Sports tourists hold key to new era

Sports tourists hold key to new era

Englishman James Hudson's excitement at his maiden visit to Singapore had nothing to do with the exotic food or culture of the Far East.

Instead, the highlight of his itinerary was experiencing the sight of Formula One cars under the glittering skyline of a modern metropolis.

Drawn by Singapore's growing appeal as a sports destination, the 40-year-old sales representative is part of an emerging band of sports tourists that have contributed to improving tourism figures here.

Since its debut in 2008, the Singapore Grand Prix has welcomed over 250,000 international visitors while ringing in an average of $150 million in earnings from each edition of the race.

According to the Singapore Tourism Board's (STB) latest newsletter, tourism receipts for the first half of 2014 came in at $11.8 billion, a year-on-year rise of two per cent, while the sightseeing, entertainment and gaming segment saw a 15 per cent increase to $3.07 billion.

Data for the second half of the year is unavailable but the recent slew of marquee sports events staged here does make for encouraging reading.

Popular events

The F1 race in September was bookended by two high-profile football friendlies - the first one featuring Italian league champions Juventus, while the second, between top international sides Brazil and Japan, played to a capacity crowd inside the National Stadium.

Last month's WTA Finals saw 93,000 fans, with almost one in five hailing from overseas, flock to the Singapore Indoor Stadium over 10 days of tennis action featuring the world's top-eight ranked women players.

The recent announcement that rugby's Sevens World Series will include the Republic on its list of nine legs from next season is also expected to attract sizeable international interests while proving to be a money-spinner, as has been the case for Hong Kong.

The Hong Kong Sevens, a week-long rugby festival, attracts daily attendances of 40,000 fans - half from overseas - said the Hong Kong Rugby Football Union (HKRFU).

Tourist spending has been increasing steadily in the last few years, with this year's crowd spending an average of HK$32,601 (S$5,420) each during their time there.

They are likely to do the same when the series arrives in Singapore - a prospect which local pub and nightclub operators are relishing.

Said Dennis Foo, president of the Singapore Nightlife Business Association: "Drinking is very much part and parcel of the rugby culture and hosting the Rugby Sevens will have a positive impact on the nightlife, retail and hospitality scene here."

Growing market for sports

With the global sports market pie projected to reach US$80 billion this year and showing no signs of slowing down - new research by consulting firm A.T. Kearney estimates it will cross US$90 billion (S$103 billion) by 2017 - it is unsurprising that Singapore is keen to position itself as a leading destination for sports enthusiasts.

Said Jean Ng, STB's director of sports: "Singapore's sport industry is in a nascent state, but the combination of fans, capabilities and infrastructure has set the stage for further growth of sport tourism in Singapore."

The expanding sports events market - with revenue from tickets, media rights and sponsorships witnessing annual growth of between 6 and 7 per cent since 2005 - has made the industry a highly attractive one for event organisers.

With the Asian market valued at almost US$10 billion last year, repositioning Singapore and its new S$1.33 billion Sports Hub as an epicentre for sports makes sense, said Ang Swee Hoon, associate professor of marketing at the National University of Singapore (NUS) Business School.

She said: "The Government has fought hard and done a good job of attracting tourists in the past. First it was the MICE (Meetings, incentives, conferences, and exhibitions) conventions and then the casinos.

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