There is a saying that “sport and politics do not mix”, the reason being, sport represent an untangled, free spirited emotion of patriotism; and politics has an agenda of control and divisiveness. Within recent years, sport-related travel has increased, suggesting synergistic relationships amongst sport, government and business activities for sport tourism to become a popular trend.
The marriage of sport and tourism is evident, as sport promote tourism through various sport events, seminars, sport conferences; and tourism promote sport by increased participation, touristic attractions and infrastructure. Therefore, Sport Tourism can be defined as “travel away from ones primary residence to participate in a sport activity for recreation or competition, travel to observe sport at the grassroots or elite level, and travel to visit a sport attraction”.
As such, sport tourism comprise a broad range of niche tourism markets which tourism destination marketers can effectively use push and pull factors that can promote destination T&T. Push factors explore experiential marketing such as, the culture and lifestyle of the islands; and pull factors would explore the islands tangibility of its natural attractions, historical sites, special events, entertainment opportunities. In essence the market drive is designed to encourage either the participant or spectator of the sport to revisit the islands. Therefore the key, if T&T is to develop sport tourism is to comprehend the impact of economic benefits, destination image and the social impacts.
Infrastructure is critical to start the business of sport tourism, whereby the reputation earned by the brand created by the facility is able to attract spectator participation and improve destination marketing. For instance NY Yankee Stadium, Rigley Field, American Airlines Stadia, Wimbledon, Wembley, Augusta National Golf course Georgia, Soldier Field, Lords, Kengsinton Oval and Queen’s Park Cricket Club (QPCC) to name a few. Likewise, many destinations encourage investors to build resorts offering sport facilities in watersport, ski, and golf where the attraction of the sport facility becomes the primary motive to be negotiated into the trip. Ski Resorts and Golf resorts of international standards are the top travel trend for the higher income traveler.
According to research there are several categories that integrate sport tourism, business and government such as, Sport Tourism Events (such as olympic games, world cup, marathons, etc.), Sport Tourism Attractions (such as sport hall of fame, sport clinics, sport shows, conference), Sport Tourism Tours (Trekking, Cycling, Dragon Boat, zip lining, Adventure), Sport Tourism Resorts (Golf, Camp Sites, Fishing resorts, Fitness/Spa), and Sport Tour Cruises (Deep Sea Fishing, Snorkel cruise, Kayaking). The fact is, every category mentioned can be facilitated in T&T thereby having the islands poised to move on sport tourism as a unique destination, as both islands can boast of public infrastructure built to international standard: stadia, cycling velodrome, hockey centre, in door sporting complex, racing circuit and soon to be opened aquatic centre. Seemingly, these facilities and lit playing fields should be an impetus for our young sport enthusiasts to grab opportunities to become elite athletes similar to our national achievers as evidenced by our medallist and representatives in individual, team and paraplegic. T&T is the only islands in the Caribbean with divergent sport talent as compared to the other destinations. The T&T flag has been represented in areas such as track and field, cycling, sailing, aquatics, badminton, athletics,gymnastics,tennis, racing, cricket, football, triathalon, netball, hockey, chess, rugby, boxing, just to name a few.
Therefore, it is expected that congruence, if not policy, must exist irrespective of mandates between the two major public institutions Ministry of Sport and Ministry of Tourism with special purpose companies, Sport Company (SPORTT) and Tourism Development Company (TDC). What can be questioned is whether there is a collaborative framework for sport tourism trend to be a forecasted measurement to our GDP? Where does the responsibility lie to pursue sport tourism to attain brand uniqueness for T&T?
Studies have shown that tensions will arise out of differing ideologies by governing parties, organisations and individuals, private investors, where the responsibility lies in a merged relationship, subsides, and the issue of which public sector authority should then make the final decision. Since little research is in this area of sport tourism in T&T, it may be interesting that confluence exist in the quasi-autonomous government policy framework.
Historically public administrations in T&T are known to have been poor service providers and most times incapable of generating economic benefits despite grand assertions made by government officials. With the many facilities built and owned by government, it is only logical that the treasury drain will be more so to maintain facilities and infrastructure. The government will also be financially burdened for hefty sponsorship requests for sport events, advertising, promotions,an apparent norm only in T&T. This substantial financial drain is at the taxpayer expense, therefore this should raise an automatic red flag to establish success indicators to highlight the wealth of return of every dollar that is spent.
It is my perspective, more so as a new administration has been installed, to review its strategic plan with action plans that can have an impact on its goals so as be uniquely established as a sport tourism destination in the Caribbean. One can put forward many recommendations but for the purpose of this article I will venture to offer a few:
- There should be a focus towards bidding for major international special events; engage with international teams to host friendly matches; ‘charm‘ meets with private investors to consider leasing stadia; and encourage facility rental;
- Entice international brand merchandisers (Lucozade, Coca Cola, Pepsi, Red Bull, Adidas, TATA, etc.) who are seeking new markets to become primary sponsors for events or conferences;
- Build on coaching and training camps in various disciplines;
- Review the tax break sponsorship incentive for private companies making it less bureaucratic and also include tax break for small businesses;
- Promote specialist online pages to advertise sport and adventure travel;
Economic benefits are attainable as long as the destination brand encourage the tourist dollar to be spent on the visit of attractions and accommodation, shopping and dining; the government will benefit from tax collections and income through sponsorship / leasing /ticket sale distribution; and our people would benefit with a sense of pride, patriotism and support from having a pool of international athletes on the world stage. Therefore, I fervently believe that the mix of sport, government and business can soon become a fine blend for destination Trinidad and Tobago.