The world’s most gruelling and iconic endurance race is once again coming to Sri Lanka when some 750 athletes are expected to descend on Sri Lankan shores for the ‘So Sri Lanka Ironman 70.3 Colombo Triathlon’ on 24
February. And this year promises to be better than the last with event organisers Pro Am Serendib partnering with the Sri Lanka Tourism Promotions Bureau (SLTPB).
For those unfamiliar with the Ironman 70.3 triathlon series, 70.3 refers to the total distance covered by athletes in miles, which is half the length of a full Ironman Triathlon. The event will see either individuals or teams competing to complete a 1.9 km sea swim, 90 km bike ride and a 21.1 km run, and it will also serve as a qualifying event for the Ironman 70.3 World Championships. To add to the occasion there will also be an Ironkids event held on 23 February 2018 to encourage children between the ages of 7 to 13 to participate and earn the title of Ironkids. The venue for both events will be Galle Face Green.
Speaking at a media briefing on Friday announcing the new partnership, Minister of Tourism Development John Amaratunuga noted the potential economic benefits of hosting such an event in the country.
“We look at it from a number of aspects. One, the number of tourists coming down to Sri Lanka, though they are participants we consider them as tourists,” he explained. “Number two the amount of foreign exchange earnings that will come into the country. Three the publicity of what Sri Lanka can offer; there are people who not only come and run, they’ll do an exploration of the country as well and go and tell their friends and family what Sri Lanka is.”
Indeed, after accounting for friends and family of the athletes, some 1,650 tourist arrivals are expected for the event alone. While this is a decrease from last year’s event, which saw 2,368 total arrivals – 70% of which were first time visitors to the country – this year’s event is hoping to deliver a more substantial push in terms of marketing and promotion.
“Compared to the first one the numbers have dipped a bit due to various reasons,” conceded new SLTPB Chairman Kishu Gomes. “But I’m sure with how they’re going to manage the event with our support this year there will be greater awareness being created, more respect being garnered, and, with all the publicity and promotions we’re going to do around this event, in time to come it will be a much bigger event.”
This is also the shared goal of Pro Am Serendib Director Yasas Hewage, who was keen to point out not just the quantity of tourist arrivals but also the calibre of the tourists the event is looking to attract. In the 2018 event, noted Sewage, each tourist that came down for the sole purpose of the Ironman 70.3 event stayed an average of seven days in Sri Lanka, each spending an average of Rs. 485,000 – twice of what an average tourist spends in this country. The total economic impact on the country was in the region of $ 3 million, he revealed.
“This is not about bringing down a sports event, paying all their bills and having an event. As you can see the athletes are fairly mature. They’re CEOs, doctors, these are people that are self-actualised, they’re doing this as a fashion to travel the world,” explained Hewage.
“In the history of Ironman we were rated four percent above the global average in the athlete satisfaction survey. This is like a six page document going into detail, asking them whether they’re happy with the roads, the people, the food, the event, the lodging, the logistics, every aspect looked at independently. And we were rated on top, in Asia and the world.”
The satisfaction rating last year’s Ironman event received was 91.5%, indeed four percentage points above the global average. For Hewage though, this is just the beginning.
“The event has a significant economic impact on the company, so imagine 52 such events every year, every week, what that can do for Sri Lanka. This country is so much potential as infrastructure comes in, we’re thinking big, we’re thinking of doing four marathons at the same time. Can’t we be the Boston marathon? Can’t we be the Singapore marathon? So that’s the sort of opportunity we’re thinking of, so I hope this also opens up a meaningful public partnership dialogue, because without that this is all absolutely meaningless.”
For their part the SLTPB seemed won over. New Chairman Gomes might only have been in the job for a couple of days at the time of media briefing, however he was as enthusiastic as anyone in attendance at the potential such sports and adventure tourism holds for Sri Lanka’s future.
Playing in the conventional sectors only will not give us the numbers we’re chasing. We did 2.3 million tourist arrivals last year, the goal for this year is to exceed 3 million which is roughly a little more than 20% growth, and I’m very, very confident that that is doable,” stated Gomes.
“In the proposal I also saw the per tourist value that can be generated. If you compare that with some of the other sectors it’s amazing. My DNA is marketing and brand communication, but one thing I can tell you is that with this event, and sports marketing and sports tourism, we’ll be able to do a lot. Because it has character, it’s not just physical things, but more emotional things you can attach to it.”
“When these 1,600 people go back, if they can positively talk about what they experienced in Sri Lanka, that can do wonders for us. Word of mouth in tourism is the most effective weapon.”