Ambitious goals for sports tourism

Sports tourism is a multibillion dollar industry worldwide but competition is rife in the Caribbean. Tourism bosses hope this month’s CONCACAF youth soccer tournament will be the start of a long and fruitful relationship. But they are also looking to create a buzz about Cayman through international sporting events and by recruiting stars like Usain Bolt as “brand ambassadors”  


When sprinter Usain Bolt streaked to victory in front of a capacity crowd at the Truman Bodden sports stadium in May, the camera bulbs flashed and images of the Cayman Islands spread around the world. 

Bringing a world star like 100m champion Bolt to these shores is not cheap. But tourism bosses believe the payoff from this and other sporting ventures will justify the investment. 

Sports tourism has been highlighted as a potential growth area for the Cayman Islands. Events like the Flowers Sea Swim, the upcoming CONCACAF Under-15 football tournament and the NORCECA volleyball competition are seen as important marketing opportunities for “brand Cayman” as well as the chance to bring more visitors to the island. 

Budget constraints could prove to be the biggest barrier to developing the industry, however, with the Department of Tourism warning that any new projects will need private sector support. 

The cost of attracting top stars to compete here is great and the payoff is sometimes hard to quantify. 

Bolt reportedly picks up a $200,000 cheque every time he runs. The full cost of putting on the Cayman Invitational Track meet has not been revealed by organisers, who rely on private sponsorship as well as government funding. 

A Freedom of Information request by The Journal revealed that government’s contribution was $130,000, mostly from the Nation Building Fund. 

The outlay was sanctioned by the previous government but incoming sports minister Osbourne Bodden believes the amount was justified and indicated the new administration would continue to offer financial support to this kind of event. 

“An event of this magnitude brings much to the Cayman Islands in terms of sports tourism and it also is good advertising, as the spotlight of the world is shone on us for that period,” he said. 

It was a largely local crowd that watched Bolt triumph in May, but pictures of the event carried far and wide and organisers point to extensive media coverage as an example of the benefits to the territory. 

There were 115 articles in the international press, including ESPN and the BBC, and Bolt’s legions of fans followed his progress on Facebook. 

“Having high profile athletes such as Usain Bolt, who has 11 million Facebook users who ‘like’ his fan page and 2.8 million followers on Twitter, talking about and posting pictures of the Cayman Islands on social media is so much more powerful and meaningful than any paid advertising,” a spokesman for the organisers said. 

Events like the Cayman Invitational, which also brought 110 coaches and athletes to the island, are most valuable from a marketing perspective, said Shomari Scott, director of tourism. 

“The objective of an event could be to build positive brand awareness through extensive PR opportunities, celebrity engagement and broadcast opportunities which can sometimes deliver more value to the destination in the medium term. 

“Events that include a celebrity or professional component often lead to the destination creating influential brand ambassadors.” 

Other events, like the Cayman Islands Marathon, Flowers Sea Swim and this month’s CONCACAF football tournament, have more of a direct impact immediately. The football tournament is expected to bring 3,000 people to the island during a traditionally slow period for tourism. The swim and the marathon bring hundreds of competitors, along with their families, every year. 

Scott added, “Sport tourism is one of the fastest growing and most lucrative sectors in the global travel industry, and one that is estimated to be worth several billion dollars annually.  

“The Cayman Islands have actively been developing this sector with the goal of establishing the destination as a preferred sports tourism location. 

“With the successful hosting of increasing numbers of events, the Cayman Islands is proving itself to be an ideal destination for a wealth of sporting events and due to our warm weather, exceptional tourism product and variety of attractions and activities available, we have become extremely popular among the fans, family members and spectators who attend the various events.” 

The impetus for any expansion of sports tourism may have to come from the private sector. 

He added, “Moving forward with a much reduced budget the government will be less able to seed such future events so it’s even more important for our private sector to take the lead and raise more of the necessary funds themselves, which we are hopeful will be achieved.” 

A burgeoning relationship with CONCACAF, the governing body for football in the region headed by Caymanian Jeffrey Webb could be part of the solution. 

This month’s event will be followed by a conference later in the year and a televised girl’s football tournament early next year.  

Webb told the Journal that the Cayman Islands had a chance to prove itself as a host destination over the next few weeks saying future opportunities, including the beach world cup, could follow. 

Tourism Minister Moses Kirkconnell hopes the partnership will be a fruitful one for Cayman. He believes this tournament alone could generate $20 million for the economy at a slow time for tourism. 

He said the hotel bill for the teams and officials, picked up by CONCACAF, would run to over $1 million. 

“You can multiply that by four when you get friends and family, airlift, tour operators, let’s say you are at $4-5 million. 

“If you want to do a multiplier effect for the trickle down into the economy, you quickly see a $20 million event. 

“Back into that and start thinking of the real opportunity, if you could do four of these a year and you see what this means to the Cayman Islands.” 

Brooke Meyer, spokeswoman for the Holiday Inn Resort, one of the partner hotels for the event, said the event came at the right time for the hotel and the industry. 

“The economic impact of accommodation rentals, food and beverage sales, locally sourced trade and business needs and supplies, and event staffing opportunities should provide a welcomed financial boost in what otherwise would be a lower occupancy period for the resort and island-wide,” said Ms Meyer. “As a developing sport-tourism destination the exposure Grand Cayman will receive from this tournament will be invaluable.”  


The Flower’s Sea Swim is one of Cayman’s biggest sports tourism events.