GHA Special Advisor on Sports Tourism Opportunity

We were pleased to read David Piesing’s opinion piece on the Guernsey Press website recently: original article here.

As a key lobbyist for sports tourism in Guernsey, we are grateful for David’s role as a Special Advisor to the Guernsey Hospitality Association since our inception.

Cricketer and sports administrator David Piesing has been promoting the cause of sports tourism for years. After the undoubted success of the Island Games, he says the island – both sports and States – must build on this and act now to quickly build future benefits.

As the dust settles on a truly outstanding hosting of the 2023 Island Games, which was a credit to the many thousands of islanders who bought into the Games in a massive way, it is time that we collectively recognise that as an island, sports tourism, and indeed wider event tourism, (including music and the arts as the principles are identical), can play a significant role in generating otherwise elusive economic growth. We are actually very good at it!

I have been a huge advocate of the concept of sports tourism for several years, but there has been one thing missing to bring it fruition – government support. This needs to change, and there is no better time than right now when the island is desperate for economic growth.

My rough calculations are that with around 3,000 visitors on our shores specifically for the Island Games, staying for an average of seven nights, more than £3m. of additional on-island spend is likely to have been generated from 21,000 bed nights. That does not include additional revenue for Aurigny, or landing fees/airport and harbour taxes for those arriving via Condor, Blue Islands or on charter flights, so the overall total is likely to be more like around £3.5m.

That’s £3.5m. generated from the hosting of one single event, which we last hosted exactly 20 years earlier.

The challenge now is to build on that event, and instead of waiting another 20 years we must look to generate that volume of event tourism-driven bed nights each and every year, via bite-sized events held throughout the year. Great though it is to host events in the summer months, the even greater benefits come when our hotels are busy with visitors in off-peak months when beds are less likely to be already filled.

In this article, my objective is to really highlight what can realistically be achieved, and what is needed in order to deliver it.

Although I focus solely on sports tourism, please also apply the same thought processes to events relating to music and the arts. From sports tourism alone, I firmly believe that within three years we can generate 20,000 bed nights, without even including what is already happening in a big way via Guernsey FC and Guernsey Raiders.

The first point to recognise is the high cost of getting here and staying here. We are not a cheap destination. Our target market visitors in sports tourism have a choice. They will have other events to choose from in their annual calendar, which will often be much cheaper. We therefore have to score well in terms of the quality of event, the organisation of the event, and the facilities provided in order to ensure that, despite the higher cost, they choose Guernsey’s events over other cheaper ones. Quality is paramount.

The next point to recognise is that hosting a tournament or festival involves a lot of work. Many sporting bodies are run by volunteers, and those who are fortunate enough to have paid employees will know that they are extremely busy paid employees just doing their everyday role.

The extra burden of hosting an event is substantial. It puts enormous strain on an organisation. There are many reasons to want to host an event, but it is most unlikely at present that there will be a lot of financial benefit to the hosting body. Indeed, an event will often be loss-making currently. By far the biggest beneficiaries are the hotels, restaurants, bars, shops, taxis, and coach companies, as well as the airlines and Condor. We need to make it financially worthwhile for the sporting body or club to host the event and to raise funds from it.

To host an event, the facilities and the equipment must be modern, of good standard and well maintained. That does not come cheap. Generating much-needed revenue to offer those standards to visiting participants is crucial.

It is quite possible that paid administrative help to assist with arranging flights, sailings and accommodation may be required. My idea is that it should be possible to establish a small team of people, possibly a stay-at-home mum or dad with a few hours a day of available time in between school runs, or perhaps retirees looking to do a few extra hours, who collectively could run the travel logistics for multiple events. Volunteers are, of course, always welcome, and maybe some of the 1,200 or so amazing volunteers at last week’s Island Games will want to get more involved on an ongoing basis.

Sporting bodies and clubs also need funding to help with sending teams and individuals off-island, which does not come cheap, especially with youth participants always needing to be accompanied by suitably-qualified coaches, or by a parent. Generating a modest profit from hosting an event helps to subsidise those travel costs. Hard-earned medals in Island Games and elite progress in multiple sports do not come from solely competing on-island.

So let’s reward and incentivise our sports bodies and clubs to encourage them to arrange ‘bite-sized’ events. An event of 200 participants and supporters for five days is 1,000 extra bed nights. By my methodology that’s £150,000 to £200,000 of extra GDP from that one single event. Fifteen events of that average size each year would equate to the extra GDP generated from last week’s Island Games.

Events could be anything from, say, 250 bed nights to 5,000 bed nights and more. They don’t all need to be large. A successful event will grow year-on-year, and may lead to a second slightly different event each year for that sporting body or club to arrange. The momentum of success will breed more success. It would quickly snowball if we deliver high quality events because word travels fast in niche markets, and the power of the internet magnifies everything.

So here’s the crux. How can it be funded? Let’s work backwards from the target of 20,000 bed nights within three years. My idea is that each sporting body or club which successfully hosts an event would receive a commission of £10 per bed night from the States. Which pot that should come out of is a political debate, but I defy anybody to argue that for the States to have to pay out £200,000 in commission for actually having already delivered 20,000 bed nights – so no element of speculation whatsoever with taxpayer money – would not represent superb value for money.

As mentioned earlier, I believe that achieving 20,000 bednights within three years is realistic. So 10,000 (£100,000) in year one, 15,000 (£150,000) in year two, and 20,000 (£200,000) in year three. If we get there even quicker then everyone wins. The sporting bodies or clubs pick up a commission of maybe £5,000, £10,000, £15,000 or more for actually having already delivered.

They become a vital part of Visit Guernsey’s marketing team. No pound of Visit Guernsey’s marketing budget currently delivers a 100% success-related return. Visit Guernsey can obviously help to promote Guernsey as a sports tourism destination and build a market-leading reputation in a niche sector. In my view, if Visit Guernsey requires an increased budget to fund this initiative then it should be immediately given it. This is not a ‘spend’, it is a guaranteed nil-risk investment of taxpayers’ money.

The financial model really is as simple as that. Incentivise and reward for actual bed nights delivered. There is no downside.

What sort of events should we look to host? The list is endless. We offer so much potential.

Livestream as many as possible to showcase the island. A sea swimming festival in late September. Athletics meetings. Triathlon and cycling events. Swimming competitions. Gymnastics tournaments. Archery and shooting events. Sailing regattas. Powerboat week. Windsurfing tournaments. International basketball, netball and volleyball tournaments.

Hockey tournaments and festivals. International table tennis. A high profile golf tournament. Rugby 7s/10s tournaments. Padel tennis tournaments. International badminton. Chess tournaments. Summer football tournaments between professional academy sides. Surfing competitions. Strongman competitions. Bowls tournaments. Cricket festivals. ProAm/Celebrity events. Veterans and youth tournaments and festivals in many sports (typically veterans have higher disposable incomes and youth tournaments bring both youth participants and parents/siblings). I’ve no doubt missed some obvious ones – apologies for that.

We obviously don’t need to do them all in year one, but there are hardly any limits to what can be delivered.

A debate for another day is how to fund the building of new or upgraded purpose-built facilities which some sports already need. Basketball is a prime example – the temporary flooring which was laid at Beau Sejour has already been returned.

Public/private funding partnerships and soft loans from the States (without personal guarantees) are what’s needed. The States really has got away with funding very little in the way of capital expenditure on sports facilities for several decades, and have achieved false economies by trying to cut corners when building new schools. A three-quarter sized astroturf pitch and a sub-sized swimming pool at St Sampson’s High School are prime examples.

We need to be so much smarter with such projects to optimise community usage.

We all know that funding is very tight, and nobody should be expecting the States to be spending millions of pounds of taxpayers’ funds on shiny new sports stadiums, but the right sort of public/private partnerships with school facilities and loans to sporting bodies and clubs would enable them to host successful sports tourism events to bring in off-island money and generate commissions from the States which would in turn then assist them to service a States loan. That seems to me to be a pretty attractive funding model to put in place.

I am happy to meet with anyone with proactive ideas to drive forward the whole sports tourism concept.

Let’s not see this great opportunity go to waste.