|MoT eyes beyond $100M from sports tourism|
Guardian Business Editor
Published: Aug 10, 2012
The minister of tourism says the country should be able to generate more than $100 million from sports events by 2014, eclipsing the already ambitious target set by the former administration.
Obie Wilchcombe threw his support behind the niche sector of tourism at a press conference announcing the return of Bahamas Speed Week on November 24. The racing event, revived last year after more than 50 years of slumber, has the potential to produce "substantial" revenue for hotels and the local economy, according to Wilchcombe.
Speed Week has been touted as not just a tourism event, but also an opportunity for high-net-worth individuals to mingle in The Bahamas. Organizers plan on cutting off the number of entrants at 60, all of which will arrive with vintage cars that, in some cases, are worth millions of dollars.
However, Speed Week is one event within a much greater push for sports tourism in The Bahamas.
Wilchcombe told Guardian Business that he had met with a "major group" yesterday morning to stage an event on February 8 at the Thomas A. Robinson National Stadium.
"I can't formally announce it yet. It is going to be a very big event, associated with the Ministry of Tourism, and we expect to have up to 25,000 people here. It is going to be really big."
The bold statement by the senior government official comes amid concern for the new national stadium unveiled last February. Landscaping work has been ongoing and appears stalled as sports tourism officials attempt to decide the exact vision and direction of the stadium.
LeRoy Archer, the head of the Sports Authority, has been reluctant to speak on the progress at the stadium since its unveiling.
Wilchcombe assured Guardian Business that "work is going on right now at the stadium".
Looking at sports tourism as a whole, he said major golf and tennis tournaments are scheduled for next year. The Ministry of Tourism is allying itself with the Miami Dolphins and the Miami Heat in marketing campaigns, he added, ensuring that the country is "going after that market".
Bahamas Speed Week in November will be joined by Battle 4 Atlantis, the wildly popular college basketball tournament on Paradise Island featuring top talent from the U.S.
"These events are all intended to create greater publicity for The Bahamas. Not only are we a great country for rest and relaxation, but also if you want to get to watch or engage in sports," he said. "The whole idea is to get more people involved and get sporting organizations interested in our country."
Speed Week and its appeal across both the U.S. and Europe should continue to provide the right kind of exposure, he said.
Jimmy Lowe, the president of Speed Week, said the event is anticipating greater crowds this year. The race car tent is 26,400 square feet, far larger than last year. He added that the exclusive Paddock Club will double in size to 10,000 square feet.
But of paramount importance this year, according to event organizers, is getting everyday Bahamians involved. As reported by Guardian Business on Thursday, this year will feature a concert, the Miss Speed Week pageant, and an expanded go-cart track. The ticket price has been reduced, with sales placed in the hands of Arawak Cay vendors.
Merchants at the track complained at last year's event that sales were poor due to a sparse crowd.
David McLaughlin, a key organizer of Speed Week, encouraged Bahamians to take ownership of an event buried deep in history, which occurred each year during the 50s and 60s.
"Embrace what is yours," he said.