Ireland is underachieving in its sport tourism potential despite having the capacity to be a major global player, the Shannon Group European Sport Tourism Summit in Limerick has heard.
According to one of the world’s leading experts on sport market intelligence Mike Laflin of Sportcal, Ireland ranks just 60th in the world, behind Barbados and Andorra, in terms of attracting major global sport events over the past six years and he recommends the establishment of an agency to devise a ten-year strategy and head-up bidding for major global events.
Sport Tourism is estimated to be worth €450bn globally and growing at a rate of 14% per annum, compared to wider tourism growth of 5%.
Laflin was one of a host of leading international experts who addressed day-one of the Summit, which is one of the leading global think-tanks on the industry annually. He was joined on the podium by the likes of Commonwealth Games CEO David Grevemberg, Ryder Cup Director Richard Hills, Director of Major Events and International Relations at UK Sport Simon Morton and Paul Smith, Head of City Delivery for England 2015 Rugby World Cup.
Speaking at the Summit, Laflin said, “There is no question about Ireland’s potential in sport tourism but at the moment it is not really registering at an international level. The irony is that Ireland is one of the world’s most passionate sporting nations, has excellent infrastructure and is incredibly good at hospitality yet it is underachieving.
“If Ireland got everything in line, you would see it jump up the global rankings very quickly by landing major international events. The reality is that governing bodies would want to bring events here because they know participants and fans of the respective sports would have a fantastic experience.
“If Ireland is to tap into its enormous potential, however, it needs to have a dedicated Government agency working on it. Failte Ireland is doing fantastic work at the moment but it is about much more than tourism.”
Keith Wood, director of W2 Consulting, which organised the Summit, said that the message from the event is that Ireland is at the start of something great. “A lot has been achieved in Ireland already. There is a growing number of very successful, organic events here but we are now only beginning to look at the bigger events. The first thing you need is the ambition and Ireland definitely has that and I really believe that once we get the bit between our teeth in this country, we will get there.”
Simon Morton, Director of Major Events and International Relations at the UK’s dedicated Government agency, UK Sport said that having an agency to head up bidding for major events and develop a coherent strategy is key.
“It’s absolutely critical for us in the UK to have a centralised body heading this up. All the stakeholders and expertise needs to be pulled together. We believe it’s made a big difference over the last 15years in British sports for us to have UK Sport.
“Legacy is a really important reason for us to do what we do. Our research is showing that 74% of young people say that when they attend a big sporting event they are more inspired to participate. That’s a great opportunity to help drive participation and connect people into sporting activity after the event.
“If you look at the London Games in UK in 2012, it really gave us the catalyst to be an ambitious host nation. The 2023 Rugby World Cup would be fantastic in its own right but when you look at the investment required, you have to look at the potential for the legacy events that could come afterwards.
“Our legacy programme from London 2012 is seeking to ensure that we are hosting more major sporting events after the games and we are now targeting the attraction of 100 of the world’s biggest sporting event sot the UK after the London Olympic Games.”
Neil Pakey, CEO of Summit sponsors Shannon Airport, said that Ireland can become a real global player in the sector. “We are right in thinking that sport tourism is a huge opportunity for Ireland and this region. The focus of other nations on securing big events is very interesting. They put a lot of resources into that and I think we need to do likewise here. Ireland can become a serious player in hosting events, from major ones like the Rugby World Cup to the smaller niche ones. We just need to get a calendar of events going as a priority.”