A combination of local, regional and global professionals are teaming with Thailand’s tourism organisations to actively push sports tourism in Thailand, with Phuket currently leading the field.
The island has long been a favourite destination for water sports and outdoor activities, including scuba diving, snorkelling, sport fishing, yachting and golf. More recently, however, numerous other sports have become a major draw for visitors, among them marathons, triathlons and ironman competitions, as well as bicycling, rock climbing, rugby, tennis, Muay Thai and football.
Global trends in health and wellness tourism and activity-oriented travelling have prompted the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) to emphasise the kingdom's appeal to active visitors, as part of a strategy to maintain the rise in tourist numbers, which is anticipated see an 11% increase for the coming year.
"Sports tourism is already growing with events like the Phuket Triathlon, Quicksilver Surf Competition”, noted Chanchai Duangjit, director of TAT’s Phuket office, adding that mainstream tourism on the island has peaked and Phuket must therefore move on from mass tourism to become a destination that relies on various upmarket niches.
Record numbers of entrants and observers turned out for recent sporting events on Phuket, such as the aforementioned Phuket Triathlon and Ironman 70.3 Laguna Phuket race, the IronKids Phuket Championship Race, Phuket Cricket Week, ESPN STAR Sports Charity Event, the Thailand Open golf tournament and the Phuket King's Cup. Among many events scheduled in 2013 are the Absolute Phuket ITU LD World Series Triathlon in May, with a variety of distance and race formats, including the “ITU Kids” division competitions and adult events such as a team relay, sprint, celebrity relay and Olympic distance run.
Golf is also on the upswing on Phuket, with ever more visitors hitting courses such as Laguna Phuket Golf Club, Blue Canyon Country Club and Phuket Country Club. Bicycling is also reaching its high stride, with most beach resort areas now offering rentals, while the island's Muay Thai boxing camps draw more people to train every year, with a number of popular TV shows helping promote the martial art to a global audience, not only as an exciting spectator sport but also as a great fitness builder. The gyms in Chalong, Phuket Town, Rawai and Kata are seeing increasing interest from a combination of short term visitors and residents.
Much of the current promotional activity around sport is part of a marketing strategy known as “Brand Phuket”, a concept that began at a meeting organised by a joint gathering of the Greater Phuket Chapter of the American Chamber of Commerce and the Phuket PR Network, held in May last year at Thanyaphura Sports and Leisure Club (TSLC). TSLC is playing a major role in the promotional efforts, as the facility is specifically designed as a sports centre to host events and provide professional training for visitors, local residents and prominent sports teams that now travel to Phuket for competitions and training.
TSLC is now considered a flagship for sports tourism on Phuket. The facility is fast gaining a reputation as one of the best in the world and features a floodlit Limonta “Soccer Pro” FIFA-standard pitch, basketball and handball courts, a 50m Olympic-standard swimming pool with electric timing system and both indoor and outdoor Plexi-cushion tennis courts. The club already has around 500 members, Thai and international, and families often combine a day of activities for themselves and the kids with a healthy meal, many of the ingredients provided by Thanyamundra Organic Resort, a satellite operation that features a working organic farm adjacent to Khao Sok National Park.
TSLC’s lead in supporting, sponsoring and hosting competitions and training camps for adults and children has vaulted the centre into a prominent position on the world sporting map. Three ITF tennis tournaments were recently held at the complex, and in the Chinese national swimming team is currently training 20 athletes, including 5 Olympic finalists, at the club for 2 months. The Dutch national team will also be in residence, among them 3 gold medalists, to begin their preparations for the Rio Olympics.
Phuket’s rise as a health and wellness destination has been impressive, with sports tourism now also a major focus, the island looks set to shine as a star in Thailand’s bid to stay at the top of the global tourism table.
By Jubel Shaw
Photo: Thanyapra Sport and Leisure Club