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Thailand gears up for sport tourism boom

Thailand gears up for sport tourism boom

With double-digit growth in foreign visitors expected in 2010, Thailand has not only proved but its incredible resilience but a forward-thinking attitude towards developing new markets, and Sport Tourism in particular.

The number of foreign tourists visiting Thailand during 2010 is expected to rise by 10 per cent to at least 15.5 million, generating at total Bt536 billion in revenue, according to new projections from the Kasikorn Research Centre.

The Thai think tank also reported that foreign tourist confidence has recovered rapidly from political violence in Bangkok last spring, reflected in a strong growth in international arrivals in the second half of 2010.

KRC also predicts that foreign arrivals are likely to increase by 5 percent to around 16.33 million next year, earning Bt555 billion in revenue.

(Bangkok’s incredible Wat Phra Kaeo temple)

One of the country’s tourism jewel, the island of Phuket, is playing a key role in spearheading the growth. Passenger traffic through Phuket International Airport surged 28 percent in the first half of this year compared to 2009, heralding a return to levels not experienced since the boom year of 2007.

According to C9 Hotelworks Managing Director Bill Barnett, one clear indication of the bounce back was the rise in hotel occupancy from 61 percent in 2009 to 70 percent in the same period of this year.

Pushing sporting boundaries

With travel and tourism one of the lifeblood economies of Thailand, both the public and private sector have been quick to acknowledge the fastest growing area of the industry – Sport Tourism.

This year, for example, a groundbreaking sporting academy is opening in Phuket that will set the nation’s stall out as Asia’s hub of sporting excellence.

(Opening this year, the Phuket International Academy Mind Centre)

The Phuket International Academy Sports and Leisure Club (PIASLC) is a leading-edge development, which is poised to become the continent’s pre-eminent competition, training and event complex.

Combining a brilliant location with world-class facilities, it is already attracting interest from respected global sporting institutions and international corporations.

The PIASLC marked its international launch at World Sport Destination Expo (WSDE) in Johannesburg during the summer.

(The Royal Palace and Temple)

The opening signals Asia’s willingness to embrace Sport Tourism – an industry worth $600 billion a year and growing.

Since Beijing successfully hosted the Olympic Games in 2008, Asia has remained in the sport tourism spotlight and its unrivalled sporting infrastructure and integrated approach to leisure tourism has reaped considerable rewards.

(Thailand is becoming a Sport Tourism hub of Asia)

Leading analysts predict that the travel industry’s fastest growing sector will post record profits and contribute an astonishing 14 percent of overall travel and tourism receipts by the end of 2010. At a time when some traditional tourism trends are in decline, Sport Tourism continues to flourish and is set to grow exponentially in the next decade. 

There are many reasons for the sport tourism boom. The continued sportification of society is prompting a seismic shift in tourist patterns. The 21st century is witnessing traditional sun and sea vacations – traditionally the main stay of the industry – being replaced by activity sport related vacations and a new breed of tourists keen to attend an ever increasing calendar of readily-accessible mega sporting events.

(Thandiwe January-Mclean, Chief Executive, South Africa Tourism, opens the inaugural WSDE in Joburg during the final week of FIFA 2010)

WSDE – the first global exhibition and business forum dedicated to showcasing the $600 billion a year Sport Tourism industry – was successfully launched in July this year alongside the final week of the 2010 FIFA World Cup. The key buyers, influencers and media met face to face with the destinations leading the field in this dynamic sector and forging the future of sport tourism.

This proven track record has resulted in the announcement that the next edition of WSDE will take place in Bangkok in 29 September to 2 October 2011 and will mark an important year for Asia, and Thailand in particular.

The PTT Thailand Open, which was first held in 2003, will be returning to the capital, and is expected to feature the biggest names in tennis, and boasting Roger Federer as a back-to-back winner in 2004 and 2005.

The ATP tennis event has become one of Thailand’s big Sport Tourism attractions, but there is no doubt about the other – golf.

(Thailand - the land of smiles)

The Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) revealed earlier this year that golf will be one of the focus sectors for its 2011 marketing strategy.  TAT will highlight the country’s world-class golf courses via its “Amazing Thailand Golf Paradise” campaign. While Thailand will market its courses and playing facilities, one area of Sport Tourism where the country is particularly thriving is in the golf MICE sector.

In 2011 Thailand will host at least six golf industry conferences and exhibitions with the busy calendar crowned by WSDE 2011 taking place in Bangkok in October.