The Caribbean: The Importance and Role of Sports Tourism

By Stefan Fabien, Attorney-at-Law, Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago

To say that the 2017 Atlantic Hurricane season was brutal would be an understatement!

More than a dozen storms lambasted the Caribbean region, with two storms, in particular, Irma and Maria, developing into category 5 Hurricanes, leaving a trail of death, destruction, devastation and despair, rendering tens of thousands homeless; millions powerless; and a recovery effort estimated to take years and cost in excess of US$50 billion dollars.

The yet unquantified costs, however, are those regarding damage to the tourism sector upon which, for decades, the majority of these Caribbean Nation States have relied. Closely connected to this more traditional tourism sector is the burgeoning sports tourism industry, which has quietly become a multi-billion-dollar industry in its own right.

According to the Draft Sports Tourism Policy of Trinidad and Tobago, dated 2 June 2017, economic benefits of sports tourism include:

  • revenue generation from the increased demand for hotel accommodation;
  • transportation services;
  • food and beverage;
  • entertainment;
  • television and media coverage.

The policy drafters also noted that sports tourism can help to reduce the level of poverty in communities through the development of small and micro business enterprises, and the up-skilling of community members to welcome, host and serve the sports tourism visitor.

In any discussion concerning the regeneration of these islands economies, sports tourism must be on the agenda.

By way of an example of the possibility of sports tourism and economic regeneration post catastrophic Hurricanes, the region has only to reflect on the accomplishments of Grenada following Hurricane Ivan in 2004.

Ivan was a category 3 Hurricane that destroyed both Grenada’s National Cricket Stadium and its Athletics Stadium. The National Cricket Stadium was rebuilt and reopened in 2007 in time for the Caribbean Cricket World Cup at a reported cost of US$55 million. Similarly, the permanent 8,000 seat Athletics Stadium was rebuilt at a reported cost of US$40 million and reopened in 2016 by Kirani James— the Grenada native, after whom it is named and having brought pride and international recognition to the Spice Island, after attaining gold and silver medals in the Mens 400M at the London 2012 and Rio 2016 Olympics respectively.

This new Athletics Stadium would be used, almost immediately, in hosting the 45th edition of the CARIFTA Games and the CONCACAF Women’s Under-17 Football tournament in March 2016. Additionally, in April 2017, Grenada was able to host its first ever invitational track and field meet, which was able to attract significant sponsors and superstar sprinters, including the likes of Jamaican Asafa Powell and American LaShawn Merritt, in addition to the hometown hero and Stadium namesake, Kirani James.

Similarly, the 80,000-population Nation of Dominica, which was almost completely destroyed following Hurricane Maria and cut off from the rest of the world for days in the storm’s aftermath, had built, in February 2007, at a reported cost of US$17 million, a multi-purpose sporting facility. This facility permitted the Island Nation, for the first time, to host One Day International Cricket Matches, Test Cricket and T20 Cricket Matches and, ironically, was used as a staging venue for foreign aid relief workers post Maria.

Former United Nations Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon, is quoted as saying that sport is a powerful tool for progress and development, as he urged governments to integrate sport in development assistance programmes and in national development projects. It is quite instructive, therefore, to note that the Stadia rebuilt in Grenada and the Warner Park Facility built in Dominica are projects that were funded by the People’s Republic of China.

This populous ‘BRICS’ nation, having been within the top three countries in the medal haul of the three previous Summer Olympics, arguably understands the role that sport, in general, and sports tourism, in particular, plays in development assistance and economic regeneration in these storm-ravaged Nations, by enabling them not only to reach a point of self-sustainability but also, eventually, a return to profitability!

Stefan Fabien may be contacted by e-mail at ‘sfablaw@gmail.com’