Lets’s start with a poll…
This week, the world’s tourism authorities, airlines, hotel groups, conference bureaus, tour operators, online booking engines and media are in London for World Travel Market. It’s a huge tradeshow where deals for the next 12 months and beyond are hammered out.
Throughout the year, we have reported on the economic impact of sailing events on the tourist economies of various cities, regions and countries. Over the past few years, there has been a trend for those promoting tourist destinations through sponsorship of major events; to use sailing as a platform for attracting a desirable demographic who will spend money on hotel rooms, restaurants and hire cars. Examples include The Vendee region (Vendee Globe), Barcelona (Barcelona World Race), Abu Dhabi (Superyacht Cup), Oman (Oman Sail), Kingdom of Bahrain (Open 60).
It’s not just title sponsorships either. Attracting major events to towns or regions is big business, with expensive tender processes, bids and lobbying, presumably to attract visitors who would otherwise be at home. This year, sailors and sailing fans have visited traditional events in Cowes, Antigua and Geelong as well as used the presence of events like the Volvo Ocean Race to have a break in Galway, drive across the USA to be in Boston or experience something completely new in India. The carnival-like atmosphere of the iShares Cup invited us to Andalucia and Venice and the Louis Vuitton Trophy promises fans the opportunity to grab some winter sun in Auckland. Valencia is set to benefit from giant multihull America’s Cup boats and let’s not forget domestic opportunities – the chance to see the worlds best compete in the 2012 Olympic venue in Weymouth.
However, for all the investment and high level partnership announcements, walking around the World Travel Market, sailing is practically invisible. To be fair, it’s not just sailing. Sports tourism is worth an estimated $600 billion a year, attracting high-end spend from millions of sporting fans worldwide. Yet sports tourism is the ‘poor relation’. It commands little attention from the (travel) industry, regardless of its accelerating ability to offer new and significant revenue.
Perhaps it’s a function of spectators, or fans, being an afterthought for many sailing promoters. The focus is on competitors, VIPs and the media. Much easier to sort out the logistics for a few photographers who will take pretty pictures destined for the covers of sailing magazines. But why shouldn’t those images end up in travel brochures or in mainstream travel editorial? There seems to be a disconnect between the handshakes and photo opportunities between tourism authorities and promoters and delivering an experience for visitors.
This week, the Louis Vuitton Trophy is in Nice. While the event is a gap-filler for otherwise idle America’s Cup syndicates, the Trophy will reportedly visit glamorous cities and dare we say it try to emulate F1 by attracting an affluent visitor. The website includes local tourism partners and the following statement:
Thanks to its geographical location in the middle of the Mediterranean arc, to its history – Nikaïa was founded by the Greeks – to its cultural heritage, to its open attitude to the Sea, Nice Côte d’Azur is part of a long and enviable maritime tradition. Nice Côte d’Azur is also a city oriented towards a sustainable development model based on the preservation of the environment and a better quality of life.
Every year, Nice Côte d’Azur hosts many international sport events. The Ironman race, the Paris-Nice bicycle race, the Istanbul Europa Race… and today the Louis Vuitton Trophy. Each event is a showcases of the ‘savoir-faire’ of Nice Côte d’Azur in terms of the organisation of major sporting events.
This is why we are thrilled to be taking part in this athletic and human challenge and we wish you all the best stay here with us here in Nice Côte d’Azur; simply unique!
Christian ESTROSI, Minister in charge of the Industry, Mayor of Nice, President of Nice Côte d’Azur
The finals are in a week or so… plenty of time to get on a plane from the UK or Europe for a weekend city break in Nice to go and experience the first round of the Louis Vuitton Trophy, but try typing Louis Vuitton Trophy travel packages into Google and you won’t have much luck. Seems the average sailing fan is expected to organise their own travel arrangements. Incidentally, the Google search will bring back ads for packages to South Africa to see next year’s World Cup.
Perhaps it’s too new. A similar search for ‘Cowes Week Accommodation’ does bring back results including resources on the official cowes week website for visitors. A couple of savvy independent villa rental operators in Valencia have also begun advertising in preparation of an event in Februrary 2010.
So there seems to be an opportunity missed here. Tourism partnerships need to go a level down – from the bureaucrats to the ground operators. Promoters need to think more about the fan experience and that fan experience doesn’t start when they enter the VIP compound or the race village. Similarly, tourism operators need to wake up and understand why people are coming to their destination. An event loses credibility when you check into a hotel and the person behind the front desk doesn’t know that it is happening around the corner. PR people for both the event and the destination need to engage travel media well before the event and that requires confirming calendars further in advance.
We’ll be announcing new features soon that allow sailing fans to manage their travel plans.