The other day, I was invited to watch 30-Minute Talks, a fast-paced, concise, yet very informative weekly webinar with an audience of more than 3,000 hospitality and tourism students, teaching staff, program administrators, and faculty from all over the world.
It was organized by a trio of internationally recognized tourism and academic professionals led by Dr. Andy Nazarechuk, an old-time friend from my years in the academe. He has had 25 years of international experience working with integrated resorts, universities, and on tourism projects.
Also part of this laudable online discussion were Dr. Perry Hobson, another acquaintance during my stint at the university who is an internationally known academic and journal editor, and has held senior management positions in various universities; and Dr. Alan Williams, who has more than 30 years’ experience in education leadership and management in hospitality and tourism throughout Australia and Asia.
The interesting topic taken up that day was “golf tourism,” which is quite timely because the popularity of this sport has spread globally and has continued to rise over the past decades. Currently, there are about 56 million golfers worldwide and about 5 percent of them travel just to play golf.
It is not true that golf is an acronym for Gentlemen Only, Ladies Forbidden. The word traces its origin to the Dutch word kolve, which means “club,” because the Dutch started it all by playing a game with a stick hitting a leather ball towards a target several yards away. Whoever hit the ball with the fewest strokes was the winner.
But modern-day golf, played over an 18-hole course, was born in the Old Course of St. Andrews in Scotland in the 18th century. It is every golfer’s dream to play in this course, the oldest in the world, and also known as The Home of Golf.
Without skipping a beat, let me point out that our country also takes pride in the fact that the oldest golf course in Asia is the Iloilo Golf Course and Country Club in the verdant rolling fields of Santa Barbara. It started as a nine-hole course but was later expanded to 18-hole in the 1980s.
In Southeast Asia, however, the most popular golf destination is Thailand, which boasts a long list of world-class golf courses located in Bangkok, Pattaya, Hua Hin, Koh Samui, Phuket, Kanchanaburi, Chiang Mai, and Chiang Rai. They welcomed approximately 700,000 foreign golfers last year. But this number represents only less than 2 percent of the country’s total tourist arrivals which reached almost 40 million last year.
We have 125 golf courses all over our archipelago, most of which offer lush greens set against amazing vistas that have no equal anywhere else in the world. They would have been natural magnets to foreign golfers. Unfortunately, we are lagging behind our Asian neighbors in luring enthusiasts of this sport simply because the golf clubs in the country do not have a uniform set of policies, making it difficult for tour operators to promote the sport internationally.
It is also interesting to note that the very low percentage of golf tourists compared to total arrivals is true in every country anywhere in the world. Nevertheless, we would still want to have more golfers land in our shores because they are big spenders. It is estimated that they spend 120 percent more than the average tourist, and that certainly would make our tourism cash registers ring louder and longer.
Aside from this, golf tourism also improves the economic condition of the community where the golf club is situated. More residents get employment as caddies, ball boys, and other staff in the club. Multiplier effect comes into play, therefore ensuring the community’s sustainability.
Now that our tourism industry is getting ready to restart soon, will somebody take the cudgels for our tourism stakeholders and help increase our share of this lucrative sector of the industry?
The first step should be to find ways to standardize the policies of our golf clubs. Definitely, such move will make it easier to promote our beautiful golf courses abroad. If marketed properly, we might even overtake Thailand’s figures.
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