Friday, April 17, 2009

Finding New Opportunities in Sport Tourism

Sport tourism is big business in Canada and Thunder Bay is certainly seeing its fair share. Nationally, tens of thousands of events generate $2.4 billion...that's right, with a "B" nationally. Thunder Bay's share is approximately $31 million and accounts for 17% of our annual tourism industry.

Sport Tourism is also important in the development of a year around sustainable tourism industry. The reality is that our leisure season is primarily during the warm months. Sport tourism opportunities span the entire year and provide opportunities that benefit hotels, restaurants, retailers, service providers and attractions in the traditionally slower travel seasons.

Sport tourism is also a community collaborative effort. Our best partners are the individual sport organizations that champion for their own sports, leading bids and advocating within their own Provincial and National associations to bring events to Thunder Bay. It could not be done without them. Its important for the City, the organizations, hoteliers and others to continue to work as one cohesive unit to deliver the best possible returns.

The national and international events that we have a reputation for hosting certainly play a big part of increasing the City's profile as a destination of choice for hosting top notch events. However, events catering to all ages and skill levels across a plethora of sports and recreational activities help contribute to the local sport economy. Consider that the Ontario youth diving and swimming championships held back to back in the city in 2008 generated over $1.5 million alone in economic impacts, its easy to see how every sport tourism event helps our economy.

The City's new sport tourism policy places more effort and resources towards bidding on events that deliver the best return on the community's investment. With bid assistance, a new event central "one window" approach to helping community partners develop their sport tourism event and marketing assistance, we're moving forward to build upon an already successful track record.

Sport tourism is also less prone to economic downturns. People still play sports, they still compete and they still attend events. They may stay a little closer to home or be more selective about what they attend but they still participate.

Tourism Thunder Bay participated in the 2009 Canadian Sport Tourism Congress, the ninth annual gathering of National and Provincial Sport organizations and tourism industry officials. It was a three day event that provided professional development opportunities to encourage more success in bidding and hosting events, building new infrastructure and creative marketing approaches. The annual marketplace - the speed dating of the sport tourism world - allowed us to meet with representative of various sport tourism rights holders and pitch the city for 8 minutes each.

This year we met with 11 different Provincial and National groups including Volleyball, Curling, Football, Hockey, Water and Adventure sports, and Basketball, as well as the National Canada Games and Aboriginal Sports Circle organizations. We now have a better idea of a wide range of bid opportunities that can present themselves over the next 2-15 years.

Its also a chance to meet with other communities, to share challenges and successes and to learn best practices from each other. while we're all often competing for events against each other, there are plenty of opportunities to go around.

The presentations made by a variety of industry experts will be posted over the next little while on the CSTA website and I encourage you to follow the website and organization to pick up what we had a chance to learn.

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