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ESPN director makes pitch for sports tourism

Published:Wednesday | February 1, 2012 | 12:00 AM
President of the Jamaica Netball Association, Marva Bernard (second right), shares a joke with ESPN's vice-president, Caribbean and Maritime Media, Bernard Stewart (second left); president of the Jamaica Olympic Association, Mike Fennell (left); and ESPN football analyst and former Jamaica international footballer Robbie Earle, during the Jamaica Stock Exchange Investment and Capital Markets conference at the Jamaica Pegasus recently. - Gladstone Taylor/Photographer

André Lowe, Senior Staff Reporter

Jamaica has long been vaunted as an ideal destination for sport tourism, given its international appeal and desirable weather.

Bernard Stewart, vice-president of Caribbean and Maritime Media at international sports network ESPN, is the latest to champion the need for a local focus on sports tourism, underlining the value such an industry plays on his company's programming direction. He is also encouraging a serious effort in ensuring that sports and entertainment play a greater role in spurring economic growth.

Stewart, who was a speaker at the recently concluded Jamaica Stock Exchange Investment and Capital Markets Conference at The Jamaica Pegasus hotel, pointed to the overwhelming impact of sports around the world and the direct benefits that can be enjoyed by local businesses and the economy in general.

"There are sports fans all over the world. We may not cheer for the same team and we may not anguish at the same losses, but sport brings people together," said Bernard, who has been with the US-based organisation for well over 30 years. "The world can agree on one thing, and this is we all love sports.

"We all know that sports has a major impact all across the world, and you need to look to use sport to improve local businesses," Bernard further encouraged.

$600-billion sector

Sport tourism is one of the fastest-growing sectors in the world, generating some US$600 billion on a yearly basis, and Stewart believes that Jamaica is well positioned to take a big slice for itself.

"Sports tourism is basically looking at the traditional way of getting people to come to a country such as Jamaica as a visitor; the sun, the sea is a part of life here so it's now about becoming very active, and the sports tourist has a significant tourism impact that allows for high spending, they stay longer and are very much more engaged," Stewart noted.

"From an ESPN perspective in the Caribbean, sporting events, lifestyle and entertainment are really one process," he continued, while pointing to the outlook of the network, which boasts more than 350 million subscribers in over 200 countries and territories.

"It fits our criteria of delivering to sports fans content, emotional events and a memorable experience. Sports tourism is fast-growing and it represents billions of dollars worldwide.

"The Caribbean is well suited to sports tourism. Sport and lifestyle is how people enjoy their lives, and Jamaica is a leading international tourism destination, and there are great opportunities here," added Bernard, who made reference to the organisation's Super Bowl at Sea cruise, which is offered in tandem with Royal Caribbean, as a prime example.

"This year, it's a seven-day cruise with 5,000 cruise fans who will come to enjoy the Caribbean, and that gives you the opportunity to engage an 'A' Class audience who have money to spend, and if engaged properly will give an idea of how sports tourism can affect local businesses," said Bernard.

The cruise, which will depart Fort Lauderdale next Saturday, one day before the NFL Super Bowl, will make a stop in Trelawny three days later.