Sus­tain­ing sports tourism

Malta Independent - - DEBATE & ANALYSIS -

Dr Re­falo is Min­is­ter for Gozo

Mir­ror­ing the suc­cess on a na­tional level, th­ese last two years have been ex­cep­tional for Gozo in terms of tourism. Re­cent fig­ures show that the tra­di­tional mid-Au­gust fes­tiv­ity draws large num­bers of Mal­tese and for­eign vis­i­tors to the is­land. Pre­lim­i­nary fig­ures in­di­cate a record num­ber of pas­sen­gers crossed the chan­nel, amount­ing to around nine per cent more than the same week­end last year, with most ac­com­mo­da­tion providers re­port­ing full oc­cu­pancy well in ad­vance. For some, such news would be enough to start rounds of self-con­grat­u­la­tions. Not us, as we see this only as a spring board to fur­ther suc­cess.

How­ever, we made it our goal to raise the bar and aim one step fur­ther. To do this new growth sec­tors need to be ex­plored, nur­tured, and sup­ported. It is com­mon knowl­edge that our is­lands’ cli­mate is the ba­sis of many of our ac­tiv­i­ties and that tourism is defini­tively one sec­tor whose suc­cess is due to this favourable state of na­ture. How­ever, for many years this fact was not used as a mar­ket­ing tool; in­deed we be­lieve that the is­land is an ideal des­ti­na­tion to at­tract sport­ing ac­tiv­i­ties and events to Malta and Gozo.

The first steps that have to be taken to de­velop this niche is to un­der­stand that sport tourism re­quires a holis­tic vi­sion. It is not enough to come up with piece meal so­lu­tions or to make spo­radic vis­its to this niche with­out ad­e­quate plan­ning and co­or­di­na­tion. Sim­i­lar to other ar­eas, to suc­cess­fully com­pete in the grow­ing sport tourism mar­ket, it is cru­cial to thor­oughly un­der­stand the ben­e­fits and im­pacts of sport tourism, of the process of bid­ding for events, and other el­e­ments in­volved in the plan­ning and host­ing of a sport event.

To en­sure sustainability, it is fun­da­men­tal that the sport­ing cli­mate on a lo­cal level is a vi­brant one. One can­not mar­ket some­thing when in­ter­nally de­mand is low. There­fore, the Min­istry for Gozo has ac­tively en­cour­aged and sup­ported the de­vel­op­ment of lo­cal tal­ent. For ex­am­ple, last year a 10-year­plan en­ti­tled ‘project 2025’ was for­mu­lated to sup­port lo­cal sports clubs and ath­letes. We have also strength­ened the sport academy where young per­sons can en­gage in a va­ri­ety of sports over all months of the year.

The or­ga­ni­za­tion of an in­ter­na­tional event al­ways draws at­ten­tion. This was the case when we suc­cess­fully or­ga­nized the UEFA un­der 17 Cham­pi­onship last year. This proved a good op­por­tu­nity to broaden our con­tacts and it was an ex­cel­lent win­dow to ex­hibit our fa­cil­i­ties and the at­trac­tive char­ac­ter­is­tics of Gozo.

We have also ei­ther di­rectly or­ga­nized or ac­tively sup­ported other non-main­stream sports ac­tiv­i­ties. Two ex­am­ples are the Air Mod­el­ling show which took place at the Gozo Heli­port and the Yacht Mod­el­ling show which was or­ga­nized in Xlendi. We have also helped the Gozo Mo­tocross As­so­ci­a­tion to re­launch the cham­pi­onship in Gozo, some­thing that is at­tract­ing lo­cal vis­i­tors to the is­land.

Af­ter nu­mer­ous years of empty prom­ises, the Gozo nata­to­rium is close to be­com­ing a re­al­ity. In­deed, dur­ing the last month the eval­u­a­tion stage started to look into the merit of the bid­der. Once com­pleted, it will pro­vide a sta­teof-the-art Nata­to­rium Com­plex to the lo­cal and in­ter­na­tional sports in­dus­try as well as the lo­cal com­mu­nity and gen­eral pub­lic.

In­evitably, part of our mo­ti­va­tion to look into sport tourism is eco­nomic, that is, this is a strong niche mar­ket which is set to grow as well as of­fer di­ver­si­fi­ca­tion of our tourist prod­uct. How­ever, sport tourism in­evitably af­fects more than the econ­omy. By pro­mot­ing sport tourism, we also aim to pro­mote the health ben­e­fit of sports to the lo­cal pop­u­la­tion. This will be a win-win sit­u­a­tion.

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