Can we engage in sport tourism?
A recent commentary by Rohan Thomas raised once more the issue of sport tourism and the possible potential that a thrust in this direction may have for a country like St Vincent and the Grenadines.
Thomas identified a number of factors that impact the decision in respect of what we can and perhaps ought to do if we are serious about sport tourism.
While there are several activities that we organise every year there may well be good reason as to why we have not yet been able to fashion a sport tourism policy and programme.
It is important at the very outset to state clearly that St Vincent and the Grenadines is not alone in not having a sport tourism policy and with good reason.
While some like to boast of being big or small in this Caribbean of ours the reality in respect of sport tourism reveals that neither Jamaica nor Trinidad and Tobago have a clearly delineated sport policy and programme and Barbados has only recently fashioned something in this regard.
We are nonetheless aware that in the aforementioned countries there are numerous high profile sporting activities that are designed to access the benefits from sport tourism. The problem is that these activities have been organised in large measure by hotels and groupings that understand what is required and the benefits that can accrue from such activities. They do not however form part of any national policy and programme.
St Vincent and the Grenadines therefore has to get its act together if it wishes to engage in sport tourism.
At the very beginning we must have an acceptable definition of sport tourism.
What exactly is sport tourism?
Sport tourism generally refers to the movement of people from one place to another for the primary purpose of engaging in some form of sporting activity. That is as simple as it is.
Sport tourism takes place because activities are organised in a manner that proves attractive to others. People are motivated to travel to the places at which the activities are being held and for a variety of reasons.
There are different types of sport tourists just as there are different types of tourists in general. People always have preferences and there is no one size fits all in the sport tourism business.
Just as the tourism industry in general requires much work by way of research and development (R & D) this is no less the case in respect of sport tourism.
Over the past several years tourism industry experts have come to the recognition that there are people who are sufficiently attracted to one form of physical activity or an other that they are willing to travel to be part of it or to merely watch it for the sheer experience it affords them.
Canada, where sport tourism has become a key pillar of national development, has both the Canadian Tourism Commission (CTC) and the Canadian Sport Tourism Alliance (CSTA) working diligently at developing the sport tourism industry in all its aspects, thereby encouraging its expansion.
Rick Traer, Chief Executive Officer of the CSTA noted that one of the organisation’s key objectives is to market Canada internationally as a preferred Sports Tourism destination.
For their purposes in Canada, the CTC and CSTA have identified the following as defining characteristics of the sport tourist:
They must travel more than 80km and/or stay overnight to attend, compete, or otherwise be involved in a sporting event.
Sport is the reason they travel – they would not have otherwise traveled to that location had it not been for that specific event.
Amazingly, the sport tourism industry has taken such a strong hold in the world that it is seen as perhaps the fastest growing segment of the broader global tourism industry.
Paul Charbonneau declares, 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. (Business of Sport Tourism” Ross Biddiscombe, Sport Business Group Ltd).
The Canadian approach has resulted in that country becoming the first in the world to have hosted every one of the Championships of the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF).
An analysis of the Canadian tourism offerings in any given year would reveal a plethora of events aimed at enhancing the sport tourism appeal of that country.
Absence of political will
St Vincent and the Grenadines hosts a number of activities that many seem to think could fit into a sport tourism package that could bring immense economic benefits to the country.
If that is indeed the case why aren’t we into sport tourism?
The first problem is a failure of successive governments to even begin to appreciate the importance of sport to a nation and the immense potential that a sport tourism industry has for aiding the economy.
Successive governments have treated sport as an adjunct of something considered far more important to them in the broader scheme of things. They also place at the helm of the Ministry w=under whose portfolio sport is attached individuals who have little understanding of the process or who do not have the access to requisite decision-making and funding.
Interestingly, the current government we have in place has engaged in a practice that seems more designed to distract rather than facilitate genuine development of a sport tourism industry.
Glen Beache was designated Minister of Tourism and Sport. He never received the funding required to even begin the process of bringing the two components together to forge a sport tourism industry. Unfortunately for him he kept speaking of sport tourism with little to show for it.
Ces McKie has been given the portfolio of Tourism, Sport and Culture. Unfortunately, here again there is nothing to show even a fundamental understanding of what constitutes a sport tourism industry.
In the two foregoing instances the government failed to even begin the process of seeking to fashion a sport tourism policy and programme. There was and still remains talk of sport tourism.
Each time we host some sport event that brings together participants and spectators from outside of St Vincent and the Grenadines the politicians readily spout what they do not know. They boast of this being yet another example of their commitment to sport and sport tourism. It does not seem to bother our politicians that on such occasions the Vincentian audience know the truth and feel woefully embarrassed.
If we are to take seriously the development strategy of sport tourism we must begin with a policy. We must have a clear policy framework.
The Policy must be informed by a coming together of stakeholders and people possessive of the requisite expertise. This means a consultation or symposium that allows for the ventilation of ideas relative to what should go into such a policy document.
The stakeholders must inevitably include the government, the national sports associations, the hotels and promoters of sport as well as potential sponsors.
The policy framework allows for the delineation of appropriate goals and strategies manifested in programmes.
The clear mandate must be to establish St Vincent and the Grenadines as a sport tourism destination. We are aware that several countries also set themselves similar mandates where they would wish to attract sport tourists. But we are already into this kind of business with the current global competitive tourism industry.
There has to be clear guidelines encouraging national sports associations and other interested parties to bid for activities and events that can be brought together to determine which seem best suited to appeal to what particular grouping of sport tourists.
We need to determine where we wish to pitch our tent.
For example, we must determine very early whether we wish to go after sport tourists for highly competitive sports or go after sport leisure tourists or adventure sport tourists.
We can go after several different types of sport tourists but this must be after careful consideration of what we can afford to facilitate.
As it currently stands we have been unable to use the Cricket World Cup of 2007 to attract anyone to come to use our improved facilities to train at any time. We once thought that this was going to be a legacy of the mega event.
While we have had annual Regattas in this country we are yet to determine a sport tourism approach and hence we have failed to systematically work these events into the broader national development strategy.
Once we determine we are having a sport tourism industry we must necessarily develop the products and allocate appropriate resources to guarantee their success.
The haphazard approach to the location and development of sport facilities (hugely political decisions) must stop and instead be a feature of the careful planning attendant to a professionalism that guarantees success.
The preparation of a long terms strategy must lead to the preparation of quadrennial calendars that allow for appropriate budgeting and other aspects of the planning matrix.
We need to systematically determine what are the economic, social, cultural and environmental benefits we wish to bring to St Vincent and the Grenadines through sport tourism.
There has to be on-going training of people to fit into the different components of the sport tourism industry. We require professionals to make the undertaking a success.
Finally, there must be a commitment to research and development. We have to ensure that we are collecting data on what is happening each time we host a sport tourism event. We must be able to critically analyse what is taking place at the global level with the sport tourism industry and determine how we can adjust our policies, strategies and programmes to reap the most benefits possible.
Sport tourism is a rapidly expanding component of the global tourism industry and the Caribbean and especially St Vincent and the Grenadines have already been left well behind.
There is much that we have going for us but unless we bring together the expertise and the stakeholders we will remain in the cellar position.
Successive governments of our beautiful island must resist the temptation to engage in ole talk designed to fool and mislead the sportspeople.
We can do well with sport tourism but we must get serious.
Unfortunately, over the past several years we have not been putting appropriate resources in place for us to reap a harvest from tourism in general. We have done nothing in respect of sport tourism.