This month we are publishing the third edition of Sport Tourism Development by James Higham and Tom Hinch. In this post, James reflects on one point of inspiration for the book, and his own experiences of sport tourism.
Sarah’s recent blog post, Tales from a Sport Tourist, provides some interesting insights into tourist experiences of sport. It has long been recognised that sports and particularly mega-sports events offer much potential to generate recurrent flows of tourists, and to unlock the considerable social and economic development potential of sport and tourism. When Tom and I first starting thinking about the links between sport and tourism, it initially occurred to us that beyond event tourism, little dedicated attention had been paid to aspects of sport-related tourism that lie beyond sports fans like Sarah, and the spectator flows generated by big sports events. Indeed, as we were researching and writing the third edition over the course of the last year or so, it occurred to us that one important aspect of sport-related tourism that has grown and diversified incredibly in recent years, is engagement in non-elite competitive sports and, indeed, the development of sports events that cater not only for elite/professional athletes, but for all levels of competitive, social and recreational engagements in sports. Big city marathons (London, New York and Boston among others) are great examples, where world record holders and Olympic champions compete alongside recreational runners, who may be running in fancy dress costumes, while engaged in deeply personal charity awareness and fund-raising campaigns.
The image on the cover of our third edition is taken from the Hawea Epic, an event held in April each year that is branded ‘New Zealand’s ultimate mountain bike challenge’. The ‘Epic’ starts and finishes at the Hawea Pub, with the not insignificant challenge or riding the 125km around the lake in between. The 2018 Epic was on 14th April. For the last two years the ‘Epic’ took place on glorious days of still, mild autumn weather, but the weather in the New Zealand at the same time this year was freezing cold with snow falling to 300m. This made it tougher than usual in the wet and cold conditions. However, participants came to the event from far and wide.
Some of those participants came to Hawea with competitive goals and ambitions, but many others had deeply personal and emotional reasons to participate. I competed in the Epic for the seventh time this year but the physical and mental challenge was only one reason for my participation. In 2013 I competed in the Epic in wintery conditions similar to the weather in Otago this year. I completed the race in 7 hours and 48 minutes and at the end of the race, utterly exhausted, I found out via a text message that a close family member had passed away while I was racing. In the weeks and months following, I vowed to go back to Hawea each year in April to race in their memory, and that is what I did earlier this month.
This year, I have added another layer of personal meaning to my sport tourism experience. Following a chance meeting with a complete stranger on a mountain bike trail in Wanaka in January I have signed up to a charity NGO called So They Can that supports educational opportunities for children in Africa. So this year I travelled to Hawea to raise funds for Bridgit, a five year old girl who lives in New Canaan Village in Kenya. All funds raised will go to ensure Bridgit can start school this year. She will get two meals a day, access to clean water and medical care and school stationery and books. I am aiming to raise $NZ800 to meet these costs for the first year of her schooling. You can make a small donation at this website if you are inclined: https://givealittle.co.nz/fundraiser/bridgit-is-epic. Like Sarah’s accounts of her sport spectator experiences, these personal accounts offer unique insights into important aspects of the sport tourist experience.