thrust.
Interestingly, the organising committee could not even receive the support of the National Lotteries Authority with so much as a single tent for the occasion. No financial support was provided in response to yet another request for assistance to aid in raising the profile of the event.
We have hosted events for the FIFA World Cup and while there was some measure of government support it remains clear that the involvement did not extent to an appreciation for the potential sport tourism impact the several matches could have had on the Vincentian economy.
We also played host to international Rugby as well as OECS Netball and in neither case was there any genuine effort to bring an understanding of the sport tourism potential that could have been exploited.
This country hosts an annual Junior Tournament of the International Tennis Federation (ITF) and here again with several teams travelling to our country and with many players accompanied by their parents, we make no effort at locating this amongst the slew of sporting activities we host as sport tourism options.
We somehow seem oblivious to the opportunities that abound all around us for crafting a national sport tourism policy.
Blinded by incompetence
Antonio Romero, Director of Relations for Integration and Cooperation of the Permanent Secretariat of SELA (Latin American and Caribbean Economic System), speaking at the CARICOM Conference in 2009 noted that the sport tourism niche market continues to grow at a significant rate, upwards of 5% for the next five years. This offers an opportunity for the Caribbean.
He insisted that sport tourism offers the Caribbean the opportunity to diversify its tourism product and that strategies for diversifying the sector must pay special attention to micro, small and medium enterprises because these play a major role in the development of programmes for the local community.
The Canadians have crafted tools aimed at ensuring that the impact of their sport tourism initiatives trickle down to the small corners of the communities on the fringes of host cities. It is a deliberate policy.
Here in St Vincent and the Grenadines we appear to be blinded by incompetence in respect of understanding and appreciating the immense potential of sport tourism.
We glibly speak of tourism as an important pillar of national development. Unfortunately, when we examine the annual financial commitment to this sector in the annual budget we cringe as we recognize that the government is not prepared to walk the talk. If this is what happens with tourism in general, there seems little likelihood that we can expect any shift in focus to allow for consideration to be given to a concept such as sport tourism.