A new organization promises to keep Victoria punching above its weight when it comes to attracting sports tourism events.
Officials representing tourism, sporting organizations and the District of Saanich heard Tuesday morning the Greater Victoria Sport Tourism Commission will take the place of SportHost under the leadership of executive director Hugh MacDonald.
The new organization will fall under the auspice of Victoria Tourism.
Paul Nursey, chief executive officer for Tourism Victoria, said sports tourism has become an important driver of the local economy. Estimates peg the total annual value of regional, provincial, national and international sporting events in the Greater Victoria region at $117 million.
Nursey said sports tourism directly benefits the hospitality and transportation sectors, and indirectly other sectors. But the competition for this segment of the economy has intensified in recent years, as the number of competing cities has risen from a handful to more than a 100, said Nursey.
“So we really need to up our game,” said Nursey. “We never need to take any business for granted, like we never do.”
Nursey described MacDonald as a “shop of one” who did a “tremendous job” in attracting events to Victoria. “But he doesn’t have in-house marketing, or legal, or accounting, or research, or sales or social media. Those functions exist within Tourism Victoria.”
Nursey said the creation of the Greater Victoria Tourism Commission promises to create synergies. “We [Tourism Victoria and SportHost] were two separate organizations, working collaboratively the best that we could in parallel,” he said. “And now we are coming together as one entity, which will increase the firepower of our bids.”
Nursey said the organization will retain its sports focus with its own membership, specified authorities, and distinctive brand.
“It will leverage the capacities and organizational strength of Tourism Victoria,” said Nursey. “We have 42 professionals plus in-market representatives, who are actively looking to grow the business every day. And it will live within the legal construct of Tourism Victoria. Before we had two different legal entities.”
Nursey said a yet-to-be chosen committee will control the strategy, annual plan and budget of the new organization, which will have a seat on the board of Tourism Victoria.
“It will provide advice to me as a CEO around sports tourism issues, because we don’t pretend to be experts, and we are excited to learn more about this opportunity,” said Nursey. “We are certainly experts in bidding on conferences, and other major events, but the nuances of sports are something we are going to learn more about.”
It is not clear yet though when the new organization will start to bid for new opportunities.
Nursey said finding a director for the new commission will be the first priority, as MacDonald will retire from his position at SportHost on March 31. The new organization will also look to fill its governance committee, then develop its strategy, said Nursey.
Once these steps are complete, the new organization will be able to focus on future opportunities, he said.
Robert Bettauer, chief executive officer for the Pacific Institute for Sport Excellence, was among several officials including Coun. Judy Brownoff, who attended Tuesday’s announcement at Saanich Commonwealth Pool. Bettauer, a former tennis pro and current television commentator, welcomes the new organization. It promises to build on past efforts that have allowed Victoria punch about its weight when it comes to attracting high quality sporting events.
For MacDonald, Tuesday’s announcement had elements of a bitter-sweet moment. On one hand, it happened at Saanich Commonwealth Place, the main physical legacy of the 1994 Commonwealth Games, the event that eventually inspired the creation of SportHost. On the other hand, it signalled the pending end of MacDonald’s long professional career in sports and sports tourism, a legacy both Nursey and Bettauer recognized. McDonald, for his part, appeared more than comfortable saying good-bye, calling the new organization a “natural evolution” of SportHost.