What sports tourism???
This is Easter weekend yet again and once more we would find a number of sporting activities taking place around the country that should otherwise impact our economy in a deliberately planned manner. Unfortunately this is not the case and no one is willing to stand up and take blame for the crass insensitivity to the vast sport tourism potential that we continue to miss each year.
Over the past several years the sporting industry has become one of the most lucrative in the world. One of the most important areas of the sport industry that continues to expand exponentially is sports tourism.
People enjoy sport and many people engage in travel to follow their particular sport. When they do so they spend monies on airfares, hotel, internal transportation, food and a host of ancillary activities.
Sport tourism has become an important component of the national economy of several countries around the world, contributing millions to the national treasury of the respective countries.
In the case of the Caribbean unfortunately, there is not a single country that has a declared sports tourism policy. What exists is merely the result of individual organisations seeking to benefit from the revenue generated by hosting sports events and the enthusiastic fans who follow the players and the sport.
Statistics reveal that Jamaica is perhaps the one Caribbean country that reaps the most revenue from sports but here again it is not the result of any deliberate sports tourism programme on the part of the government. Many of the hotels, especially those in the north coastal area, have come to realise the impact if sportspeople on their annual balance sheets and so plan a series of sporting activities with the intention of doing better annually.
St Vincent and the Grenadines
Several years ago we were under the impression that plans were in train for the creation of the position of Sports Tourism Officer. The government changed and one expected that given the lucrative nature of sport tourism that the new administration would have maintained the plans. Not so! Instead we have had mere ‘ole talk’.
Each year the Ministry of Tourism seeks to garner information from sporting organisations in respect of their planned activities. These activities are then included in the Ministry’s promotional programmes that are circulated around the world.
In many respects the rest of the world must wonder whether we are aware of the growth of sports tourism as an important source of revenue for any country.
The Ministry of Tourism does little by way of working along with the various sporting organisations to even gain an appreciation of what is involved and how they can assist or work together with them for their mutual benefit and the ultimate benefit of St Vincent and the Grenadines.
In the recent past we have heard of the re-branding of this country’s tourism image, yet again. In the process of rebranding one did not get the impression that sport tourism was given any consideration.
There is a sense in which this country seems to be turning a blind eye to the potential of sports tourism, leaving us in the doldrums.
For many years we have had the Bequia Easter Regatta. For the most part this event has remained essentially about the boat races and little else. While some attempts were made to spread the activities this has not happened. The onshore activities remain minimal.
The same can be said of the Union Island Easterval celebrations and the Canouan Regatta.
One wonders whether the Tourism authorities here have ever considered examining the way in which other countries around the world have capitalised on the yachting sector through Regattas.
When the yachts people are not on the sea in fierce competition they enjoy having a really good time. Thus it is that many countries craft an interesting on-shore package that keeps these people very active, leaving them with endearing memories that brings them back annually.
Unfortunately, the authorities here have left the Regattas mush to themselves, losing out on tremendous economically beneficial opportunities.
Other Easter activities
As simple as it seems we have watched our annual kite flying season come and go with little thought being given to bolstering this activity into something that can generate revenue for the country.
We have watched as Karib Cable struggled to make something of the kite flying by hosting an annual competition. However there seemed to have been little interest from others. Perhaps the sport is all too simple.
In reality several Caribbean countries engage in kite flying. In Barbados the annual activity is usually a tourist attraction even though it is not a planned sports tourism policy initiative by any means.
There is always the possibility of introducing an annual regional kite flying competition deliberately as a sports tourism initiative.
Over the Easter weekend, many organisations move around the region engaging in a variety of sporting activities. The Port Authorities in the Caribbean often move around this time of the year as also do our postal services employees and Inland Revenue Departments.
We have seen several other groups travel for one form of recreation or another and yet we somehow leave them all to their own devices. We do nothing to facilitate them in any cohesive way.
When we were expending millions of dollars on preparing to host some ‘goat cook’ matches we were led to believe that some sort of sport tourism component was part of the legacy that would be left to St Vincent and the Grenadines.
We got the impression that plans were being laid to encourage clubs from cricketing nations to utilise our facilities for training from time to time. This has never materialised.
It has been four years since the Cricket World Cup and one is at a loss to know precisely what legacies we have been left that impact the Vincentian economy.
Indeed, we have not even been getting international cricket matches of an order that would generate significant revenues for St Vincent and the Grenadines.
A way forward
It seems possible for us as a nation to revisit our national tourism policy and craft a sports tourism policy with immediate effect. Once we get past the hurdle of formulating a sports tourism policy we then need to create the positions that would enable a creative sports tourism plan and annual budgetary support.
It is important that we avoid the politicking that places inadequately qualified persons in positions of importance to the development of the new sector. Similarly, adequate resources must be placed at the disposition of the new sector in order for the programme to be implemented in a manner that is genuinely developmental and not overly encumbered by political intervention.
It is important to bring all stakeholders together in the forging of a national sports tourism policy. Clearly we would want the tourism authorities to be represented as well as the various national sports associations, representatives from the ministerial stakeholders, the hotel and tourism and taxi drivers associations and the media. While initially the number of organisations may appear cumbersome it is important to allow all stakeholders and potential stakeholders to be involved in the process of policy formulation at the very beginning.
It is also very important that the position of Sports Tourism Officer of Director of Sports Tourism be established and that this person be provided with appropriate support staff. One of the most important staff would be a Sports Tourism Research Officer. One of the things we do not do well in the Caribbean is research in the various areas with which we are dealing. Without adequate research we would not be able to determine precisely where we are going or why we should choose one path over another in pursuing a particular course of action.
We have to engage in research in respect of our current sporting and recreational activities to determine which of these seem to possess the best potential for sports tourism development. We need to research the potential markets for the various activities that we have identified in respect of potential in the sector.
We must begin small but over time we would be able, with careful planning and with an eager approach to learning from others that have benefitted from sports tourism at the international level, we would certainly succeed.
It is most interesting that we are now speaking of the immense potential of cocoa and some are already predicting that we would not make it because of economies of scale.
In the case of sports tourism we can work with our small size and not be as worried.
We have a number of sporting organisations and personnel possessive of much experience but who are not given the slightest hearing. The time has come to change this.
If we are keen on developing St Vincent and the Grenadines we can certainly go beyond the narrow confines of political coloration. Development really has no political colour.