AS Qatar is propelled into the limelight following its recent appointment to host the World Cup, there has never been a stronger focus on sports tourism. Not only is Qatar the first Arab country to win the bid but it is also expected that the benefits of such an appointment will impact sports tourism across the entire region.
Wissam V. Suleiman, general manager of Kempinski Residences and Suites, Doha gives his take on the appointment from a hotel perspective: “I think this achievement has definitely put Qatar on the world map as a business and leisure destination and a great development opportunity for the country. We expect tourism to increase during the year and will continue in the future. We also expect that the tourism infrastructure will become more and more developed, a fact that will help increase the number of travellers choosing Qatar as a weekend or vacation destination.”
Suleiman is likely to be correct in his predictions; even with the additional 90,000 hotel rooms coming on board, The Qatar Tourism Authority is anticipating 20 per cent growth over the next five years, it was reported in Sporttourismexpo.com.
According to Worldwide Sporting Development and Events (WSDE), the value of sports tourism is worth $600 billion and in 2010 made up 14 per cent of all travel and tourism receipts. With its sunny weather and significant investment into tourism as a whole, the Middle East is already competing on an international scale and it’s getting bigger and better every year.
Ben Faber, account director at Fast Track Middle East, explains: “2013 has started on a good note for Fast Track with the Mubadala World Tennis Championship, Commercial Bank Qatar Masters and the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championships. We are looking forward to a busy year with events such as HSBC Rugby Festival Dubai in January, Abu Dhabi International Triathlon in March, Formula 1 Etihad Airways Abu Dhabi Grand Prix in November and Emirates Airline Dubai Rugby Sevens in December. Each of these events has grown in their own way every year in a bid to put the UAE and other GCC markets on the map as a world-class sports hub. A success story is the Abu Dhabi International Triathlon, organised by the Abu Dhabi Tourism & Culture Authority (TCA Abu Dhabi), which takes place annually and since its inception in 2010, spectator numbers and athlete registrations have more than doubled. With the inclusion of triathlon in the Arab Games 2015 the magnified importance of such events continues to put the UAE as one of the leading sports destinations in the Middle East.”
Such growth also has knock-on effect for smaller businesses, especially those in related fields. Matt Farr, who runs adventure travel company, Mountain Quests, reports: “The rise of sports events in the GCC has had a positive impact on Mountain Quests. Events like triathlons and other sports tournaments throw the spotlight on outdoor pursuits, and this can only benefit adventure sports companies. In addition, the ability for people of all fitness levels to compete, especially in events like triathlons, means that they are more accessible than ever. People enter a more active lifestyle from this and naturally start to look into other parts of the world to further their passion of an active life.”
While the UAE, Qatar and Oman may be leading the way, it would seem inevitable that other GCC countries will start to follow their lead. While there are multiple factors involved when it comes to the success of sports tourism, such as investment, the availability of on-site hospitality, and growth in infrastructure, there is no doubt that a strong collaboration between the tourism authority and various venues is required.
Cyril Mouawad, director of sales and marketing at IHG, Doha agrees: “I believe it is our responsibility as hotelier to promote the destination next to promoting our own property; this is why we have an active relationship with the tourism authorities to leverage all kinds of tourism including sport.”
Hotels and airlines are incorporating everything from sponsorships to special events in their marketing plans. Jumeirah Emirates Towers and Jumeirah Zabeel Saray in Dubai have both launched ‘Stay and Play’ packages in partnership with Dubai Golf. Hotels have even been built around sport venues, for example The Meydan in Dubai and the horse race track, the Meydan Grandstand. Another example is Yas Viceroy in Abu Dhabi which is built on the Formula 1 circuit.
Julie Audette, director of PR and communications emphasises the impact: “High-visibility sporting events effectively highlight Abu Dhabi as a world-class destination. With the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, Yas Viceroy benefits from major exposure as the event is televised in more than 180 countries, reaching around 600 million viewers.”
The figures regarding this event speak for themselves; the Tourism Cultural Authority (TCA), Abu Dhabi recorded a 10 per cent increase in guest figures in November 2012 as a result of the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix proving to be the busiest month of the year.
Abu Dhabi’s future plans include taking its name oversees as events manager, Faisal Al Sheikh explains: “Abu Dhabi Racing’s newly announced three-year partnership with eight-time World Rally Championship (WRC) winning manufacturers, Citroën Racing will see the team compete in all 13 rounds of this year’s WRC calendar. TCA Abu Dhabi will undertake as many as five on-the-ground destination promotions in key source markets to leverage the associated interest in Abu Dhabi that will emerge. As part of this, we also have a Junior Driver Development Programme, which sees young Emiratis being given the skills to develop with the longer term view of them pursuing careers at the highest levels of the sport. Locally, the facilities and driving academy at Yas Marina Circuit continues to develop green shoots motorsport programmes and is a major draw from aspiring drivers from around the region and beyond.”
While challenges do exist in any growth market for successful sports tourism, it would seem that for this sector to grow in the Middle East, the only real challenge will be healthy competition between the countries to secure the next big event.
By Karen Osman
TTN is the most established trade publication in the Middle East distributed on a controlled circulation basis to members of the travel and tourism industry.
Published monthly by Al Hilal Publishing and Marketing Group, the region’s foremost trade publisher, TTN is aimed at professionals in the industry, from travel agents to airline and hotel personnel.
TTN provides in-depth and extensive coverage of relevant issues in the Middle East and North Africa as well as in other parts of the world. Travel related news, analysis, and new appointments together with information on up-coming exhibitions, marketing and promotional campaigns are presented in an innovative and striking colour tabloid.
Every issue also contains a collation of international and regional news and topical features of interest to readers.