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Jamaica should take full advantage of sports tourism

Published:Wednesday | March 20, 2013 | 12:00 AM
Dr André Haughton

Why sports?

THE ISSA/GRACEKENNEDY Boys and Girls' Championships held at the national stadium last weekend was a phenomenal event. Jamaica's young athletes broke more than 30 records over the five days, which has convinced many that this is the best championships ever held.

Athletic scouts, coaches, and other sports interests from all over the world came to watch the young athletes participate while at the same time enjoy Jamaica's 'No Problem' culture.

Also, this coming Friday, Jamaica's men's national football team, the Reggae Boys, will play against Panama at the national stadium in a World Cup qualifier, in the final round of matches to try and make it to the World Cup next year in Brazil. Panamanians and other tourists are expected to travel here for this event, which is a highly anticipated fixture. With all these events, can Jamaica strategise to take full advantage of sports tourism?

What is sports tourism?

Travelling to participate or watch sporting events has been increasing worldwide as tourist 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 gross domestic product earning - about $3 billion per annum.

They have distinguished between domestic and international sports tourism, defining domestic sports tourism 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 to participate, or be a spectator or an official. Given Jamaica culture, its strategy should focus on international sports tourism, which could boost the country's foreign-exchange inflow.

What is the strategy?

Countries will not benefit much from sports tourism if the sports and tourism sectors are not properly coordinated. Industry coordination is outlined as one of the main strategies for a country. Australia's strategy outlines that proper coordination between the sports authorities, tourism authorities and business people at both the parish and national level can increase 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 opportunities.

What will facilitate these linkages?

Education and training are important components to link the sports and tourism sectors. Australia realises 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 sport-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 sport-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 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.

The 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 what standards exists 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 André 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 editorial@gleanerjm.com