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Sports tourism a burgeoning tool for Durham

By Dave Flaherty/The Oshawa Express

With $6.5 million in annual spending by domestic and international tourists in Canada, sports tourism is considered by many as the fastest growing segment of the industry.

The momentum has crossed over locally, with several sporting events expected to spark millions in economic activity in the region over the next few years.

Sport Durham recently hosted its annual Convergence conference, welcoming athletes, coaches, executives and others to celebrate the success in sports tourism over the past year.

Sport Durham was founded in 2013 as a pilot project by the region’s economic development and tourism division, with a focus on advancing sports tourism in Durham.

In 2016, it was approved by the region as a permanent program, and a new fund was created to facilitate bids for sporting events.

Lori Talling, sports tourism coordinator for Durham Region, says the goal is to make the area “a premier, sought-after host community through effective marketing and communications and delivery of value-added tools and services.”

“We want our efforts to have an impact – for the athletes, participants, families and friends, and on our community. We see this happening, and it’s only possible because of our partners,” Talling says.

Over the past year, numerous communities in Durham have hosted large sporting events.

In May, the Ontario Cup Basketball U/15 Girls Championships took place in Oshawa, Whitby, and Clarington, welcoming 43 teams and 500 athletes.

On Nov. 11 and 12, Oshawa was home to Quidditch’s Canada’s Eastern Regional Championship, bringing 280 athletes to the Civic Recreation Complex for the two-day event, creating approximately $69,000 in economic spin-off.

The largest event of 2017 was the Ontario Lacrosse Festival, which has been become a staple in Durham Region.

This year’s festival saw some 11,000 athletes in attendance, with an estimated economic impact of $5.5 million.

The economic outcomes of these events can be easily seen in several ways – such as visitors staying at local hotels and motels, eating at local restaurants, buying goods and services, and visiting local landmarks and attractions.

While the money brought into the community is no doubt valuable, Talling explained sports tourism can mean so much more to the community.

“They can have lasting legacies that benefit our community,” she says. “We consider these legacy plans a priority, and we will continue to do our best to build these plans into event bids and hosting activities.”

The momentum experienced in 2017 is set to continue in February with the 2018 Skate Canada Synchronized Skating Championships to be held at Oshawa’s Tribute Communities Centre.

Approximately 40 teams and 800 skaters will participate in the event and about $1.2 million is anticipated to be pumped into the local economy.

“We believe this has the opportunity to leave a lasting legacy in Durham, including elevating the synchronized skating and providing more children with the opportunity to try skating,” Talling says.

Come February 2019, the Ontario Parasport Games, featuring 10 parasports including sledge hockey, will welcome 350 athletes from across the province.

The efforts of Sports Durham are not only focused on bringing in outside events, but also strengthening athletics in local communities.

“We worked with five of our eight municipalities, regional staff and local cyclists to help organize and promote the Epic Lake to Lake Ride in August,” Talling says. “This inaugural event, led by the Township of Brock, saw more than 150 participants ride from Lake Simcoe and Lake Ontario, along the Great Trail.”

Talling says the organization will also be updating its long-term strategy over the next year.