In a local economy looking for bright spots, and looking for ways to showcase our community, it seems logical that sport tourism should be an integral aspect of Chatham-Kent’s growth. Statistics Canada reported that nationally, sport tourism was a $3.6 billion industry in 2010. Not bad.
I’m likely biased. I love spending long hours sitting in arenas or beside a sports field. I love fishing, canoeing and kayaking, and I love the atmosphere of being at a tournament. When these events roll into town, restaurants fill up, hotels are booked, and people are walking the streets, spending money in local shops.
For example, in March, 2000 extra vistors descended on Blenheim for a local skating competition (read article here). What about the Kent Cup Rugby matches last summer that welcomed 1000 spectators and international press coverage from England, South Africa, the United States, and across Canada (read article here). Wait, I should have said, “positive international press coverage.” Thousands of people were talking about our amazing facility and the fantastic event Chatham-Kent put on.
Sport tourism simply enough, is travel involving either the viewing of or participation in a sporting event or activity. Personally, I don’t think our Municipality is doing enough to promote and encourage sport tourism.
Imagine if every organization and club from lacrosse, to baseball, MMA, rugby, hockey, dragon boating, tennis, and canoeing; fishing, soccer, football, horse racing, ringette, kiteboarding, golf, volleyball, and hunting; all arranged one additional, or one signature annual or even biannual event. If each brought in a few hundred people, and some brought in a few thousand, our tourism numbers would skyrocket boosting our economy.
Unfortunately right now, our Municipal website has insufficient information regarding sport tourism in Chatham-Kent to say the least. Here’s what it says:
Play ball, shoot hoops, volley, or shoot for a goal, Chatham-Kent welcomes sports teams!
Participants can stay at one of our many hotels and find a large selection of family restaurants eager to serve.
Organizers of tournaments can contact the tourism office for support. We can assist with bid packages, letters of support as well as travel guides and maps.
Other than the word Chatham-Kent being included, what makes someone know what amenities we have. It’s vague, does not compliment our assets, and definitely does not sound like a blurb that would excite any coach, team executive, or event organizer. Where is our world class sport fishing, successful events including the TekSavvy Kent Cup and Kraft Celebration Tour, last winters National Ringette League game, our golf courses, miles of rivers and shorelines for watersports, and the many notable athletes our area has developed?
That would just be a beginning. Many locations have sport tourism specific web presences. I know what you’re thinking…”not another website.” And you’re right. But it could be integrated into our website where the void currently exists. Take a look at Toronto’s Sport Tourism site. It has a venue search, toolkits and marketing resources, testimonials, and direct contact to their sport tourism employees. Heck, if someone from the Municipality wants to talk, we can put a Chatham-Kent sports tourism section on CKSN.
Improved web presence is only a start. Just because something is on the internet, doesn’t mean someone will find it. Read that again if you have to. It will require partnerships between local government, business, and the sports organizations to help plan and promote unique events. Adding another hockey tournament is a start and will undoubtedly bring people in, but it doesn’t set us apart. We don’t want to just produce more of the same that people can get at any stop along the 401.
The other aspect is our facilities. We have some top notch facilities. I remember reading a letter from a Hamilton parent who visited one of our school’s for a volleyball tournament and fell in love with the community, and was jealous of the courts our athletes had, and the track complex attached to the school. But, if you travel to any other community outside Chatham-Kent in Ontario, you’ll undoubtedly find more modern, luxurious arenas and multi-sport complexes. With hockey and ice sports in general being one of our Nation’s biggest draws, sitting in the stoneage gets us nowhere. Just look at the facilities in Komoka or Essex. Both beautiful in tiny communities less than an hour from our borders.
Imagine if we could bring in the World Sledge Hockey Championships and highlight Derek Whitson on our local ice. Our local lacrosse scene is burgeoning, and it would be amazing to have a better field lacrosse venue, or an updated arena so that we could bring in a major tournament. Our lakes, bays, and rivers are some of the most fishable and accessible for watersports in the world, but it almost seems like we’re allowing word of mouth to be our only marketing tool.
We definitely have a lot going for us in Chatham-Kent in terms of sports and athletics. If we didn’t, CKSN would have never come into existence, but our conscious sport tourism marketing and planning is lacking. If we want to make Chatham-Kent a destination, it can be, for healthy, active citizens. If someone comes every year for an event and loves the town, they, or their family are more likely to eventually relocate here due to their positive experiences.
Sport is uniting and empowering. We build identity from our teams, athletes, and available activities. Hopefully, with the right planning in place, and not just planning, but the calculated execution of a well thought out plan developed by Chatham-Kent for Chatham-Kent, we will also build our economy.