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Is Travel and Tourism in the Middle East and North Africa "Sportificating"?
Written by Betsy
Thursday, 07 June 2012 14:47

Reading of the plans of "Real Madrid Resort Island" a few months ago, the first words that came to mind were "thoughtful concept", "strategic" and "promising". For those that are not aware of the Real Madrid Resort Island here is a short description:

  • It will be the first theme park built on an island in the United Arab Emirates which will combine tourism and sports, and it will be the first recreational tourism complex built under the Real Madrid trademark.
  • The Real Madrid Resort Island will hold a theme park, the first stadium open to the sea, a Real Madrid museum, numerous sports facilities, a sport port, a residential area and luxury hotels.
  • One billion US dollars have been invested in the project and it is expected to open in January 2015

The case of Real Madrid Resort Island is concrete evidence of the fuelling growth of sports tourism and the associated "sportainment" (fusion of sports and entertainment); according to World Sport Destination Expo (the only global exhibition and business forum dedicated to showcasing the full spectrum of sport tourism related products and services) sport tourism represents an astonishing 14 percent of overall travel and tourism receipts globally in 2010.

Sports tourism definitely yields promising returns as visitors are high-spending, of higher income bands, tend to visit multiple times (highly loyal) and tend to stay longer. Moreover, sports tourism can appeal to a wider target audience i.e. a sports fanatic might combine an attendance to a sports event with a family vacation.   

There is no doubt that the Real Madrid Island Resort is a bold plan which will generate economic benefits and lead to a higher brand loyalty for the soccer team, should it be successful. However, has the tourism industry in the Middle East capitalized on other sports opportunities?

According to Joumana Brihi, the Owner of Remark, a research and marketing consultancy based in Beirut, and freelance research analyst for the travel and tourism industry in the region, "There are definitely opportunities in the sports tourism market across the MENA. Key destinations that have tried to capitalize on that are Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Qatar, Bahrain and to a lesser extent Morocco. Morocco is promoting Golf tourism and boosting its golfing infrastructure to market this type of tourism and is hosting competitions on an annual basis for instance".

"Meanwhile, for Dubai and Abu Dhabi there are so many sports events every year, mainly tennis, football, golf equestrian competitions and much more. The infrastructure there is very developed to host all kinds of activities and it is part of the two Emirates' strategies to boost this type of tourism. Qatar hosted the Asian Games in 2011, and now they are starting to get ready for the FIFA World Cup in 2020" said Brihi.

The importance of sports tourism in the Gulf countries was also highlighted by Diaa Noufal, a specialist in real estate consultancy services. "Sports have always been very popular in this part of the globe. Previous events proved the tremendous market for sports among people. The size of football stadiums in Egypt, Algeria, Syria among other countries is just a hint i.e. the stadium of Aleppo is 75,000 seater and second only to Borg Al Arab Stadium in Cairo” said Noufal. “Sport has been always part of this 'cultural' campaign. Abu Dhabi Yas Island has brought the first Ferrari World to the region. Bahrain has secured an important stage of Grand Prix through the BIC (Bah Int'l Circuit). Emirates & Etihad Airways own stadiums in their names in UK. Many Abu Dhabi sheiks have already invested hugely in sport club deals (UK, France and Spain). Qatar Foundation is now on every shirt of Barcelona FC team. There are even Arabic advertisements for mobile carriers during European League matches! In short, sports is already a great money magnet for investors in this part of the world"

"Dubai is definitely the best example that can be drawn upon in terms of the tourism industry in the Gulf countries. They were successful in making the city attractive to investors all over the globe. This was picked up by the neighbouring states, Qatar, Bahrain and Abu Dhabi to build upon and continue the sportification of tourism" suggested Noufal. However, Noufal is bearish in terms of the future which is hindered by the economic uncertainties: "The financial crisis has been heavy on the market and recovery is a bit slow. The political winds are blowing heavily all over the Middle East, while investment vehicles are not yet fully awake from the market shock in the aftermath of the infamous 2008 crisis.” Nevertheless, Noufal concludes in a positive tone: “Though opportunity for sport / recreational tourism is a bit unclear in the region right now, it might be the one million dollar answer to the next boom in the region in the next five to ten years".

The future of the sports tourism in the region remains to be seen. Until then, Kairos will keep an eye on the global tourism sportification trends with the aim to validate the statement of Taleb Rifai, Secretary-General, United Nations World Tourism Organisation: "The 21st Century will be the Century of Sport and Travel."

Last Updated on Wednesday, 20 June 2012 14:58