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A THORNY ISSUE: Maximising our sports potential

Andi Thornhill

A THORNY ISSUE: Maximising our sports potential

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SPORTS TOURISM is still a niche area that can help contribute to the economy but facilities and marketing strategy will be key to any success we hope for.

We must be mindful of this because we should remember that there are other countries with the same concepts so we have to gear for stiff competition and we must be equipped to deal with it.

We must develop a competitive edge that will make us first choice for a sustained period.

To begin with, there must be a synergy between the Barbados Tourism Marketing Inc. (BTMI) and various sporting associations which have events with the potential to bring large numbers of guests to our shores.

Ideally, there must be forward planning wherever possible to give the BTMI and its marketing engines enough time to get the message out, particularly in jurisdictions that have been traditionally favourable to us in the past. It is possible to make a dent in

non- traditional markets once we are proficient and word begins to spread of our organisational competence.

The BTMI can’t do all of the marketing so the associations will also have to be proactive mainly through the use of social media as they may find it financially challenging otherwise.

I think, too, it is critical that the tourism authorities become much more than facilitators for those planning events but they must also conceptualise their own plans to attract visitors with sports-related activities that we don’t currently offer. I am assuming that this will be part of the mandate of the revamped tourism sports department.

Because of our size, I don’t think any one entity can pull it off on their own so it will definitely take more than one hand to clap.

This time of the year gives us a good opportunity to assess our current sports tourism models and how we can improve them to benefit both locals and visitors.

The recent annual Independence surfing competition in Bathsheba might be the best example on how we can utilise natural resources to create waves and a viable showcase of what we have to offer.

Surely, our growing status on the international scene in surfing through the success of stars like Chelsea Tuach, Chelsea Roett and Josh Burke has given the sport greater visibility way beyond our shores so while it might become easier to market we should still seek ways of growing it and sustaining it.

Depending on the level of success, I believe some disciplines should qualify for a greater slice of the marketing pie and other forms of sponsorship and investment.

Surfing is on the rise and I am sure once the Pier Head marina becomes a reality, there will be a surge in international sailing and we will be well positioned to bid for more and bigger world championships.

Next on the radar is the Barbados Turf Club’s Winter Jockey’s Challenge which on the success of last year’s event, has the potential to become our second premier, racing spectacle in line with the interest shown in the Sandy Lane Gold Cup.

We should note that Trinidad has inaugurated a similar idea with the European jockeys clashing with the best of the Caribbean. They are more or less piggy backing on what we are doing here. If the Trinidadians didn’t see some gain in it, I don’t think they would embrace it.

All local stakeholders must do all in their power to keep this Challenge in Barbados. We should always remember how we lost the Atlantic Race For Cruisers (ARC) to St Lucia in the early 1990s.

And hasn’t the British Airways International Masters Football Tournament gone to Tobago from this year after we originated it?

I wonder, though, if this was a victim of the recession that also accounted for the international cricket masters two years ago.

Run Barbados is now limping but I believe a good rebranding will bring it back up to speed. It doesn’t help that no foreign elite athletes will be competing this year and I know gradually we have seen a decline too in the best Caribbean road runners because many have found the clashing Jamaica Reggae running series more attractive.

Personally, I think we need to return to refocus on the two, original events – the 10K and the marathon – but make the prize money much more attractive. I think we can budget for a minimum of BDS$100 000 to share as financial incentives between the two races.

We mustn’t forget that many runners have it as a profession so they will try to get to whatever event in which they see tangible benefits. We must move with the times to restore Run Barbados to its former glory and recreate its national appeal.

We know Top Gear was a big success and we hope the forthcoming Race Of Champions will also turn out to be massive at Bushy Park but we must still be careful to have a pricing system and other conditions that will be friendly to the masses. Spectator support could make or break this venture, which we had to bid for.

I still believe the hockey festival can make a comeback once the authorities are in a position to keep their word to help repair the AstroTurf at Wildey. We have seen a huge decline in European teams since it has been out of use. It has hurt the festival and its long-standing traditional sponsor wasn’t even on board this year.

The English cricket tour to the West Indies will sell itself but I think we have the stock to host international events in athletics and netball, and the growth of our indigenous sport road tennis should be considered. The BTMI has just announced a two-year partnership with English Premier League club, Liverpool and I don’t think it is far-fetched trying to get a team of that stature to play here.

Part of the challenge for sports tourism going forward is for players in the market to aspire to break new ground and scale barriers, which only lack of will can prevent us from conquering.

• Andi Thornhill is an experienced, award-winning sports journalist. Email: [email protected]

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