By Avenash Ramzan
Sport and Tourism are inextricably linked, and that interconnection has contributed positively to the global tourism product. It is, quite simply put, a billion-dollar industry.
By its very nature, sport activities, whether at the professional or amateur level or just for recreational purposes, requires movement of persons through different geographical locations, thereby lending to the promotion of tourism and ultimately economic activity within those jurisdictions.
Major global activities, including but not limited to the Olympic Games, Football World Cup, Cricket World Cup, Wimbledon, Premier League Football and the Indian Premier League, are outstanding examples of the power of sport as a viable tourism product.
The World Tourism Organisation, the United Nations agency responsible for the promotion of responsible, sustainable and universally accessible tourism, said Sport Tourism is one of the fastest growing sectors in tourism.
‘More and more tourists are interested in sport activities during their trips whether sportare the main objective of travel or not. Sport events of various kinds and sizes attract tourists as participants or spectators and destinations try to add local flavours to them to distinguish themselves and provide authentic local experiences.’
THE GUYANA CONTEXT
In the Guyana context, the largest single contributor to the Sport Tourism product has been the Hero Caribbean Premier League T20 tournament.
With the exception of 2020, where matches were held solely in Trinidad and Tobago due to COVID-19 restrictions, Guyana has hosted matches in the ‘Biggest Party in Sport’ every year since the tournament’s inception in 2013.
According to CPL Central, the 2019 event, which saw Guyana hosting the usual five Guyana Amazon Warriors home matches, and for the first time, two Playoff games, created a total economic impact of US$29,514,926 in the country, a 15% increase on the fantastic results that were achieved during the 2018 event.
This figure, CPL noted,was calculated using organiser spend, visitor spend and media value and was collated for the tournament by world-renowned researchers, YouGov Sport.
In addition to the economic impact figure, the tournament filled 7,664 hotel rooms in Guyana, saw an increase in overall arrivals into the country during the Hero CPL and 608 jobs were created.
For President of the Guyana Football Federation, Wayne Forde, Sport Tourism remained ‘an untapped industry in Guyana.’
While noting there is tremendous potential for growth, Forde opines that a change in attitude among stakeholder is desperately needed.
‘We tend to measure the value of an international sporting event too narrowly by placing an inordinate amount of emphasis on the tangibles returns, while ignoring spinoffs such as the improving the visibility for the country, lifting the international profile of the sport, showcasing our talented sportmen and women, sharing our culture among others,’ Forde related.
International sport events, Forde intimated, impose huge financial demands on Federations and Associations that more often result in unrecovered investment. This, he believes, discourages the staging of new and innovative international events across all disciplines.
‘This has to change and it simply cannot be left to the various disciplines to do so. It would require broader thinking and a clear policy framework to achieve this, which will no doubt unleash the true potential of Guyana’s Sport Tourism industry.’
In 2017, the Guyana Hockey Board, under the leadership of businessman and national hockey player, Philip Fernandes, created history by hosting the Indoor Pan American Cup, featuring both male and female competitions, including teams from Argentina, Canada, Trinidad and Tobago, Mexico, Uruguay, Barbados, USA and Guyana.
The success stories that emerged from the Hockey Board’s hosting of the Diamond Mineral Water Indoor Hockey Festival, which was launched in 2004 and features top regional and local club teams, had a major influence on the Pan American Hockey Federation being designated host in 2017.
‘The entire Pan American region of hockey fans focused their attention on Guyana for what were six days of exciting hockey. With the tournament being a qualifier for the World Cup in Germany the following year, no doubt viewers from all over the world also paid keen interest. The matches were streamed live due to a support crew from NCN and I-Net and viewership statistics matches and exceeded all previous IPACs,’ Fernandes explained.
The 11 foreign teams each had contingents of about 18 members, as well as visiting friends, family and hockey enthusiasts, many of whom were in Guyana for the first time. ‘With our warm hospitality, unique and relatively inexpensive cuisine and rich biodiversity, for those who ventured further inland during rest days or immediately following the tournament, Guyana was on the tips of the tongues of many of our visitors. The Pan American Federation was so pleased with the event and performance of hosts Guyana that they have recently recommended Guyana to be a candidate to host an indoor World Cup event,’ Fernandes pointed out.
While ready for the challenges of hosting a global event, Guyana would have to upgrade and maintain its facilities to meet the international standards required for competitions of this nature.
The development of an outdoor hockey centre on the plot of land at Durban Park, according to Fernandes, could see the Pan American Federation looking in Guyana’s direction once again.
‘They have the well-justified opinion that the development of a centre, complete with an outdoor artificial grass pitch, would bring many opportunities for hosting international tournaments and many sport tourism visitors to our shores.’
ALIANN POMPEY INVITATIONAL
Through the caliber of athletes it was able to attract, the Aliann Pompey Invitational Track and Field event has been able to showcase Guyana to the wider world.
Grenadian sprinter Kirani James, the Olympic and World champion, was one of the many high-profile athletes to compete at the event.
‘He spent a few days after the competition was over; he went to Kaieteur Falls and a few other sites. I think it’s key that when these athletes retire for Guyana to be on top of their list or on their list of places to continue to visit,’ Guyana’s four-time Olympian Aliann Pompey, who is the brainchild of the event, stated.
Pompey firmly believes opportunities must be created for athletes to spend extended time in the country after competing to indulge in the Guyanese experience and hospitality.
The conversation on promoting Guyana, Pompey noted, will begin in those interactions beyond the field or pitch.
‘That is something that can propel the industry a little bit more. The more people come to Guyana, it’s not just the tourism industry that blooms, but other local businesses, the food industry, the hotels and everything else benefits.’
Other major events that have attracted foreigners to these shores include the Guyana Motor Racing and Sports Club’s November race meet featuring drivers are riders from Guyana, Trinidad and Tobago, Barbados, Jamaica and North America, the annual Guyana Cup Horse Race meet where thousands attend in Berbice and the Guyana Cup Softball tournament, featuring teams from Guyana and North America.