Nanaimo’s parks and rec department will firm up plans to maximize sports tourism to play a major role in the city’s post-pandemic economic recovery.
Richard Harding, parks, recreation and culture general manager; Dan Brady, executive director of the Nanaimo Hospitality Association; and Jacquelyn Novak of Toa Consulting presented a draft sports tourism strategy at a governance and priorities committee meeting Monday, June 28.
Presentation of the strategy had been delayed by more than a year because of the COVID-19 pandemic, which forced closures of sports facilities along with the cancellation of sporting events. Now that pandemic restrictions are being lifted, Nanaimo can plan for new sporting events that will draw athletes and spectators to the city.
According to the report, sports tourism was the fastest-growing segment of the global tourism industry pre-pandemic and generated about $7.2 billion in gross domestic product in Canada annually. More than $6 billion was lost in 2020 due to postponed and cancelled major sporting events.
The draft report looks at what trends in sports are happening in Nanaimo, across Canada and internationally, the current status of Nanaimo’s sports facilities and venues, local sport organizations, volunteer capacity, hotel capacity and tourism in general in the region.
“Sport is at the heart of every Canadian community of every size … and international sport is casting the net wider for host cities and I think you’ll continue to see … [a] number of opportunities for communities the size of Nanaimo, even at the international level,” Novak said.
The report explores ways to expand on economic opportunities around sport competition, such as hosting mass participation or recreational events, creating sport-related festivals, and hosting meetings and events tied into sporting events.
“What many people don’t realize is when there’s a major competition, for example provincial championships, often the entire board of directors is there, all the major coaches across the province,” Novak said. “Having that opportunity to have business meetings that are sport administration meetings tacked onto these events is a great opportunity locally, as well.”
Novak said feedback from the community informing the draft report came from 34 different sports associations across 29 sports. Also identified were 316 venues in Nanaimo, public and private, able to host sporting events or sports-related ceremonies, as well as hundreds of kilometres of walking, hiking and biking trails.
The report praised the strength of the Nanaimo Curling Centre and its club members and noted that the Steve Smith Bike Park’s pump track and the Marie Davidson BMX Park are international-calibre facilities. Nanaimo also has a strong team sport base in hockey, soccer, baseball, softball, lacrosse, basketball, volleyball and aquatics, noted the report, adding there are growth opportunities for cycling, paddling, adaptive sport, Indigenous sports, and sport administration.
“What we’re seeing with individual and small team sports, as well, is they’re the fastest to recovery because their COVID protocol is so tight in their delivery of events,” Novak said. “That it is one of the safest and fastest ways to return to sporting events for the community.”
Nanaimo also has the capability to offer training facilities for athletes participating in major international sporting events in B.C. and the U.S.
“People are coming to participate, not just to be spectators…” Harding said. “We find that, for example, with the mountain biking increase. If people come, they don’t want to just watch. They want t ride their bike and participate.”
Harding said recent investments by city council in the Marie Davidson BMX facility, Rotary Bowl track and Serauxmen Stadium have helped prepare Nanaimo to resume hosting sports events in the fall and Nanaimo parks and rec also intends to present a report in the fall with focused strategies developing sports as an economic driver into the future.
“There’s some more engagement to do throughout the next few months and … we’ll come back in the fall with an actual detailed report and some recommendations…” Harding said. “It’s not just a city strategy. It’s also one we hope the school board adopts, that [Vancouver Island University] adopts and businesses throughout the community.”