Sometimes it pays handsomely to have friends in high places, and often times those connections are well worth developing to the fullest extent.
Case in point: CONCACAF president Jeffrey Webb and his ability to channel large ticket sporting events to his native Cayman Islands through his position as a member of the worldwide football governing hierarchy.
Next week, teams from 23 neighbouring countries will descend on Grand Cayman as the island is set to host the region’s first Under-15 football tournament, bringing roughly 700 players and officials to our shores for two weeks of matches as the territory broaches a new chapter as a sports tourism destination.
On the heels of that, in January, the regional governing body for football in North and Central America and the Caribbean will welcome the CONCACAF Women’s Under-20 Championships to the Cayman Islands, and along with it another contingent of players, officials and visitors, as well as coveted television crews and valuable media exposure.
Organisers predict the entourage of family, friends and support staff from this month’s tournament alone will see the number of visitors swell to around 3,000, with potential for repeat travel and word-of-mouth marketing magnifying the benefit.
This is welcome news.
Residents in the Cayman Islands need not look far to recognise the power of tourism as a driver of economic growth, a tool for development and a provider of employment.
Fortunately, the global tourism industry has shown resilience the past few years, growing despite a stalled worldwide economic recovery, particularly in the eurozone. However, steadily improving numbers are reflected locally via recent stay-over receipts, and estimates for the coming years call for additional growth and increasing tourism spending.
Today, tourism is among the world’s leading industries, while sports is regarded as the No. 1 industry in the leisure sector. Sports is an integral part of all culture, and while often viewed as a separate activity, it is inextricably linked to tourism.
Over the past decade, the global sports industry has seen rapid changes and innovations fuelled by the increase in leisure time and spending, the appetite for spectacle and participation, new distribution methods and the deregulation of the broadcast industry.
Now a multi-billion dollar business, sports tourism has become a vast international enterprise attracting media coverage, foreign investment, political interest and travelling participants and spectators. At all levels, it has a double-barrelled effect – the direct impact of the attendance of the competitors and spectators and those accompanying them, as well as the indirect effect of the marketing of the destination which leads to the subsequent tourism flows. This indirect effect can be large and most of the benefits of big sporting events are expected to be of this nature.
For the Cayman Islands, it is important to bring all stakeholders together in forging a national sports tourism policy. We have to research our sporting and recreational activities to determine which of these seem to possess the best potential for sports tourism development in the territory.
In that regard, Mr. Webb – with his prominent and influential connection to global football authorities at FIFA – is a resource to be utilised.