Phuket Opinion: Boosting Phuket tourism through sport

Virat Patee, 55, is a native of Phuket. He has served as the director of the Sport Authority of Thailand’s Phuket office for five years, and formerly served as the director of the SAT Krabi office for 12 years.

Here, he talks about the valuable contribution sports make to tourism and suggests how Phuket can do more to promote sport tourism, both international and domestic.

PHUKET: When people think of tourism, they tend to think of hotels and tourist attractions. They rarely think of sports as a tool for boosting tourist numbers. However, sporting events do draw tourists, many different kinds.

The first group are those who come here specifically to watch an event. Phuket has both domestic and international spectators.

The second group is the athletes themselves, and they rarely come alone, bringing with them family, friends, trainers and so forth. Last year’s Laguna Phuket Triathlon had more than 1,000 participants; imagine how many more people came to support them.

Finally, you have athletes who come here not to compete, but to train. One example is the national swim teams from Asia and Europe that regularly use the facilities at Thanyapura Phuket.

Keep in mind that each of these groups tends to stay extra days before or after events to enjoy the island. They spend money on lodging and food throughout their stays.

Both local and international-level sports have grown a lot in Phuket in recent years.

Our soccer and futsal teams have become good enough to compete in Thailand’s top leagues, and the games they play draw thousands of supporters every week. Tourists who come to watch these are mostly from within Thailand.

The latest development in this field is the enlistment of a Myanmar national player by Phuket FC. We expect that having players from Myanmar will attract more international tourists and also Myanmar workers in Phuket.

Events that tend to draw many international tourists are the FIVB Women’s Beach Volleyball World Tournament, Laguna Phuket Triathlon, Toyota Motorsport Racing, surfing competitions such as the Quicksilver Thailand Open, and the Pearl of the Andaman Open, as well as the Phuket King’s Cup Regatta and the Kiteboard Tour Asia competition.

Beach sports in general are very popular with international tourists, and we’ve got a major beach competition coming up later this year: the 4th Asian Beach Games, from November 14 to 23.

There will be 25 events, including windsurfing, soccer, wrestling, sepak takraw, sailing, ocean swimming, jet-skiing and water-skiing. Athletes and support crews alone are expected to number more than 4,000 people, and we estimate the number of spectators to be more than 10,000 per day.

Some people might write off Phuket as a sports hub because we’re not a big province and our small population means we have a limited pool of athletes. But we can use these limitations to our advantage.

During large-scale competitions here, our small size makes it easier to get from one venue to another.

And our size also means we can focus on the talented athletes we do have and make them stars.

In the 42nd National Games this year, 11 Phuket athletes won gold medals.

Sports are clearly good for tourism and we should be doing more to develop them. We need to upgrade our facilities. We also need to build new stadiums and renovate the ones we have. Some are really old, and some can’t accommodate the number of people who want to watch the games.

Another thing we should do is form more partnerships with the private sector to benefit from their resources and networks.

The last thing we can do is boost our training capabilities. A state-of-the-art training facility that will draw athletes to the island is in the works already. We’re just waiting to get our budget approved by the Sport Authority of Thailand and plan to have the center finished within three years.

Phuket has a bright future as a center for international competitions and also athlete training.

Sports are a valuable addition not just to tourism, but to our lives. One of the best things about them is that they are a great equalizer. In our daily lives we might be an employer or an employee, from high or low social standing, but in the stadium we are all equal.

— Irfarn Jamdukor

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