Sports tourism has been identified by both the current and previous governments as a potentially lucrative niche market in which Trinidad & Tobago has a distinct competitive advantage. In addition to already regularly hosting an array of athletic activities, including golf, yachting, boating, cricket, horse racing, powerboat racing, tennis, cycling and football, T&T, especially Trinidad, features a robust network of sports infrastructure with significant capacity. The segment’s contribution to overall economic development not only hinges upon the number, quality and duration of sporting events hosted, but also the country’s ability to attract non-competitive events such as conferences, meetings and training programmes. The potential economic benefits are significant and include revenues generated not only from events, but from the increased demand for hotel accommodation, transportation services, food and beverages, entertainment, television and media coverage, advertising, and health and medical services. Therefore, it is essential that all components of the sports tourism value chain work effectively for T&T to benefit from the potential advantages.
On a global level, tourism receipts grew by 5% in 2017 to reach $1.3trn, according to the UN World Tourism Organisation, with sports tourism one of the fastest growing segments in the industry, forecast to grow by 41.5% between 2017 and 2021. The segment in T&T has mirrored global trends, with the number of sports tourists nearly tripling from about 1600 visitors in 2010 to Sports tourism’s contribution to broader economic development will depend on T&T’s ability to attract non-competitive events such as conferences, meetings and training programmes 6315 in 2015, according to the Immigration Division of T&T. Meanwhile, Ministry of Sports and Youth Affairs (MSYA) figures show that if sports tourists continue to rise by 4500 every five years, T&T can expect over 10,500 sports tourism arrivals by 2020.
In total, the country is home to five multipurpose stadiums, including the Dwight Yorke Stadium in Tobago; eight indoor sporting arenas; five 25-metre community swimming pools; one national ice hockey facility; and three major golf courses.
Also included in the country’s sports stock are the recently expanded 250-metre National Cycling Velodrome in Balmain, with capacity for 2500 people; the National Aquatic Centre in Couva, which holds two 50-metre event pools, a 25-metre diving pool and capacity for 700 people; and the Brian Lara Cricket Academy, which hosted the Caribbean Premier League Twenty20 (CPLT20) cricket championship tournament in both 2017 and 2018.
T&T is no stranger to hosting major athletic events. As far back as 2001, the country was the destination of the FIFA Under-17 World Championship, for which it constructed four FIFA-standard stadiums — three in Trinidad and one in Tobago — with a total seating capacity of 37,500. Additionally, several smaller grounds were upgraded for use as practice pitches, and the already existing Hasely Crawford Stadium in Port of Spain had new seating and a flood-proof playing field installed.
As part of a more recent push to showcase the country’s events potential, in January 2018 T&T hosted the Confederation of North, Central American and Caribbean Association Football Women’s Under-20 Championship, the Pan American Badminton Male and Female Team Continental Championships the following month, as well as the Caribbean International Invitational Open Combat Sports Championship in April. Darryl Smith, the minister of sport and youth affairs, told local press in February 2018 that hosting regional competitions would help continue the country’s sports tourism drive. “One of the main objectives of the MSYA – and we have been doing a pretty good job at it – was to push sports tourism. We hosted the highest number of international events in our history [in 2017].”
Although the segment is still in its early stages, signs are pointing to significant increases in activity over the coming years. In anticipation of this, in October 2016 the T&T Hospitality and Tourism Institute launched the first sports tourism master’s programme in the country, and is expected to significantly increase skills training in the segment.
The destination has the temperate climate and structural capacity to facilitate a wide range of professional and amateur sport events. Currently, there is rising interest in cricket and soccer, but already existing fields could be used for various sports in the off-season. Specifically, there is large untapped potential with US universities. T&T could offer training facilities to baseball, lacrosse and other field sports teams during the winter, as the weather is relatively mild during the winter months, averaging 27°C year-round. While Puerto Rico has historically served as the main practice destination for US university sports teams, the damage caused by Hurricanes Maria and Irma, which struck in September 2017 affected many of the facilities. Being outside of the hurricane belt, T&T’s sports facilities are intact. “Trinidad has the same temperature throughout the year,” Charles Carvalho, CEO of local tourism operator Carvalho Agencies, told OBG. “In winter, when athletes in cold countries need to practise, they could come to T&T since we already have the infrastructure in place. Over the last few years, the government has built several professional sporting facilities throughout Trinidad.”
The country had been without an official tourism policy for almost six years as the most recent guidelines expired in 2012. In January 2018, however, the Ministry of Tourism released a draft of the Sport Tourism Policy of T&T (STPTT), which highlights the broader advantages of developing the segment. On an economic level, hosting events can help reduce poverty in communities through the development of small business and the upskilling of community members needed to welcome, host and serve the influx of visitors.
It is also expected that boosting sports tourism numbers will contribute to other segments, such as ecotourism and cultural travel, as visitors already in the country may seek to spend their free time on activities beyond sporting events. Local infrastructure upgrades will also lead to new roads and transport networks as well as the expansion of telecoms networks, benefitting the country as a whole.
The policy has received broader administrative support, with Colm Imbert, the minister of finance, pledging the government’s commitment to boosting the segment as part of the nation’s economic diversification strategy. Key to the STPTT will be securing the economic sustainability of sports tourism by attracting and hosting a continuous stream of international and regional sporting events, championships, tournaments, competitions and training camps. However, hosting successful events hinges on the availability and accessibility of adequate, well-maintained infrastructure beyond sporting facilities, including accommodation, air and road transportation networks and other ancillary services, such as food and beverage, entertainment and public safety. Therefore, investments are necessary beyond athletic infrastructure to create an ecosystem conducive for the growth of sports tourism.
On top of this, the government has pledged to invest directly in a number of tournaments. An economic impact assessment conducted by the organisers of the CPLT20 reported that the 2016 championship tournament generated $20.4m in visitor expenditure, up 31% from the previous year. Additionally, the tourism boards of Barbados, St Lucia and Guyana each negotiated shirt sponsorship deals with their respective premier league franchises, resulting in significant revenue generation and gains in media value. In the 2017 the CPLT20 cricket championship final attracted 37.6m viewers worldwide and generated TT$23m ($3.4m) in revenues for the country. More recently, the government provided TT$20m ($3m) to host three finals of the CPLT20 championship games, which took place in August and September 2018.
With the recently constructed National Cycling Velodrome and National Aquatic Centre, as well as other sports facilities throughout the country, T&T is set to increase the number of regional and international sporting events it hosts, especially if the country wins the right to the 2021 Commonwealth Youth Games. What is clear, however, is that the government has recognised that athletics can be a vital part of broader economic development.