Bernie Callaghan: We need to boost UK tourism through sports

I've just returned from Trinidad, visiting partner colleges and meeting students studying for our degrees while living and often working in Trinidad and Tobago

I’ve just returned from Trinidad, visiting partner colleges and meeting students studying for our degrees while living and often working in Trinidad and Tobago.

The Caribbean, birthplace of calypso, the steel pan and Carnival, is catching on fast to the huge potential of sports tourists. The World Cup Cricket held there a few years ago was the biggest venue ever to come to the Caribbean islands. The region luxuriated in the generosity of more than 10,000 English cricket supporters. World-class games brought the islands’ economy back to life with a bang.

The sun, sea, sand and laid back attitude of the locals are perfect accompaniments to a cricket-focussed holiday. They’re also a nice contrast to stereotypical British weather and uptight attitudes. This might explain our own faltering attempts in the past to boost UK tourism through sports.

Sports tourism boosts city and country economies worldwide. Golf, watersports, biking and climbing have spawned thousands of holiday packages. The British almost invented Alpine tourism, for example, which today attracts 120 million visitors a year.

We’ve tried to lure more overseas visitors to watch or play UK sport through celebrity backed campaigns, dedicated websites and government-backed marketing, but with sporadic success. Wembley, Wimbledon, Cardiff’s Millennium Stadium and Manchester succeed spectacularly, but we haven’t cracked it year or country-round.

I was at Old Trafford for the Sunderland game last week with my seven-year-old daughter. It was amazing to see so many overseas visitors, spending money not only at the ground but also in the city. It underlines the importance of our regional football teams staying in the Premier League, and the impact that it has on Newcastle and Sunderland-based retail, hotel and entertainment businesses. The North East has fine golf courses, stadiums, hills and rivers, but we have relatively few overseas tourists choosing this region for a sports-centred holiday.

Durham County Cricket Club’s success with the Ashes last year will hopefully be replicated with the one-day Cricket International between England and Sri Lanka later this month. It’s a superb venue worthy of world class games attracting international visitors. The growing popularity of tourism management courses within my faculty – including a sports tourism option – gives real optimism that the UK will be a top choice for sports-related holidays in the future.

Meanwhile it’s tempting to take a leaf out of the Caribbeans’ book and sit back, relax and enjoy the moment.

Professor Bernie Callaghan, dean of the faculty of business and law at the University of Sunderland

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