We are into the tourist season again and with the Vincentian economy in trouble it may well be time for us to engage in a re-think of sport tourism as an option to bring additional revenue to St Vincent and the Grenadines.
Although there has been much talk of sport tourism here the reality is that nothing has been done.
Some time ago there was a session on sport tourism held under the leadership of then Minister of Tourism and Culture, Rene Baptiste. A Barbadian sportsman was brought in to engage Vincentians in the discussion. That was supposed to be an initiative but petered out as so many other ideas.
The myopia of Caribbean politicians did not allow for the new administration in 2001 to facilitate continuity in a number of initiatives undertaken by the previous administration. They are often so anxious to impress the electorate that they can do newer and better things even when this derails good plans and programmes. The result is an appalling lack of progress in critical areas of development.
Clearly the rest of the world recognises sport tourism as one of the fastest growing industries yet we sit here twiddling our thumbs because of the continued failure of the leadership to locate sport in its development matrix.
Still, there is reason for us to believe that this country could develop a sound sport tourism policy and programme that would add value to the image of the country around the world. This would however involve changing the current operational modus.
Defining sport tourism
Sport tourism is the deliberate organisation of sporting activities by a country with the objective of attracting athletes and their entourage as well as their supporters and general sport enthusiasts. The expectation is that revenue will be generated by the attendance of locals and visitors alike at the competitions; expenditures of visitors at hotels, restaurants, places of entertainment and commercial enterprises. Revenue is also expected from the sale of television rights.
It should be noted that the sporting activities that offer sport tourism opportunities are not limited to competitions. In some cases it is a matter of organised training camps, sport conferences, meetings and workshops.
While in the past organisers of competitions focused heavily on gate receipts for their revenue the contemporary situation places emphasis on the sale of television rights. This latter change is also important for sport tourism since the packaging of the programmes for television is often a means of promoting the country hosting the competition, enticing viewers to pay a visit because of all that the location has to offer.
In many countries around the world sport tourism has made significant contributions to the national coffers.
One of the important features of a country seeking to develop a sound approach to sport tourism is the state of its infrastructure. In our case we must therefore undertake an infrastructure inventory.
Cricket does have the Arnos Vale Sports Complex. The facility is in a most scenic location and this has already been well documented by Sky Sports Network during coverage of international Cricket matches played here.
The attendant facilities at the Arnos Vale Sports Complex is not maintained at a level with which we can be satisfied however. The new double decker stands require much attention. The facility is inadequately maintained and does not meet the requirements of an international sport facility comparable to what obtains in neighbouring Barbados or even Grenada and St Lucia in this regard. This particular component of the Complex has to be evaluated and appropriate work undertaken to significantly improve its current status.
The maintenance of the Cricket aspects of the Arnos Vale Sports Complex leaves much to be desired. Greater attention needs to be paid to the general environment such that on approach and eventual entry to the Complex from the top gate should exude a certain ambience that compels people to want to be there and to return as often as possible.
Parking arrangements remain inadequate and no one could feel comfortable with the continued use of Arnos Vale #2 as a parking facility for events held at Arnos Vale #1.
Many boast of the number of fields around the country on which Cricket and Football can be played but the standard is not of an order to accommodate international competition.
While Stubbs and Sion Hill playing fields were prepared for the World Cup ‘goat cook’ matches the attendant facilities reflect little attention to a projected sport tourism focus of any sort.
Football does not have enough of an input into what happens at Arnos Vale relative to its usage of the facilities there so whenever games are played there the preparations to meet the sport’s requires are always inevitably rushed. There is little chance of the Football played there being appropriately promoted as a sport tourism opportunity. The same can be said of Rugby.
While many boast of the facility that Squash now calls home the reality is that for international competition it is woefully inadequate and suffers as a result.
Tennis boasts of the National Tennis Centre but this requires greater attention in terms of maintenance of the international standards it was intended to serve.
Some of our indoor sports – Basketball, Volleyball, Netball – are currently all played outside on poor surfaces that their respective international governing bodies do not approve for international competition. Their sport tourism contribution is therefore nil.
St Vincent and the Grenadines has no sport tourism organisation in place and beyond talk there is none scheduled on the horizon. Without an appropriate organisational structure there is little chance of any progress being made towards garnering revenue and an enhanced reputation or our country via the sport tourism route. This is the reason that the government officials are scoffed at when they seek to add sport tourism in their public pronouncements. They show just how much out of touch they are with reality and expose their commitment to mere politicking rather than get serious about sport at the service of genuine national development.
There is an urgent need for the government to show their commitment to sport tourism by first engaging some individuals to commence a thoroughgoing investigation and proposal on the formulation of a sport tourism policy and framework, leading to the establishment of an appropriate organisational structure.
Once the policy has been established and an organisational structure developed then the matter of finding horses for courses and not party-political hacks could begin. Putting people in place because of party support/loyalty may simply hinder the progress of what is an important pillar of national development going forward.
What we need is professionals getting an opportunity o do their work unencumbered by the pettiness and tunnel vision of those infected with political myopia.
We have some people who are capable of taking the process forward but are not even being consulted.
This is about national wellbeing and not partisan politics.
The time has come for government officials to show their commitment to national development. They must display a readiness to take on board the contribution that sport tourism can make to St Vincent and the Grenadines. In the region some work has already begun.
CARICOM hosted a workshop on sport tourism and its immense potential in Barbados in December 2009. One of the outcomes was the recognition that while some countries in the region had benefitted from sport tourism there was not a single one that had engage din the systematic development of a sport tourism programme that fits in with the overall developmental objectives of their respective governments.
Following that the regional establishment created a CARICOM Sport Tourism Advisory Group that comprises:
- Dr. Iva Gloudon (TnT Ambassador to Jamaica)
- Mr. Peter Adrien (St. Kitts and Nevis)
- Miss Carole Beckford (Jamaica)
- Dr. Morella Joseph (CARICOM Secretariat)
- Mr. John Campbell (CARICOM Secretariat)
- Dr Auliana Poon (Trinidad and Tobago)
- Mr Clairvair Squires (Barbados)
- Keith Joseph (St Vincent and the Grenadines)
The Scope of Work of the Advisory Group includes:
- Evaluate the potential for sports tourism and identify the specific strategies, policies, legislation and approaches necessary to strengthen the sports tourism sector in the Region;
- Assess the strengths and weaknesses in Member States for the development of Sports Tourism and make recommendations to build national capacity in this regard;
- Advocate for sports tourism to be strategically positioned on national and regional development agendas within the context of tourism enhancement, job creation and infrastructure development;
- Assess and make recommendations on the human resource needs/ gaps in the sports tourism sector;
- Conduct research on international and regional best practice in sports tourism, including current Sports Tourism market demand and trends;
- Develop a database of Sports Tourism related events, facilities, training courses and experts in the region;
- Identify the key areas of collaboration between SME’s and public sector institutions in the promotion and development of Sports Tourism;
- Conduct a mapping exercise of the Sports Tourism sector to show its potential, the range of careers and activities that could be developed in the region;
- Draft a regional Sports Tourism Strategy
The challenge has begun but there needs to be commitment shown by the CARICOM leaders that they are prepared to place adequate and appropriate resources at the disposal of the initiatives being undertaken.
The process has begun.
Let’s get serious!