Medan (ANTARA) - The Indonesian province of North Sumatra has been taking big strides in promoting sports tourism in the post-pandemic era in the hopes of recovering and growing its economy, which took a hard knock from COVID-19.

Tourism is one of North Sumatra’s prioritized sectors considering that the province wields enormous potential in the sector. The provincial government has formulated several strategies to capitalize on this potential, including holding promotional activities and assisting tourism stakeholders.

With North Sumatra seeking to draw more international tourists, the province’s Office of Culture, Tourism, and Creative Economy is focusing on international-level events, especially those related to sports tourism.

In the post-COVID-19 era, the Bukit Lawang Jungle Trail Run, held in March 2022, marked the start of intensified sports tourism promotion by North Sumatra. The event drew 470 contestants.

Three months later, North Sumatra hosted the World Surf League (WSL) Qualifying Series 5000 Nias Pro 2022 on Sorake Beach, South Nias district. The competition attracted participants from 15 countries.

In August 2022, the Toba Lake Rally 2022 National Championship took place in the province’s Simalungun district.

Then, in November of the same year, the Association of Indonesian Palm Oil Producers (Gapki) and Palm Oil Plantation Fund Management Agency (BPDPKS) organized the Oil Palm Marathon that drew 1,493 participants to North Sumatra.

To develop the province’s economy, the North Sumatra government has made the most of the sports tourism events by organizing supporting activities, such as bazaars for micro, small, and medium enterprises.

The Lake Toba Rally National Championship helped local merchants increase their income by 60–80 percent, with the turnover reaching Rp1 million daily, according to North Sumatra’s Office of Communication and Informatics.

Based on data from Statistics Indonesia (BPS) - North Sumatra, the province has been recording gradual increases in the number of foreign tourists since 2022.

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In March 2022, 11 foreign tourists visited North Sumatra during the Bukit Lawang Jungle Trail event. Meanwhile, the World Surf League held in June 2022 attracted a total of 5,165 foreign tourists, an increase from 3,861 the previous month.

As many as 10,287 international tourists visited North Sumatra during the Lake Toba Rally National Championship in August 2022. Meanwhile, in November 2022, the province recorded a total of 10,615 foreign tourists.

North Sumatra continued to host and promote sports tourism events the following year to make the most of the positive trend.

The province’s sports tourism agendas for 2023 began in February, when Indonesia, for the first time ever, hosted the F1 Powerboat World Championship. The international event was followed by the Bukit Lawang Orangutan Trail 2023 in May and the WSL Qualifying Series 5000 Nias Pro 2023 in September.

During the August–September 2023 period, North Sumatra also hosted two international badminton championships, namely the BWF Indonesia International Challenge and Indonesia Masters Super 100 I.

In the following months, North Sumatra successfully hosted the 2023 Aquabike Jetski World Championship in Lake Toba in November, the Asia-Pacific Rally Championship from September to November, and the Oil Palm Marathon 2023 in November.

A higher number of foreign tourists visited North Sumatra during the sports tourism events in 2023. This can be attributed to the Indonesian government’s decision to end the pandemic status in June.

In the January–November 2023 period, a total of 178,575 foreign travelers visited North Sumatra, translating to an increase of 222.92 percent from the 55,300 foreign tourist visits recorded in the same period of 2022.

Zumri Sulthony, head of North Sumatra’s Office of Culture, Tourism, and Creative Economy, said that international sports events in the province should not be considered an instant solution to boosting international tourist visits.

To ensure such events help North Sumatra push up international tourist arrivals, it is necessary to take measures to promote the events by utilizing digital platforms, he added.

Sulthony said that tourism promotion measures should be viewed as an investment since they can take time to produce the expected results. With that in mind, he emphasized the need for continued promotion of international sports events in the hopes of attracting more foreign tourists.

He assured that North Sumatra will continue to host sports tourism events this year, adding that another round of the F1 Powerboat World Championship will take place in Toba district from February 23–25, 2024.

With abundant natural tourism resources at its disposal and various sports tourism events lined up, North Sumatra needs to further intensify its efforts to enhance its tourism appeal, particularly for international communities.

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Rapid growth
The central and provincial governments have made the right decision to continue paying special attention to sports tourism events, given that such events have been witnessing rapid growth in popularity across the globe.

In an article entitled Sports Tourism and The Pandemic’s Impact on Global Travel, which was published on in October 2022, the president of Indonesian unicorn Traveloka, Caesar Indra, noted that sports tourism events were motivating tourists to travel again after the COVID-19 pandemic era.

He said that sports tourism events were also helping other sectors develop, as such events prompted travelers to seek memorable experiences during their visit to the host regions.

Singapore, he pointed out, has been successful in making the most of its sports tourism appeal by organizing the Singapore Grand Prix Formula 1 race.

“Since its debut in 2008, the Singapore Grand Prix has been attended by over 550 thousand tourists and has generated more than US$1.5 billion,” Indra wrote.

According to the Sport Events and Tourism Association (Sports ETA) of the United States, tourism events held in the US in 2021 generated as much as US$91.8 billion and created 635 thousand job opportunities. Such events also resulted in tax revenues of US$12.9 billion.

The same year, tourists and event organizers spent a total of US$9.7 billion on transport, US$8.4 billion on hostelry, US$7.5 billion on food and beverages, and US$14 billion on recreational activities, retail shopping, and tournament-related fees.

The figures highlighted at least two notable things. First, they confirmed that tourism events are very promising in terms of turnover. Second, they made it clear that other tourism sub-sectors play a crucial role in making a tourism sports event an economic success.

According to the United Nations World Tourism Organization, countries need to optimize other tourism sub-sectors that showcase local cultural appeal to gain optimal benefits from the rising popularity of sports tourism events.

By doing so, countries can proffer those involved in such events with unique and distinct experiences that can encourage them to visit the destinations again.

It is indeed not an easy task to make sports tourism flourish as it requires hard work and collaboration among all stakeholders.

However, Indonesia should be optimistic about its sports tourism events gaining a higher level of popularity among the international audience as North Sumatra is taking part in the country’s sports tourism journey.

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Editor: Yuni Arisandy Sinaga
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