Sports tourism the way to go
The Inter-Secondary Schools Sports Association's Boys and Girls' Championships held at the National Stadium last week was a phenomenal event.
Jamaica's young athletes performed extremely well; several records were broken over the five days. The quality and the large proportion of extraordinary athletes convinced many that this is best high-school athletics event in the world. Athletic scouts, coaches, and other sports interests from across the world came to watch the young athletes participate while enjoying Jamaica's culture.
At the same time in Montego Bay, the national football team - the Reggae Boyz - played two international friendly games against Venezuela and Cuba. Venezuelans, Cubans and other tourists travelled here.
Why sports tourism?
Travelling to participate or watch sporting events has been increasing worldwide as tourists try to double up on their travelling experiences. This sports tourism is a fast-growing sector in the global travel industry and is said to value approximately US$600 billion a year. Many countries have been formulating their sports tourism strategies to take advantage of this increasingly growing sector.
Australia, for example, has been benefiting massively from sports tourism; currently, it represents approximately five per cent of its GDP, earning about $3 billion per annum. They have distinguished between domestic and international sports tourism.
Domestic sports tourism is defined as any sports-related trip involving staying away from home for at least one night or more, while international sports tourism is a trip to the country with the primary purpose of participating, or being a spectator or an official. Given Jamaica's culture, its strategy should focus on international sports tourism, which could boost the country's foreign exchange inflow.
What is the strategy?
Any country can maximise its earnings from sports tourism if it markets itself properly to the right interests. Jamaica will only benefit from sports tourism if the sports and tourism sectors are properly coordinated and not marketed
separately, as it is done now.
Industry coordination is outlined as one of the main strategies for any country to maximise revenue from visitors.
In some instances, supporting activities make more money than the actual sporting
event itself for the locals. Entertainment, eating, travelling and sleeping if coordinated can improve the residual earnings for the Jamaican economy.
Jamaica can learn from Australia's strategy. They place strong emphasis on coordination between the sports authorities, tourism authorities and business people at both the parish and national level. This increases linkages, thus allowing the country to benefit more. Their strategy identifies that for
country to fully capitalise on the benefits of sports tourism, the linkages between sports and tourism must be well defined.
Traditionally, sporting events are organised for sporting purposes only, with less emphasis on the tourism aspect, which has resulted in lost revenue-earning opportunities.
What will facilitate these linkages?
Education and training are important components to link the sports and tourism sectors. Jamaica must realise that for sports to have its desired tourism effect, sporting event organisers must learn the business skills
necessary to coordinate successful events and at the same time recognise and take advantage of the tourism component that accompanies the hosting of these events.
Education and training can be made available through local universities and must be affordable and appropriate to suit the specific needs of the industry.
Research and data collection are also necessary to move the industry forward. If Jamaica wants to advance as a sports tourism destination, proper data must be collected from tourism sporting events to help analyse the industry's contribution to national growth as well as how to structure the sectors to achieve efficiency.
Can the Government help?
Government regulations, as well as the ease of doing business in a country, will play a major role in facilitating the success of sports-tourism activities. There are several aspects that must run smoothly, for example, the need for road closures during an event, or the issuing of visas to tourists or the granting of licences/permits for certain facilities. The culture of everything and the frame of mind of everyone surrounding the sporting village must be centred on the specific sporting event. This will enable Jamaicans and tourists to maximise the
benefits from the experience.
What is the role of infrastructure?
Good infrastructure is very important to the success of sports-tourism ventures. The specific venues where the events are held must meet international standards and must be user-friendly to foreigners.
Infrastructure outside the venues is equally important. Good airport facilities will help tremendously, and essentially, accommodation must be available for all the visitors.
The Commonwealth advises that all countries wishing to engage in sports-tourism ventures must conduct a facilities audit to see what facilities and standards exist in the country and to identify what facilities and standards are needed. If Jamaica strategises, the country might be able to boost growth through sports tourism.
- Dr Andre Haughton is a lecturer in the Department of Economics on the Mona campus of the University of the West Indies. Follow him on twitter @DrAndreHaughton, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.