EDITORIAL – The return of the Cayman Islands Classic

Months before the tip-off of the third-annual Cayman Islands Classic, we are confident in declaring at least one winner: Cayman’s blossoming sports tourism industry.

Eight US college basketball teams and a thousand or more loyal fans are expected to arrive for the preseason tournament in late in November: Loyola-Chicago, Nebraska, Old Dominion, New Mexico State, South Florida, Washington State, Colorado State and George Mason.

The timing could not be better, with the athletes, support staff and boosters giving a welcome ‘boost’ to our tourism economy and our islands’ global visibility just before the busy tourist season.

Organizers say last year’s tournament generated an estimated US$2 million economic impact, and attracted more than 1 million viewers on Facebook Live. As Caymax Sports CEO Joe Wright said at a news conference about this year’s event, “We’re on the uprise and we’re moving fast.”

The tournament also makes good use of the John Gray High School gym, which was built, in part, to double as a national indoor arena – at considerable public expense. Tourism Minister Moses Kirkconnell has said he already considers the Cayman Islands Classic “a tremendous success”. His ministry has budgeted $75,000 to support the tournament this year. Ideally, and soon, the tournament will become so firmly rooted in the NCAA preseason schedule that such public support will no longer be needed. In the short-term, modest public investments are a wise use of funds, helping keep visitor numbers up and building a foundation for future growth in this lucrative and popular tourism sector.

Like last month’s overwhelmingly successful CARIFTA Games, the November tournament gives locals the chance to watch elite athletes in action while sharing our islands’ unique charm with new visitors. Each well-planned and executed event helps establish Cayman as a sports tourism destination, each ‘win’ increasing our ability to attract even more regional and global competitions and draw competitors to homegrown competitions such as the Flowers Sea Swim.

This July, the Cayman Rugby Union will host the Rugby North American Sevens tournament. As the Cayman Compass reported, the group intends to submit a bid to host the 2022 Rugby World Cup Sevens, which would bring teams and supporters from all over the world. We wish them every success.

Tapping into sports tourism is a sound strategy for our tourism sector, opens up new entertainment options for locals and helps teach our young people the benefits of an active, healthy lifestyle.

In short, it’s a slam dunk.

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