Sport tourism targeted for action plan

NANAIMO – B.C. Summer Games estimated to pump more than $2.6 million in economic benefits.

Nanaimo is looking for more opportunities to get in on sport tourism action.

Tourism Nanaimo has taken over sport tourism from the City of Nanaimo, with the goal to present a new policy for event hosting, develop a steering group and plan for the sector.

The idea is for the organization to boost major tournaments hosted in the Harbour City, as well as the economic benefits and destination awareness that go with it, according to Lesley Anderson, Tourism Nanaimo’s executive director of destination management.

Sport tourism has become a multi-billion dollar industry in Canada and one of the fastest-growing segments in the tourism industry, according to the Canadian Sport Tourism Alliance. Statistics from 2010 show domestic sport tourism spending alone reached $2.6 billion, up 16 per cent from 2008.

Nanaimo is no stranger to the sector’s spin-offs, generating approximately $10 million in economic benefits from sporting events between 2009 and 2012, according to the city, which tracks tournaments and festivals that receive sport tourism grants. Last year, 17 events generated $2.3 million and last week, the city hosted the B.C. Games, estimated to have led to $2.6 million in economic benefits.

“It’s a very large sector of the tourism economy and it’s been growing quite significantly,” Anderson said, adding communities are also recognizing the sector as a way to attract potential future tourists.

Tourism Nanaimo, which was given sport tourism responsibilities during a city shuffle last year, will team up with the municipality on a revitalized sport tourism plan, which will look at ways to attract and keep events. It’s created a new policy that outlines roles for the two organizations.

Bruce Hunter, athletic director at Vancouver Island University and vice-president of the Nanaimo Games, believes great opportunities exist when it comes to sport tourism but what’s missing is the facility and spectator seating to host major events like national championships.

“Merle Logan, for example, has good fields but there’s nowhere to sit if there was going to be a national soccer championship,” he said. “Certainly if a community wants to host those events then [it] has to invest in the infrastructure.”

Liz Williams, the city’s manager of recreation services, said she believes it’s worthwhile to look at gaps sport-by-sport to see if there are easy and inexpensive fixes.

“I think we could find some that we could enhance quite easily, [like] our outdoor venues,” she said. “Could we build some better seating at some of our venues or enhance the Rotary Bowl? There could be options there.”