By Michael Angelo S. Murillo
THE BURGEONING sports tourism scene and industry in the country got added dimension recently with the holding of the first-ever Philippine Sports Tourism Awards (PSTA).
Jointly organized by stakeholders both from the government and the private sector, the PSTA is designed to recognize events, destinations, local government units, national sports associations, private companies and event organizers that have contributed to the exponential growth of the local sports tourism industry.
It is also geared towards inspiring local players to further step up their game in pushing the Philippines as a top sports tourism destination in the world with various events and activities, riding on the back of the richness of the country’s geography and the inherent passion of Filipinos for sports.
“The establishment of the PSTA has been long overdue. The efforts of the sports tourism stakeholders have to be recognized for the significant contributions they have given in making the segment an important component in the country’s tourism promotion,” said Charles Lim, president of Selrahco Management and Consultancy Services, the lead private group behind the PSTA, during the awards night held last week at the Passion Cantonese Restaurant in Resorts World Manila.
He went on to say that setting up the PSTA had been in their minds since 2004, when they started the Sports Tourism Forum in Cebu which gathered experts from sports and tourism to encourage cities and venues to organize.
The forum has since made several stops in different parts of the country, including in Subic, Laoag, Davao, Manila, Cagayan de Oro, and Puerto Princesa.
The significance of the PSTA was also underscored by Tourism Undersecretary Benito C. Bengzon, Jr., saying it is in line with the department’s push for the sports tourism segment.
“This is a very significant event. Sports tourism has got be one of the most exciting segments for tourism in the Philippines. And we are confident that with the help of the various stakeholders in the country we can bring it to the level that will position the Philippines as a competitive sports tourism destination not only in Asia but around the world,” he said.
“Tourism as an industry should not only be for tourists but it has to be for the people as well,” he added. “Events like this which recognize the contributions of various stakeholders especially on the community level are important. We are more inspired by it as we get to see how inclusive and participative tourism can be. And this is the vision that we have.”
For the first year of the PSTA, winners were selected for nine categories which organizers said they got “hundreds” of nominations for. Only sports events that were held or staged in 2015 were qualified and eligible for nomination.
The winners were chosen by a panel of judges which included Messrs. Lim and Bengzon, Philippine Olympic Committee Board Member and Chairman for Women in Sports Cynthia L. Carrion-Norton, Philippine Sports Commission Chairman William I. Ramirez, and Strategic Works, Inc. PR Director Mark C. Parlade.
Clark Freeport Zone, Pampanga, was named the Sports Tourism Destination of the Year for hosting various sports tourism events, including racing competitions, car shows, Frisbee games, and the widely attended Philippine Hot Air Balloon Fiesta that welcomes around 112,000 local and foreign visitors yearly.
The Municipality of Lubao, Pampanga, and Sunrise Events, Inc. were hailed as Organizer of the Year in the public and private sector categories, respectively. Both have held events that boosted local sports tourism as a viable industry in the Philippines.
Lubao was recognized for taking on the challenge of adopting the world-renowned spectacle of the hot air balloon festival and making it a key component in the LGU’s sports tourism thrust while Sunrise Events was given the nod for the Ironman events to be organized in different parts of the country that have become to-go events for international and local triathletes.
Cebu’s Tabuelan 111 won in the Event of the Year-Domestic category for its successful tri-event races held in celebration of the town’s fiesta while Ironman 70.3 Philippines, took home the award in the Event of the Year-international events category.
The Philippine Inter-Island Sailing Federation, which popularized boat races in the country, was named Sport Association of the Year.
Ironman 70.3’s campaign to make Cebu a global sports tourism destination, meanwhile, won the Destination Marketing of the Year award.
The Philippine Rugby Football Union and Hong Kong-based civic group Pot Bellied Pigs Rugby Club’s Fat Boys 10s Rugby was hailed Charity Event of the Year 2015 for delivering medical assistance to 1,000 children annually through funds generated from annual golf and rugby tournaments.
Rounding out the winners’ circle was the Resorts World Manila Golf Masters, which took home the Event Sponsorship Award of the Year 2015. The professional golf tour is touted as the richest tournament in the Philippines, with $1 million in prize money and which was broadcast to over 200 countries.
“The Tabuelan triathlon is already on its fifth year and we are proud of what it has become. Tabuelan is a fourth-class municipality and now we are known for triathlon. It’s a community-based event where the local people come together to organize it and we are honored to receive the award because it is an affirmation not only of the triathlon event but of the entire community of Tabuelan. And it inspires us more,” said Tabuelan Mayor Rex Gerona in an interview.
The same inspiration and honor were felt by the Philippine Rugby Football Union and Pot Bellied Pigs Rugby Club after winning at the PSTA.
“We are honored to win the award. Sports tourism is really doing well here in the Philippines and the PSTA should complement that. With this award we will strive to do more and help more communities with our various activities,” said Alun C. Grassick, chairman of the Pot Bellied Pigs Rugby Club, in a separate interview.
Both Messrs. Gerona and Grassick expressed hope that the PSTA would continue in the years to come so as to inspire stakeholders to hold new events and improve existing ones.
“The PSTA is really about celebrating the synergy of sports and tourism — two key pillars in bringing the Philippines to greater heights. The large number of nominations in the first year was overwhelming and we hope to make it bigger and better in the years to come. Hopefully, the PSTA can do its part in bringing the country closer to making it a destination for major sporting events, showing the world that it is not only more fun but also athletic and energetic in the Philippines,” organizers said.
The PSTA was organized by the PSC, Department of Tourism, Tourism Promotions Board Philippines, and Selrahco with support from the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp., Cebu Pacific and Resorts World Manila.