Sports tourism success not guaranteed, experts tell WTM
Monday 8, November 2010
World Travel Market’s second Sports Tourism Conference has heard differing opinions about the value of hosting major sporting events.
A warning came from Tom Jenkins, Executive Chairman, European Tour Operators’ Association, who said that it would be hard for London 2012 to meet its tourism objectives because of the difficulty of predicting the figures accurately.
“There are many good reasons for hosting the Olympics, but tourism isn’t one of them,” he said, referring to figures which showed the extent to which host nations had got their predictions wrong. Beijing for example, expected 400,000 foreign visitors for 2008; the reality was 18,500.
London has predicted that 380,000 international visitors will turn up in 2012. Currently there are only 122,000 hotel beds in and around London.
Jenkins’ dissenting voice conflicted with some of the other panellists. Rashid Singh, Chief Marketing Officer for South Africa Tourism, said that the tourism legacy of FIFA World Cup 2010 was the hotels, improved infrastructure and more visitors, while the sporting legacy was the improved access to quality facilities for local people. She said that some of the stadiums were now being used for rugby.
But the main beneficiaries of the legacy were South Africans themselves, she said.
Taleb Rifa, Secretary General, United Nations World Tourism Organization, also objected to Jenkin’s comment that “if you need to build an infrastructure around a one-off event you don’t need that infrastructure”. Rifa countered this by saying quite often major sporting events ensured that an infrastructure which should be there already is built.
Rifa was also keen to point out that the “21st century will be the century of sport and travel” and that the two industries would work together in the future. However, the panel’s only private sector representative warned that the globalised sports industry was often at odds with the travel industry. Marc Bennett, who runs the European sports division for TUI Travel, pointed out that the rights holders for events held the power in terms of ticketing, pricing and distribution.
Instead, he hinted that TUI – Europe’s biggest tour operator – was looking more closely at monetising participation in sport. “I see it [travelling to take part in sport] as a wholesome, profitable area not soured by hotels and rights holders.”
With the major events dominating the stage, it was left to Richard Shipway, sports tourism lecturer at Bournemouth University, to fly the flag for doing rather than watching. He noted that while the sports tourism industry appeared dominated by Olympics and World Cups, the bulk of the business is people taking part. He reminded the 100-strong audience that playing golf, as an example, was worth $25bn a year globally.
Chris Foy, who heads up VisitBritain’s 2012 unit, was confident that despite the challenges, the Games would succeed on all levels. “We want London 2012 to be a future benchmark for other host countries,” he said.
Jenkins remained unconvinced. “Look at Wimbledon, the most famous and widely broadcast tennis competition this is. What, can I ask, has this done for Wimbledon as a tourist destination and what has it done for British tennis?”
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