One of the most exciting aspects of being in the GCC region is our embrace of world-class entertainment as a means of economic and cultural diversification. Today there is no denying the flourishing reputation of the GCC on the global stage — especially with Saudi Arabia’s newly-liberalised market.
It is a region that attracts increasingly more superstar entertainment, with the benefits being felt on both an economic and social front. While economic diversification is something that governments throughout the GCC have been pursuing for years now, sports tourism has been relatively more nascent.
Yes, we have hosted global sports tournaments and major celebrities before. But the sheer scale of what is being done today across the GCC is unprecedented.
In the thick of it
Just consider the level of global sporting events that the Gulf now hosts. Manama and Abu Dhabi are fixtures on the Formula One calendar, with tournaments like the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships hosting global talent for over 25 years. Even so, new milestones are being set.
Abu Dhabi hosted the Special Olympics World Games for the first time in the Arab World last year, and Saudi Arabia welcomed some of the world’s most renowned boxing champions for the first time to the Middle East. The United Nations World Tourism Organization (WTO) now claims that the Middle East and Africa is the world’s fastest-growing sports tourism destination.
You only have to look at the line-up for the coming months to realise that there is an enormous amount of investment behind the sector. These events present a clear economic opportunity to the host country, which is why competition to win the rights to an event is so fierce.
Yet the benefits are strong among the community, too. This community value is often under appreciated although equally significant to the economic upshots of sports tourism. Being courtside for a winning slam dunk or watching a Special Olympics athlete triumphantly cross the finish-line can make a huge difference in motivating individuals to take up sport themselves.
Healthier people tend to be more motivated people. They are more likely to contribute to the development of their community and give something back. Better physical and mental health combats depression and anxiety, which the World Health Organisation says costs the global economy up to $1 trillion per year in lost productivity.
This is why the region’s passion for sports tourism is such an exciting one. Not only will it boost investment and contribute to economic diversification, but it will have a positive effect on the well-being of our communities — and that is truly priceless.
Mohammad A. Baker is Deputy Chairman and CEO of Gulf Marketing Group.