Racing ahead as host countries

South-east Asia is garnering plenty of interest as a competition venue for international events, attracting both high-spending sports stars and their loyal followings

A muay thai fight in Thailand (Source: Tourism Authority of Thailand)


Marathon magnet

Thailand is holding its own when it comes to grabbing its share of sports tourists to the region, going by the growing business being done by tour operators.

Go Thailand Tours (GTT), managing director, Raimund Wellenhofer, said: “There were only three major marathons just a couple of years ago, namely in Pattaya, Phuket and Bangkok. Thailand is getting increasing attention from international organisers for their Asian expansion, and international brands like Ironman 70.3 are now in Phuket.”

Offering sporting event packages through its subsidiary Go Adventure Asia – including transportation during events, accommodation and event registration – GTT has seen annual growth of 20-25 per cent since 2009, according to Wellenhofer, with European longhaul as well as Asian markets like Singapore, Malaysia and Japan as key client sources.

This year, GTT will head to Japan to promote Thailand’s running events among international athletes participating in the Tokyo Marathon, he revealed.

For Bangkok-based golf tour operator Golfasian, demand for golf event packages, such as its series of five Amateur Golf Week tournaments in Thailand, has been on the up, said director of business development, Pascal Orczech.

The company garnered robust year-on-year growth from its key source markets, particularly from Australia, which posted an eightfold year-on-year increase in business in January 2013.

Said Orczech: “Australia is showing such growth partly due to the strong Australian dollar, our strong partnership with Australian (travel consultants) and TAT Australia, as well as word of mouth by previous clients and the fact that Bali is losing its mojo for Australians.”

Thailand scores as the top golf destination among Golfasian’s portfolio, which includes Vietnam, Cambodia and Malaysia, he observed.

Said Wellenhofer: “Thailand’s strengths lie in its potential to offer a lot of attractive add-ons for atheletes’ accompanying families to have holidays in the country when compared to Singapore, which offers very well-organised events but lacks the add-ons.”

TAT governor, Suraphon Svetasreni, said: “International sports events in Thailand undoubtedly draw a substantial amount of inbound visitors each year. These include not only athletes and sports officials, but also spectators who come in to watch anything from marathons and golf tournaments to snooker championships.” The NTO doesn’t track numbers, however.

Among the most prized events on the sporting calendar are the Thailand Golf Championship, Thai Fight, Laguna Phuket International Marathon and Ironman 70.3, all of which the TAT has provided budgetary support for. Sports celebrities such as Victoria Azarenka and Ryo Ishikawa have also recently played in Thailand, further stepping up the kingdom’s appeal as a sporting events haven.

Said Suraphon: “Hopefully through consistent government support, many of the events can be upgraded to be fixtures on the international circuit, but this goal requires great teamwork by everyone involved.”

At least one tour operator noted that suppliers were still not fully attuned to the needs of this niche segment yet. “Sometimes hotels don’t really understand what runners expect – usually in the details. For example, they need to get staff to provide breakfasts at 3am so that the runners can start their races at 5am,” said Wellenhofer.

Orczech, on the other hand, wanted strong support from the authorities in terms of funding, particularly for the prize money, “as it takes a substantial prize value to make a tournament interesting”. – Xinyi Liang-Pholsena

“International sports events in Thailand undoubtedly draw a substantial amount of inbound visitors each year. These include not only athletes and sports officials, but also spectators.”Suraphon Svetasreni, Governor, Tourism Authority of Thailand

Singapore Sports Hub (Source: Singapore Sports Council)


A gleaming new venue

The Singapore Sports Hub, which will become an integrated sports, entertainment and lifestyle complex when completed in April 2014, is expected to play a pivotal role in bolstering the city-state’s blossoming sporting event landscape.

A spokesperson for the Sports Hub said that the venue would draw a combination of world-class sports, such as international athletics, football, cricket, rugby, as well as concerts and family shows.

Travel experts will be able to build packages around the events, pointed out the spokesperson. “We can connect travel experts with show promoters to discuss special offers and promotions to regional travellers,” she explained.

Hong Thai Travel Services, business development manager (inbound), Laurence Lee, said: “Though our main focus remains in selling tickets and packages for the Formula 1 Singapore Grand Prix to overseas guests, we are open to new business opportunities especially when the Sports Hub finally opens its doors. The South-east Asian Games in 2015 is certainly a key opportunity. However, it’s also a matter of wait and see as we have not been informed by the Sports Hub about its line-up of events.”

He added that the Singapore Tourism Board (STB) had been supportive of his company’s efforts so far in marketing the F1 night race in countries such as Hong Kong, Thailand, Indonesia and the Philippines through intensive destination marketing at consumer and trade shows.

Lynette Pang, executive director F1 & Sports, STB, explained: “Along with other major leisure events, sporting events showcase Singapore as a well-rounded active and vibrant tourism destination in addition to offering exciting experiences. The development of homegrown sporting events, such as the One Fighting Championship and OCBC Cycle, continues to add to the ecosystem.”

She added that with the completion of the Sports Hub, “Singapore should see even more top stature events to complement the existing sports calendar”.

Pang also emphasised that STB remains committed to pursuing partnerships with local travel specialists to enhance their current offerings with sporting experiences. – Linda Haden


Formula 1 Petronas Malaysia Grand Prix (Source: Tourism Malaysia)


Calling not just petrolheads

The annual Formula 1 Petronas Malaysia Grand Prix held at Sepang International Circuit (SIC) is the biggest sporting event in Malaysia, and Tourism Malaysia will continue to capitalise on the race to draw even the non-sporting crowd.

Recording an attendance of 120,000 spectators over three days last year, SIC chairman, Mokhzani Tun Mahathir, was hopeful that this year’s edition in March would woo more than 130,000 fans.

This year, SIC, as event promoter and organiser, introduced a special One Ticket Unlimited programme to provide attendees with a host of privileges such as discounts at the 1Malaysia GP Sale and selected hotels, as well as free access to the post-race concert. The month-long, nationwide sales carnival known as 1Malaysia GP Sale leverages the Grand Prix to promote Malaysia as a shopping destination.

In keeping with its usual practice, Tourism Malaysia will also be organising a mega fam trip for selected overseas travel consultants and media to attend all three days of the race. They will also have a choice of post-tour options. Since the programme’s commencement in 1999, more than 47,000 international media and travel consultants have participated.

Azizan Noordin, deputy director-general (planning), Tourism Malaysia, said: “It is part of our promotional strategy to create greater awareness of Malaysia as a tourist destination, and to offer participants a personal experience of the myriad attractions, tourist destinations and products and services in Malaysia in order to help develop tour packages and generate publicity for the country as a preferred destination for leisure and business.”

Saini Vermeulen, senior inbound manager at Panorama Tours Malaysia, said: “We’ve created F1 packages for three days/ two nights and four days/three nights. These packages will include transfers and accommodation. For optionals, we sell F1 tickets and tours.

“We receive good support from SIC, which updates us with information. Tourism Malaysia and SIC have also done a good  job in promoting Malaysia’s F1 event worldwide and by lining up non-motorsports activities with the race such as the 5th Putrajaya International Hot Air Balloon Fiesta 2013 and Future Music Festival Asia. These activities, together with the 1Malaysia GP Sale, will give families more reasons to visit Malaysia during this period.”

Adam Kamal, managing director of Tina Travel & Agencies, suggested that more attention should be given to Malaysia’s affordability as a destination for sports tourism. “There are many F1 races in Asia, but we stand out because our ticket pricing and accommodation in Kuala Lumpur are very competitive. We should stress on this in our promotional materials to attract more tourists.” – S Puvaneswary


A surfer in Siargao (Source: Kage Gozun)


Waves of activity

The Philippines has been drawing a number of water-based competitions in recent years, with some lesser-known destinations benefiting.

Wakeboarding and dragon boating events such as the 2010 WWA Wake Park World Series, 2010 WWA Wakeboard World Series and Cobra Camsur International Dragonboat Festival 2010? at the Camsur Watersports Complex (CWC) in Naga, Camarines Sur, have served to drive arrivals to the province “where previously there was none”, said Camarines Sur governor, Luis Villafuerte Jr. CWC has also hosted three editions of Ironman 70.3 Philippines, which is taking place in

Cebu this August, and the first-ever Asian leg of the Stand Up Paddle World Series in 2012.

Successfully appealing to the 19-30 age group, tourist arrivals to Camarines Sur even bested Boracay in 2010 and 2011. Villafuerte pointed out that CWC’s location – just 10 minutes away from Naga airport and one hour away from Legaspi City – makes it accessible to foreign travellers, while a range of budget to midscale accommodation is available.

Boracay, which has largely been known for its windsurfing and dragon boating competitions, is also becoming the place for kiteboarding, observed Department of Tourism (DoT) director Verna Buensuceso, head of Team Europe.

In March, Boracay will host a leg of Kiteboard Tour Asia, its fourth time now. The sport is also so popular that a number of kiteboarding schools have sprung up on the island.

This year, the Philippine Travel Agencies Association (PTAA) has zeroed in on nine emerging tourist destinations, two of which are hotspots for the surfer community: Baler in Luzon and Siargao island, Mindanao.

Siargao has gained particular momentum for its ‘Cloud 9’ waves and over the years has hosted the International Women’s Surfing Cup, typically held in April or May, as well as the Siargao International Surfing Cup, held usually in September-October. Meanwhile, Baler has hosted national-level long and shortboard competitions.

“The beauty of surfing is that they are loyal to the sports; they will come, no matter the location,” said JP Cabalza, managing director at Cencorp and incoming PTAA president, emphasising that there have been no tourism-related incidents in Siargao despite security concerns.

However, DoT’s Buensuceso admitted that Baler and Siargao are harder to promote because of connectivity issues. There are no flights to Baler and a four- to five-hour drive from Manila is required, while flights to Siargao are relatively limited, although reachable by air directly from Manila. Accommodation in both destinations has also been mostly spartan until lately.

Siargao became a talked-about destination last year with the opening of Dedon Island, whose suites command up to US$940 a night. In Baler, Raintree Hospitality Group is leading the charge in terms of upscale hotels, with the recent opening of the 30-room Bahia de Baler and the 78-suite Costa Pacifica Raintree, set to open in April.

“Raintree believes in the potential of Baler as a new destination,” said Carmela Sison, marketing manager at Raintree Hospitality Group, counting on a boom in the next couple of years driven by sports seekers and cultural visitors.  – Marianne Carandang


Brunei Open (Source: Brunei Tourism)


Teeing off from golf

Brunei is growing in popularity as a playground for sporting events, although attendance numbers are still modest.

Its three big events – Brunei Open, Brunei Regatta and Standard Chartered Half-Marathon Brunei – attract about 5,000 spectators each, according to Brunei Tourism’s marketing and promotions tourism officer, Salinah Salleh.

The most established of the trio, the Brunei Open is an Asian Tour golf tournament that has been held annually in the Sultanate since 2005, helping to position Brunei on the world golfing map. It will take place in August this year.

“Brunei Tourism will work with its media partner to broadcast this live and air this on sports channels,” said Brunei Tourism’s acting director, Mariani Hj Sabtu.

Another event is the Brunei Regatta, which was recently held in February. A dozen traditional boat race events were featured, with teams from Australia, the US, Indonesia and Malaysia.

“This year’s Regatta was the second regatta held consecutively, and we hope to make this an annual event in Brunei, leveraging Brunei’s maritime history and its glory days,” said Mariani.

Also in its second year is the Standard Chartered Half-Marathon Brunei, coming up in April. Attracting international participants from as far as Africa, about 400 participants are expected for this year’s event.

Said Mariani: “Brunei Tourism will work closely with the event organiser, the private sector and the Ministry of Culture, Youth and Sports to promote and market this event internationally.”

Century Travel Centre general manager, Foo Chong Peng, recognised that Brunei’s size as a country meant that it would take time to attract more international participation.

He said: “We try and help by promoting the events through our overseas partners. We usually inform our overseas operators of the dates of the events and other information pertaining to the events. They will let us know if they have interested clients, and we will make the necessary arrangements or customise an itinerary to suit the clients’ needs.”

Freme Travel Services manager, inbound & MICE division, Sugumaran Nair, added that one area that could be improved was event scheduling, explaining that having permanent dates would help tour operators to promote the event overseas. – S Puvaneswary

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