By Taneka Thompson
Nassau Guardian Senior Reporter
NASSAU, Bahamas -- The Bahamas will rake in more than $13 million and gain 20,000 hotel room nights in the 2012/2013 fiscal year from sports tourism, with two international soccer events set for this month expected to boost the nation’s profile worldwide, Guardian Business was told.
“Those are some pretty significant numbers that we’re talking about there,” Tyrone Sawyer, director of sports tourism development in the ministry of tourism, said on Friday.
He said the country’s tourism brand is reaping rewards from a FIFA (International Federation of Association Football) Beach Soccer World Cup qualifier tournament, which runs until May 12. Later this month, the country will host an English Premier League soccer exhibition at the national stadium between Tottenham Hotspur Football Club, a team from the UK, and the Jamaican national team.
Both events will expose the country to the world and hopefully attract additional events of the same caliber, he noted.
Sawyer said the beach soccer tournament, being held at the Malcolm Park Beach Soccer and Futsal Facility, is generating a bigger buzz than expected.
“The amount of attention it’s getting from the football fraternity is way beyond what events of this nature would normally attract.
“It’s the first time the entire region, the Caribbean region, would have hosted a beach soccer World Cup qualifier and that is due to the vision of the Bahamas Football Association, working along with FIFA and also with the full support of our government in building that soccer facility at the Malcolm Park site.”
The Atlantis resort on Paradise Island is the host hotel for the teams.
Atlantis president and managing director George Markantonis said, while the event has not significantly boosted room occupancy, it “falls completely in line” with the theory of sports tourism.
“I think it’s excellent for the image of The Bahamas to be staging it,” Markantonis said. “I congratulate all of the parties, in particular the ministry of tourism and the ministry of sports, for managing to get it for Nassau.”
Sawyer said he hopes the country will host similar events in the future.
“We expect that this will be a first step in the direction where we are able to get many more beach soccer events staged in The Bahamas.”
The tournament is free of charge to spectators, he said.
“It’s more like a branding effort where people get to appreciate that we are a good place to come and at the level they are staging it they’re doing a great job in staging. The visiting countries are very impressed.”
Sawyer said 35 international reporters flew to Nassau for the games that are being broadcast on Fox’s sports network to several countries including Europe, North America and South America.
Later this month the national stadium will host a soccer match that Sawyer said will be the mother lode of soccer events.
“It’s like the Miami Heat or Los Angeles Lakers coming [to play] if it were basketball,” he said.
“This is a tremendous first time opportunity for our country to have this level of soccer played. It’s really one of the best possible events you can have for our new stadium.”
He said local hotels have gotten some advance bookings for the match but sports officials plan to put heavy focus on drumming up local interest in the event.
Republished with permission of the Nassau Guardian