Sports tourism is constantly in the news as a source of untapped revenue in the world recession. The annual Flowers Sea Swim attracts the largest number of visitors to these shores of all the sports events. Journal journalist Ron Shillingford looks at how sea swims could increase tourism dollars.
Despite being surrounded by water, many Caribbean islands do not have a great reputation for staging sea swims. Not Cayman.
It has one of the busiest sea swim itineraries in the region with the showcase being the annual Flowers Sea Swim.
Last year’s attracted over 800 entrants with many competitors coming from overseas. The 18th staging by the Flowers Group is on 19 June and World and Olympic champion swimmer Ryan Lochte has promised to return. He came as a spectator and to start the race last year – won by his friend Shaune Fraser – and was so impressed he wants to swim it this time.
The average visitor spends around $2,200 and with Cayman’s excellent water sports facilities this invaluable source of income could be channelled in that direction.
Dara Flowers-Burke is a director of the Flowers Group and main organiser of the Flowers swim with her father Frank. She thinks Cayman has enormous potential to increase its sports tourism product.
“Cayman has some of the most idyllic conditions in the world for all kinds of sporting activities, especially swimming and water sports,” Flowers-Burke said.
“In this economic market it is even more important that we diversify and use our natural resources to promote new avenues of tourism”
What could the government do to increase revenue through water sports?
“I think the key is increasing international exposure, especially in the realm of open water swimming,” Flowers-Burke added. “A typical open water athlete is a masters swimmer, who is middle aged, with some dispensable income, which is a perfect fit for the Cayman tourism market.
“The best part is that once swimmers come to Cayman one time, they’ll be back. Word of mouth is one of our biggest assets.”
She thinks having a Cayman sea swim week would help sports tourism considerably. “Sure! We’re actually looking into the possibility of hosting a Cayman water festival week with the culmination as the Flowers Sea Swim.
“This week would include multiple events – half miles, long distance swims, even baby and kids’ swims. I think this would be a fantastic draw for overseas recreational and competitive swimmers.”
Flowers-Burke has mixed feelings about increasing the number of sea swims here.
“I do not think there is space for another one mile sea swim like the Flowers. However, I do think that there are opportunities to increase international participation for longer event swims such as 5ks and 10ks. If marketed right, these swims attract large numbers of masters swimmers.
“I couldn’t say in numbers exactly how much revenue the Flowers swim generates for Cayman but I do know that we have about 150 international swimmers that come for our event.
“And they don’t come alone; each probably brings two or three friends or family to the island as spectators. Generally swimmers come for three or four days. So you’re talking about 400 people coming for four days during June (which is slow season) so I’m sure the revenue to the Islands is significant.”