|Thailand Regattas: Delivering a return to local economies|
Thailand has a long regatta history with the oldest sailing trophy dating back to 1966, when His Majesty the King of Thailand completed a 60-nautical mile, 17- hour endurance sail from Klai Kangwon Palace in Hua Hin to the Royal Thai Navy Headquarters in Sattahip. Vega was the singlehanded dinghy sailed by HM the King that day and the rudder was given as a perpetual trophy to the Royal Thai Navy and subsequently to the Yacht Racing Association of Thailand, to be awarded for a long distance race each year. Today the Royal Vega Rudder is awarded during the annual Hua Hin Regatta.
Since those early days of racing in the Kingdom, there has been a relative boom in sailing, in large part due to His Majesty's prowess and popularisation of the sport locally, but also due to the nation's stunning sailing grounds, prevailing conditions and hospitality. Since that day in 1966, a number of regattas and club races have been launched and today Thailand has arguably one of the liveliest annual regatta scenes in Asia with the "Big Five" international regattas drawing sailors from far and wide to Thailand's shores each year. The Big Five include the Phuket King's Cup Regatta (launched in 1987), Bay Regatta (launched in 1998), Samui Regatta (launched in 2002), Cape Panwa Hotel Phuket Raceweek (launched in 2004) and Top of the Gulf Regatta Presented by Ocean Marina (launched in 2005).
All unique in their own ways, the regattas also have one underlying commonality and something that is so often overlooked. Whether the regatta is committee-run, privately-owned or commercially-driven, all the Big Five (and most other sailing events in the country) are important revenue generators for local economies. Speaking at a recent press conference held by the organisers of the Top of the Gulf Regatta Presented by Ocean Marina, Mrs. Kobkarn Wattanavrangkul, Minister of Tourism and Sports, Thailand, said: "Sports Tourism is an area in which we see a lot of growth potential for the country. Marine events attract high-spending tourists, many of which are repeat tourists coming back to Thailand throughout the year."
"The Gulf of Thailand's spectacular coastline makes it an ideal destination for water sports and marine leisure tourism. Organisers of the Top of the Gulf Regatta Presented by Ocean Marina have been promoting sailing in the area for many years and the Regatta attracts sailors from around the world spending approximately THB40 million each year in the Greater Pattaya economy."
In a country where tourism is a key economic driver, it is encouraging to see the Royal Thai Government recognise the importance of sports tourism, and regattas in particular. Perceived by many as a niche sport, regattas in Thailand attract anywhere between 300 and 2,000 sailors and friends to a destination for a week or longer, delivering revenue directly into the local economy through accommodation bookings, food and drinks, and entertainment during their stay. Mrs. Wattanavrangkul also noted that Thailand's regattas generate approximately THB500 million per year for the national economy. An impressive figure. So where do such figures come from? According to insiders, the calculations include travel costs, accommodation, food and drinks and entertainment. Added to this are guesstimates on event expenditure and yacht delivery costs, which altogether have then been extrapolated for The Big Five, taking into account event size (in terms of boat numbers and participants) and event length (in terms of days), to reach the annual figure of THB500 million.
million. Infinity Communications & Consultant Co. Ltd – a Marketing Communications Agency in Thailand that works with many of the country's leading regattas – undertook a number of surveys between 2008 and 2012 at the Phuket King's Cup Regatta, and the findings showed that over THB40 million was spent during the regatta week on accommodation and food and drink alone. The research did not look at expenditure on travel, entertainment, event entry fees, boat maintenance etc. during the sailors' time at the regatta.
The same surveys looked at how often participants returned to Thailand during a year – outside of the Phuket King's Cup – and it was found that more than 20% of international sailors visited the country five times or more per year, showing how regattas deliver more than a one week shot in the arm to the local economy, they also foster repeat tourists. Sports tourism is one of the most dynamic sectors of Thailand's tourism industry and marine leisure tourism is leading the way attracting high-spending tourists. Boat owners who berth their boats in Thailand spend in marinas and on boat maintenance, creating jobs and providing year-round revenue. This, coupled together with money generated by regattas held in the country, makes the marine sector one of growing importance, and an area in which Thailand has a significant competitive advantage over its ASEAN neighbours.
Thailand's "Big Five" international regattas Listed oldest regatta first, and with 2015 dates. Phuket King's Cup Regatta, 5 – 12 December 2015, www.kingscup.com. The Bay Regatta, 4 – 8 March 2015, www.bayregatta.com. Samui Regatta, 23 – 30 May 2015, www.samuiregatta.com. Cape Panwa Hotel Phuket Raceweek, 15 – 19 July 2015, www.phuketraceweek.com. Top of the Gulf Regatta Presented by Ocean Marina, 30 April – 4 May 2015, www.topofthegulfregatta.com.