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World Sports Calendar

Thailand’s growing power as a Sport Tourism destination

Posted On: 17 May 2011

Thailand’s growing power as a Sport Tourism destination will be on show at this week’s WTTC Global Travel and Tourism Summit in Las Vegas. WSDE looks at how the Land of Smiles is tapping into the fastest growing sector of travel.

Enjoying double-digit growth in foreign visitors in 2010, Thailand not only proved its incredible resilience but also its forward-thinking attitude towards developing new markets, and sport tourism in particular.

The number of foreign tourists visiting Thailand during 2010 rose by 12 per cent, with foreign tourist confidence recovering rapidly from political violence in Bangkok earlier in the year.


One of the country’s tourism jewel, the island of Phuket, is playing a key role in spearheading the growth. Passenger traffic through Phuket International Airport surged 28 percent in 2010 compared to 2009, heralding a return to levels not experienced since the boom year of 2007.

According to C9 Hotelworks Managing Director Bill Barnett, one clear indication of the bounce back was the rise in hotel occupancy from 61 percent in 2009 to 70 percent in the same period of this year.

Pushing sporting boundaries

With travel and tourism one of the lifeblood economies of Thailand, both the public and private sector have been quick to acknowledge the fastest growing area of the industry – sports tourism.

In November a groundbreaking sporting academy opened in Phuket that sets the nation’s stall out as Asia’s hub of sporting excellence.


The Phuket International Academy Sports and Leisure Club (PIASLC) is a leading-edge development, which has become the continent’s pre-eminent competition, training and event complex.

Combining a brilliant location with world-class facilities, it is already attracting interest from respected global sporting institutions and international corporations.

The PIASLC marked its international launch at WSDE Sport Tourism Expo in Johannesburg during the FIFA 2010 World Cup.

The new centre signals Asia’s willingness to embrace sport tourism – an industry worth $600 billion a year and growing.


Since Beijing successfully hosted the Olympic Games in 2008, Asia has remained in the sport tourism spotlight and its unrivalled sporting infrastructure and integrated approach to leisure tourism has reaped considerable rewards.

Leading analysts predict that the travel industry’s fastest growing sector will post record profits and contribute an astonishing 16 percent of overall travel and tourism receipts by the end of 2011. At a time when some traditional tourism trends are in decline, sport tourism continues to flourish and is set to grow exponentially in the next decade.


There are many reasons for the sport tourism boom. The continued sportification of society is prompting a seismic shift in tourist patterns. The 21st century is witnessing traditional sun and sea vacations – traditionally the main stay of the industry – being replaced by activity sport related vacations and a new breed of tourists keen to attend an ever increasing calendar of readily-accessible mega sporting events.

WSDE Sport Tourism Expo – the first global exhibition and business forum dedicated to showcasing the $600 billion a year sport tourism industry – was successfully launched last July alongside the final week of the 2010 FIFA World Cup. The key buyers, influencers and media met face to face with the destinations leading the field in this dynamic sector and forging the future of sport tourism.


This proven track record has resulted in the announcement that the next edition of WSDE Sport Tourism Expo will take place in Bangkok during 2012 and will mark an important year for Asia, and Thailand in particular.

The PTT Thailand Open, which was first held in 2003, will be returning to the capital, and is expected to feature the biggest names in tennis, and boasting Roger Federer as a back-to-back winner in 2004 and 2005.

The ATP tennis event has become one of Thailand’s big sport tourism attractions, but there is no doubt about the other – golf.

The Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) has fast tracked golf as one of the focus sectors for its 2011 marketing strategy. TAT is highlight the country’s world-class golf courses via its “Amazing Thailand Golf Paradise” campaign. While Thailand is heavily marketing its courses and playing facilities, one area of Sport Tourism where the country is particularly thriving is in the golf MICE sector.

This year Thailand is hosting at least six golf industry conferences and exhibitions and has a busy calendar. The WSDE Sport Tourism Expo will take place in Bangkok during 2012.