Friday, April 18, 2014, 12:40
Tourism’s sporting chance

Tourism’s sporting chance
Hong Kong’s International Dragon Boat Races attract hundreds of thousands of locals and tourists to the events each year. (PROVIDED TO CHINA DAILY ASIA WEEKLY)
The huge success of the third annual Asia Golf Tourism Convention held recently on Hainan island in southern China is a clear indication of what the future has in store for sports tourism in Asia.

Hainan is one of the areas being developed by the Chinese government as part of a planned sports tourism strategy. The tropical island boasts 54 high-quality golf courses of great variety. Nevertheless, China’s new tourism policy (2013-2020) has also re-emphasized the plan of diversifying and developing the Chinese tourism industry through sports tourism.

At the convention, organized by the International Association of Golf Tour Operators (IAGTO), more than 200 operators from around the world met with 290 delegates from seller companies based in the Asia Pacific.

IAGTO envisages that international golf holiday trips to China’s southerly tropical island will double over the next 18 months as a direct result of the event.

“The emerging middle class in Asian markets is creating the demand for leisure and tourism, and sports tourism has enormous potential as high-spending tourism is growing in the region,” says Wayne Evans, director of Lion Sports Management, based in Perth, Australia.

Asia’s middle-class population at present stands at 500 million, and is expected to grow to 1.75 billion by 2020 — more than a threefold increase in just seven years.

Management consultancy firm McKinsey & Company suggests that by 2022, more than 75 percent of China’s urban middle-class consumers will earn between $9,000 and $34,000 annually.

A report, conducted for the travel agency Amadeus by consultancy group Oxford Economics, said that China and other emerging markets are set to drive the travel industry. China’s growing middle class is poised to overtake the United States this year as the world’s largest outbound travel market and the biggest domestic travel market in 2017, the report added.

The enthusiasm to make golf part of a tourism strategy is crystal clear, as Golf’s 2020 Vision, a HSBC report from 2012, said the daily spending of golf tourists while on holiday is more than twice as high as that of general leisure tourists, and about 20 to 30 percent higher than that of regular golfers.

“Even as the golf market grows, it maintains its premium status among fans,” the report said. “Although the Chinese golf market is quickly becoming the largest in the world, golf viewers in China and India — like those in the USA and the UK — are better off than non-golf viewers.”

The report also said that the growth of the game in new markets like China is not only due to international tourists but also domestic ones.

It is not just in China. Golf tourism in Thailand is riding on the back of a tourism explosion to the kingdom, with total foreign arrivals doubling to more than 22 million annually.

Asian countries are a major source of tourists traveling to Thailand, with about 13 million out of 22 million, or 60 percent of the total, coming from Malaysia, Japan, South Korea, Singapore, India and increasingly from China.

World-class courses in India, Vietnam, Laos, Malaysia and Singapore are also home to international tournaments attracting well-known Western players, as well as Southeast Asian masters of the game.

Over the years, the Barclays Singapore Open has helped present Singapore and its popular resort destination, Sentosa Island, to a global golf audience as a choice destination — a key theme on the Singapore government’s agenda.

Overall, by 2015, Singapore has forecast arrivals to rise to 17 million and tourism spending to $24.5 billion. And it is not just golf driving the demand. Singapore’s Formula One night race alone attracts about 40,000 visitors to the city-state annually and adds an average of S$140 million ($112 million) to tourism revenue.

Jean Ng, director of sports at the Singapore Tourism Board, tells China Daily Asia Weekly, “Singapore aims to leverage sports tourism and its associated events. This is made possible through the building of state-of-the-art infrastructure such as the Singapore Sports Hub, as well as incorporating lifestyle elements into key events.”

The Hong Kong Tourism Board (HKTB) is also actively promoting sports events, including the annual International Dragon Boat Races, Hong Kong Rugby Sevens, Hong Kong Marathon and the Longines Hong Kong Masters — Asia’s first and only five-star indoor equestrian event — to showcase Hong Kong’s diverse tourism offerings and strengthen its position as the sports tourism hub of Asia.

“The government recognizes that mega sports events could help enhance the city’s image and attract a promising number of visitors, which help bring impressive economic benefits,” says Terry Wong, senior information officer at Hong Kong’s Tourism Commission.

“These events help attract overseas participants as well as their supporters to Hong Kong, enriching our visitors’ experience, and drawing the attention of international media, thus generating worldwide exposure for Hong Kong,” Wong adds.

Leveraging the popularity of cycling in Asia, the HKTB is now planning to stage the Hong Kong Cycling Festival, which will be the biggest ever in scale in the territory, hoping to create a mass appeal across all visitor segments.

A major goal of HKTB-organized sporting events is to attract overseas visitors. For instance, the board joined forces with the Hong Kong China Dragon Boat Association to organize the Hong Kong Dragon Boat Carnival, which has successfully drawn hundreds of thousands of local and overseas visitors every year since 2010.

In India, as part of its policy for the diversification of tourism products, special attention is being given to the development of adventure sports tourism in the country.

“Adventure sports tourism is rapidly growing in popularity as tourists are seeking different kinds of vacations,” says SK Yadav, managing director of New Delhi–headquartered Wanderlust, an adventure sports company.

Despite this growth in the industry, adventure tourism in Asia remains relatively small in market size, compared to the European and North American markets.

According to a survey by George Washington University and the Adventure Travel Trade Association, both based in the US, the global adventure sports market is estimated at $89 billion. However, the size of the Indian industry is pegged at around 6 billion rupees ($99 million).

“More publicity, the opening of new destinations, and active participation of world-famous adventure sports personalities will help boost adventure tourism in this part of the world,” says Syed Faheem Ahmad Bihaqi, assistant director of tourism for the popular skiing destination of Gulmarg in northern Indian.

To make India a global destination for adventure tourism, the government has already established the Indian Institute of Skiing and Mountaineering at Gulmarg.

The National Institute of Water Sports in the southern province of Goa, another organization of the Ministry of Tourism, is being upgraded to handle more training in water-based activities.

“We have to put in enough efforts to change the concept of tourism from leisure to sports tourism and to adventure tourism, and subsequently put India on the global map of adventure sports tourism,” concludes Bihaqi.