Malaysia courting fans through sport tourism


  • Travel
  • Saturday, 10 Oct 2015

Festival International Sport Extreme (FISE) World Series incorporates skateboard, BMX, wakeboard, inline skate and mountain bike. Photo: Malaysia Major Events

The day is finally here. Today, crowds of participants will be gathering at sport and recreational venues all over Malaysia to celebrate our first National Sport Day.

This is what sport tourism is all about – when people travel out of their usual environment to participate in or observe sport events or activities.

In Sean Gammon and Tom Robinson’s Journal of Sport & Tourism, there is mention of both “hard” and “soft” sport tourism.

“Hard” sport tourism refers to competitive sport events like the FIFA World Cup, Formula 1 Grand Prix or the Olympic Games, which attract a high quantity of participants and spectators who travel to a destination to take part in or watch the event.

And “soft” sport tourism refers to recreational sports like golf, mountain-climbing or scuba-diving, which people travel to a certain destination to take part in.

Malaysia offers both types, with organised sport events like the Le Tour de Langkawi, GT Asia Series, Malaysian Open Tennis Champsionships, and Malaysian Open Squash Championships, as well as mountains, rivers, islands and beaches for outdoor adventures.

International sports events like the Malaysia Open tennis tournament at Putra Stadium, Bukit Jalil, draw participants from around the world. Pictured here is Spaniard David Ferrer who is playing against Czech Republics Radek Stepanek (not in photo). Photo: Bernama
International sports events like the Malaysia Open tennis tournament at Putra Stadium, Bukit Jalil, draw participants from around the world. Pictured here is Spaniard David Ferrer who is playing against Czech Republics Radek Stepanek (not in photo). Photo: Bernama

In Heather J. Gibson’s Sport Tourism (Sport In The Global Society), it is stated that there are three types of sport tourism: Sport event tourism, when people travel to a city to watch a sport event, such as the Olympics, or the XVI Commonwealth Games held in Kuala Lumpur in 1998; celebrity and nostalgia sport tourism, when people travel to a destination to visit sport venues, such as the Beijing “Bird’s Nest” National Stadium in China, or to meet sport personalities; and active sport tourism when people travel to a place to participate in recreational or adventure sports, such as white water rafting in the Padas River, Sabah; hiking in Taman Negara, Pahang; or spelunking (caving) in Mulu Caves, Sarawak.

Globally, sport tourism is a fast-growing sector and generates about €450bil (RM2.2tril) annually, according to the European Sport Tourism Summit). This is over a quarter of the global travel and tourism industry’s contribution to GDP last year, according to the World Travel & Tourism Council.

Sporty country

“Sport is definitely something that can boost tourism, domestically or internationally. Apart from organising world-class events which will attract tourists to come and watch, having well-executed events with mass participation, such as marathons and nature challenges, can draw tourists to take part,” says Youth and Sport Minister Khairy Jamaluddin.

Last year, Langkawi welcomed muay thai practitioners and fans of the combat sport from around the world for the IFMA Muay Thai World Championship. Photo: Malaysia Major Events
Last year, Langkawi welcomed muay thai practitioners and fans of the combat sport from around the world for the IFMA Muay Thai World Championship. Photo: Malaysia Major Events

German Formula One driver Sebastian Vettel of Scuderia Ferrari celebrates after winning the 2015 Formula One Grand Prix of Malaysia at the Sepang Circuit in March this year. Photo: EPA/Azhar Rahim
German Formula One driver Sebastian Vettel of Scuderia Ferrari celebrates after winning the 2015 Formula One Grand Prix of Malaysia at the Sepang Circuit in March this year. Photo: EPA/Azhar Rahim

There are many events which tourists can participate in and be part of a historic moment for the country, he added. Among the activities are sepak takraw, futsal, basketball, zumba, treasure hunt, netball and Muay Thai challenge.

Three million participants from all over Malaysia are expected for nationwide events. Some of the iconic events that are likely to attract both local and overseas participation include the Spartan Race, HSN Bike Ride, Penang Bridge Challenge, PD International Triathlon, HRDF Half Marathon, UPM’s Run Forrest Run, FitMob Party, Sport Expo, Celebrity Fitness Multi-Sport Event, Fitness First Open Event and Malaysian Invasion Mixed Martial Arts Finals.

Research indicates that tourists who travel to indulge in their chosen sporting passion are more likely to spend more than the regular tourist, according to the British Tourism Authority, revealing that sport does play a role in travel and tourism. With more travellers seeking active holidays, sport tourism has become a key driver for Malaysia’s RM72bil tourism industry, which received 27.44 million tourists last year.

Sport tourism gained official recognition in Malaysia after the successful hosting of the 1998 Commonwealth Games and the inaugural F1 Malaysian Grand Prix in 1999. Tourism Malaysia director (Package Development division) Saidi Buntan says, since then, the country has hosted many international sporting events, many of which have become permanent fixtures on our tourism calendar.

“Most of the venues for sport tourism events are located at ideal primary service areas which offer tourists a complete mix of services, including excellent hotels, good restaurants, and a variety of shopping areas,” notes Saidi.

“Besides having great infrastructure for world-class sport events, along with excellent connectivity and easy accessibility, Malaysia is also blessed with magnificent landscapes of flora and fauna,” he adds.

Saidi says one of Tourism Malaysia’s key contribution to sport tourism is the promotion of golf tourism through tournaments such as the CIMB Classic, Iskandar Johor Open, Maybank Malaysia Open and Sabah Masters. Other sport that have attracted world attention are mountain-running, windsurfing and motorcycle-racing.

The FIM Asia Supermoto Championship 2015 is one of Asia's premier motorsports races that began its first round in Malaysia in June this year. Photo: Malaysia Major Events
The FIM Asia Supermoto Championship 2015 is one of Asia's premier motorsports races that began its first round in Malaysia in June this year. Photo: Malaysia Major Events

The Malaysian MotoGP, for one, is one of the world’s largest motorcycle races.

“Motorcycle enthusiasts flock to this event each year to watch the races and attend the various side festivities such as the Sepang Bike Week,” Saidi explains.

More events, people, money

Malaysia Major Events (MME) general manager Tony Nagamaiah says sport events are steady contributors to the country’s tourism economy. Last year alone, tourist expenditure for all 14 sport events supported by the organisation raked in about RM200mil.

MME is a division of the Malaysia Convention and Exhibition Bureau, an agency of the Tourism and Culture Ministry. Part of its mission is to place Malaysia on the world map as the event venue of choice.

Since its inception in 2011, MME has supported top-notched sport events, such as the Festival International Sport Extreme (FISE) World Series, FIM Asia Supermoto Championship and Asia Pacific Ironman Langkawi, to name a few.

Created in 1997, FISE is the is the biggest action sport festival worldwide for professional and amateur athletes, with five main action sport disciplines: Skateboarding, BMX biking, wakeboarding, inline skating and mountain biking.

As for Ironman, it’s a respected international name in triathlon since its inception over 30 years ago and is regarded as the pinnacle of the sport.

An exuberant participant is cheered on by spectators as he approaches the finishing line of the International Ironman Langkawi triathlon. Photo: ALEX MOI
An exuberant participant is cheered on by spectators as he approaches the finishing line of the International Ironman Langkawi triathlon. Photo: ALEX MOI

“The sport scene is very interesting right now and is definitely bringing in a lot of tourists,” Nagamaiah offers. He cites the IFMA Muay Thai World Championship Langkawi 2014 as a great success.

“That event brought in people from over 110 countries from around the world. For that particular week alone, Langkawi received about five to six thousand tourists,” he shares, adding that during that period, hotels were mostly fully booked and restaurants, packed.

“Some fast food joints even ran out of burgers! But it’s a good problem,” he says, with a laugh.

According to statistics provided by MME, there were a total of 86,110 attendees at the sport events it hosted last year. Of this number, 30,295 were international visitors comprising participants, coaches, supporters and spectators.

Nagamaiah stresses that MME works with the local council, state tourism exco and the National Sport Council to ensure that the programmes go smoothly. “We need to be ready in terms of infrastructure, venue facilities, hotels, airport facilities and connectivity,” he explains.

Complete package

MME’s efforts in establishing the country as the preferred destination for sport events have been fruitful. The success, according to Nagamaiah, is largely attributed to Malaysia’s geographical and infrastructural appeal.

“Destination is important. The organisers want to see a wholesome package in terms of safety and the ability to accommodate the crowd,” Nagamaiah explains, adding that Malaysia has those qualities. He says the preferred locations currently are Penang, Langkawi, Malacca, Kuala Lumpur, Johor, Putrajaya, Sabah and Sarawak.

Plans are in the pipeline to refurbish the National Stadium in Bukit Jalil for future sports events and also as a potential tourist attraction. Photo: The Star/Glenn Guan
Plans are in the pipeline to refurbish the National Stadium in Bukit Jalil for future sports events and also as a potential tourist attraction. Photo: The Star/Glenn Guan

But don’t think that the international attendees visit solely for the sport events. Based on feedback, Nagamaiah says, participants and spectators alike usually stay for an additional week to check out other parts of the country.

Above all, he believes the prospects are bright for the growth of sport tourism in the region.

“South-East Asia is at that perfect stage of looking at sport events because of the growing younger generation between the ages of 20 and 30. They see fitness as important,” says Nagamaiah. Another indication is the large number of participants from Singapore, Indonesia, Thailand and Brunei at lifestyle runs.

“There is usually huge media attention for world-class events hosted here. And we do get TV programmes and sport channels profiling our country as a sport destination,” Nagamaiah explains.

If anything, the man cites the 1998 Commonwealth Games and the Malaysia Grand Prix as having paved the way for the growth of sport events in the country. They have provided the necessary facilities to host world-class occasions. He thinks that talk of the venues being underused is a misconception.

“You would be surprised at the number of activities that are held at these places,” he points out. The Sepang International Circuit, for instance, is always booked by racing clubs to hold races.

At the end of the day, though, it’s about leaving a trail of sport culture.

“What those events and facilities have done is create a sporting legacy for the country,” he says, in reference to the various sport enthusiast clubs and schools. They have even sparked an accessible market for travel.

“Sport is universal. It’s something we have been taught since small,” Nagamaiah says, in reference to those who travel afar to attend sport events, “They are willing to spend money for sport. Everybody wants to be a part of it because it’s clean and healthy.”

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