LIMERICK has played host to delegates from around the world at a leading global think-tank on sport tourism, a market estimated to be worth €450bn globally.
The Shannon Airport European Sport Tourism Summit has been taking place in the city this Thursday and Friday, featuring a wealth of leaders working across the industry, including Commonwealth Games CEO David Grevemberg, Ryder Cup Director Richard Hills, Director of Major Events and International Relations at UK Sport Simon Morton and Paul Smith, Head of City Delivery for England 2015 Rugby World Cup.
Roxboro based garda and Six Nations winning captain Niamh Briggs was also in attendance in Thomond Park on Thursday.
The event has been taking place primarily in the stadium, with an awards event last night in King John’s Castle and a seminar in the University of Limerick also taking plcae today.
The brainchild of Keith Wood and Mark O’Connell of W2 consulting, the conference heard yesterday from sport market intelligence expert Mike Laflin of Sportcal that Ireland ranks just 60th in the world, behind Barbados and Andorra, in terms of attracting major global sport events over the past six years.
Mr Laflin, who attended the event last year and was keen to return to the city again this year, advocated the establishment of an agency to devise a ten-year strategy and head-up bidding for major global events.
“There is no question about Ireland’s potential in sport tourism but at the moment it is not really registering at an international level,” he said.
“The irony is that Ireland is one of the world’s most passionate sporting nations, has excellent infrastructure and is incredibly good at hospitality yet it is underachieving.
“If Ireland got everything in line, you would see it jump up the global rankings very quickly by landing major international events. The reality is that governing bodies would want to bring events here because they know participants and fans of the respective sports would have a fantastic experience.”
Keith Wood said that the feeling was Ireland is at the start of something great, but could do more to tap into a market estimated to be growing at a rate of 14% per annum, compared to wider tourism growth of 5%.
“A lot has been achieved in Ireland already. There is a growing number of very successful, organic events here but we are now only beginning to look at the bigger events,” he explained.
“The first thing you need is the ambition and Ireland definitely has that and I really believe that once we get the bit between our teeth in this country, we will get there.”
It was announced by Neil Pakey, CEO of Summit sponsors Shannon Airport, that the group would be backing the event for three years, meaning it will again return to Limerick next year, despite international interest in taking the conference abroad.
Mr Pakey said that “sport tourism is a huge opportunity for Ireland and this region”.
“The focus of other nations on securing big events is very interesting,” he said. “They put a lot of resources into that and I think we need to do likewise here.
“Ireland can become a serious player in hosting events, from major ones like the Rugby World Cup to the smaller niche ones. We just need to get a calendar of events going as a priority.”