EDITORIAL: Push sports tourism harder
THERE WAS GOOD reason for Caribbean cricket fans to rejoice last weekend. The West Indies had pulled off a thrilling victory over England at Kensington Oval which was face-saving in many respects.
For Barbadians it was a special time to relish. The winter tourism season was given an extended life thanks to the thousands of English visitors who came to support their team. Their presence offered tangible opportunities for a range of businesses and earned valued foreign exchange. The branding the island would have gained thanks to the English cricket tour is sure to redound in benefits well into the future.
The influx of visitors for the Kensington Test should have taught us a few lessons. The obvious one is that the winter season can be meaningfully extended by a few weeks. Similarly, that sports tourism should be exploited to help attract more visitors in lean months like October, a period when many hotels and guest houses struggle with their numbers.
The positive response in recent weeks should also have outlined why the idea of a well-organised sports tourism plan must not be merely talk, but needs to be acted on with some urgency by entrepreneurs in both tourism and sport. Sports promotion requires as much a full-time effort as the regular tourism market. It cannot be left to chance.
The big source markets for sports tourism are those that are most interested in the main international sports. These include Britain and United States and a number of mainland European countries from where we already get most of our visitors. Barbados’ ability to host specific sports, such as golf, motor racing, horse racing, rugby and yachting, gives us a competitive advantage. The country can also be further marketed as a venue for out-of-season training in various sports.
Sports tourism globally has grown in importance from a niche market to a multibillion-dollar business. We must go after the right mix and not try to catch everything. We should seek out those sporting competitions, including the grudge events, which attract fanatical support. Certainly we cannot wait on an English cricket tour every four or five years. Rather, we need to exploit our facilities, the weather, the local or regional talent and the general goodwill for Barbados.
Once a sporting event is booked, tourism officials need to encourage visitors to not only support the event, but to explore the island as a holiday destination. We must become adept at offering packages to fit a variety of sporting interests.
The growing importance of major sports events in the world today from the loyal followers’ perspective is a reality. Barbados needs to better use sports tourism as a driver of growth and development.