Government, hoteliers and organizers of the inaugural Cayman Islands Classic basketball tournament believe the event has provided a timely boost to tourism just ahead of high season.

More than 1,000 visitors touched down in the territory last week for the eight-team college basketball tournament, won by the Cincinnati Bearcats.

Tourism Minister Moses Kirkconnell said he hoped the classic would become an annual “sports tourism”  event on the Cayman calendar.

He said the estimated economic impact of the tournament was $2 million, based on 1,600 visitors spending an average of $1,200 per person. Mr. Kirkconnell said there were also spin off benefits from the competition, including largely positive media coverage around the U.S. and the potential for the players to become “ambassadors” for Cayman.

Government spent an estimated $8.8 million to build the John Gray High School gym, partially to create a facility that could double as a national indoor arena.

The cost of putting on the event, partially sponsored by government, has not yet been revealed.

Victor O’Garro, president of Caymax Sports Ltd., the company that hosted the three-day tournament, was tight-lipped about how much revenue the event generated.

Spectators watch the Iowa-South Dakota State game.

He said: “It’s not what was spent. The moment, the event, is worth more. This is what I consider sports tourism. When you have over 1,400 guests for five days, that’s a winner. And as time goes on, it’s going to reach a state where we can say we have made a profit.”

According to event organizers,  media from all eight universities covered the event, which was also streamed live on FloHoops and CBS Digital and reports on the tournament were carried in USA Today.

An estimated 5,500 people, including visitors and locals, attended over the course of the three days.

One convert to the charms of the Cayman Islands was Cincinnati Bearcats forward Gary Clark, who was the tournament MVP.

He said, “It was amazing. I love this weather, coming from Cincinnati. And the people, they just made us feel relaxed. From the resort and the kids shooting around, screaming, taking pictures and talking to us.”

He said his favorite thing was the water.

“Every minute I was out there, hiding from the trainers because they were trying to keep us out of the sun.”

Roishene Johnson, the wife of Louisiana Ragin’ Cajuns assistant coach Kevin Johnson, said her experience here has been great: “It’s beautiful. The people are so nice. We went to the Turtle Farm and the people there have been so welcoming.”

Steven Andre, manager of the Kimpton Seafire said he hoped the classic could become an annual event.

“Seafire was very fortunate to host two of the teams for the Cayman Island Classic basketball tournament this year, and we saw a spike in travel through the alumni organizations of both amazing institutions. We have certainly seen a number of loyal fans come to support their teams in Grand Cayman – great basketball with exceptional beaches, what could be better?

“Grand Cayman is a great location for these type of events and once we show we can do one, others will soon follow.”

Mr. Kirkconnell said sports tourism was part of government’s strategy to keep visitor numbers up during off season.

“This event showcases the fact that the Cayman Islands offers a balance between first rate facilities and world class leisure activities, augmenting our islands standing as preferred sports tourism destination,” he claimed.

It wasn’t all positive publicity for Cayman however. One university blog, Oh Varisty, described the tournament as a “dumpster fire” complaining about the quality of the live coverage, the outdoor changing areas, occasional scoreboard mix-ups and the fact that interviews were conducted in a laundry room.

That did not seem to be a broadly held opinion, however, with most of the teams, players and coaches praising the tournament and the majority of the media coverage focused on the on-court action.

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