Last update: 06-Dec-2013 8:12 am
Friday, December 06, 2013
Trinidad & Tobago Guardian Online
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Tobago cycling all set to boost sports tourism
Since being accredited in 2011 by the Geneva-based world governing body for cycling (UCI), the home grown Tobago International Cycling Classic (TICC) has been rapidly making an indelible mark on the international cycling community. The TICC which features the UCI-sanctioned Tour of Tobago is now one of the most proficient vehicles that can boost T&T’s sports tourism initiative.
UCI accreditation moved the TICC up the international prestige ladder and as a result there will be record-breaking participation of international, regional and local cyclists at this year’s event. Some of the world’s best cyclists will be seeking to earn valuable UCI points to improve their world ranking.
An estimated 120 cyclists from over 25 countries will participate in the division one six-day international cycling, an increase of 65 international and regional competitors in 2012, an unprecedented feat for the region. There will also be increased participation in divisions two and three, the open and novice races.
A new element to the 2013 race is a series of Mountain Bike races. Tobago bike-tours operator Sean De Freitas will be assisting in mapping out off-road race courses which will take bikers through the scenic trails of Tobago’s lush, tropical rain forest, quaint villages, waterfalls and crystal clear streams. This new dimension to the event will broaden the appeal of the TICC to a more diverse sporting enthusiast.
Having since locked-in with global television giant, the ESPN Television Network as its principal media partner, the race has darted astronomically, several rungs up the ladder of international appeal. A formidable partnership has been formed between the Tobago International Cycling Classic and ESPN.
In 2012, the network carried an hour long programme of the race and destination Tobago via its multiple frequencies, to an estimated 100 million households across 200 cities around the world. ESPN is now focussing its attention on the 2013 TICC with bigger and more ambitious plans.
The TICC is one of the most eagerly anticipated events on the Caribbean sporting calendar. The unbeatable combination of a world class sporting event, set against the backdrop of Tobago’s enchanting coastal villages, scenic landscapes, alluring beaches and spectacular underwater fish sanctuaries, distinguishes the TICC from any other cycling event in the world. This serves to attract many of the world’s top athletes, coaches, team sponsors, journalists, prominent cycling officials, promoters and ardent fans to the shores of Tobago.
The TICC is the only race in this region that offers aspiring Caribbean riders the opportunity to compete at the highest international level. This affords them invaluable experience, exposure and subsequent lucrative professional contracts.
Case in point is young Darren Matthews, a 21-year-old Barbados-born rider whose brilliant performance in the TICC 2012 Event, obliterated a field of some of the top cyclists in the world. Matthews created history by becoming the first Caribbean rider to win the UCI-sanctioned Tour of Tobago. The very next morning, mere hours after Matthews collected his UCI points he was contacted by a foreign-based UCI continental team which resulted in a contract.
For several years, the importance of sport in the development of tourism has been clearly articulated by local aficionados and promoters. Jeffery Charles and his team are among those perennial voices in the frontline of this advocacy. As organisers of the Classic featuring the internationally acclaimed UCI-sanctioned Tour of Tobago, they have argued vociferously that this race provide some of the best prospects and opportunities to lure visitors to Tobago.
It appears, however, that for all their activism, their voices have continually fallen on deaf ears, since according to race officials, funding for the event is like pulling teeth year after year.
Notwithstanding its formidable reputation globally and its tremendous potential as an earner of net foreign exchange, queuing up support continues to be their monumental challenge.
In spite of the TICC’s long and fruitful partnership with the Tobago House of Assembly, the Ministry of Tourism & the Tourism Development Company over the past 10 years, which has been a key component in the growth and success of this event, local stakeholders are united in their cries that state and corporate support is woefully inadequate for these innovative initiatives crafted by creative sports promoters and producers. Little else has had the success to create products with this kind of international appeal to truly entice large influx of visitors to T&T’s shores.
The general consensus put forward at the World Travel Market Expo (WTM) and the World Sporting Development and Events (WSDE) last year was remarkably similar, almost a carbon copy of each other. It was unanimously agreed that sports tourism had emerged as the clear front-runner to guide the travel industry round the corner of recent economic downturn and into a prosperous future.
In gear and ready, the Classic now has the capacity, stature and integrity to adequately represent T&T as an appealing global brand. What is required now is the fuel that will energise its take-off.
With Tobago as the hub, driven by the Classic vehicle and powered by the ESPN engine, T&T tourism, trade and commerce are at the cusp of a phenomenal breakthrough to capture a bigger slice of this lucrative sports tourism pie.
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