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Rise of sports tourism in Fiji

Sports tourism is fast becoming Fiji's draw card in attracting travellers to our shores, with major resorts taking advantage of the opportunities it presents.

One sport that has not failed to attract visitors to our shores is rugby, particularly the 7s code, which relegated Fiji to prominence when the national side scooped gold at the 2016 Rio Olympics.

Resorts such as the Outrigger Fiji Beach Resort in Sigatoka, and Pacific Harbour's Uprising Fiji Resort, have been vocal and strong financial supporters of rugby development in the country over a number of years.

The two resorts have even developed their own seven’s tournaments, annually attracting sports teams from around the country and abroad.

Outrigger Fiji Beach Resort general manager Peter Hopgood and Sigatoka River Safari owner Jay Whyte began the very successful Coral Coast Sevens tournament seven years ago.

The tournament has grown into a multi-national event where teams from New Zealand, Australia, Hong Kong and Japan have participated against some of the country's prolific local teams.

Speaking at the event launch last week — where Australian Wallabies stars George Gregan, Lote Tuqiri and New Zealand sevens great Karl Tenana were honoured guests — Hopgood said the idea of the Coral Coast Sevens came about when they wanted an event that could attract crowds during the tourism industry's off-season.

"Seven years ago the general managers of Coral Coast resorts at the time, got together with Jay Whyte and decided to put a sevens tournament together because it was our quiet time of the year," he said.

"Let's put a tournament on where we can attract people to Fiji, but more importantly to the Coral Coast.

"It was a big undertaking and we started off slow and it's grown bigger and better every year.

"As hoteliers in the Coral Coast, we attract about 200,000 visitors to our resorts every year and we employ more than 2000 staff and we contribute over $80 million to our tourism industry and local economy.

"Having events such as the Coral Coast Sevens really assisted us during our quiet times."

Pacific Harbour-based Uprising Fiji Resort general manager James Pridgeon agreed that sports tourism had become a strong money earner for local resorts and the tourism industry.

He said the rugby seven's tournaments had become a great marketing opportunity while at the same time fostered local rugby talents.

The resort was behind the Uprising Youth Sevens team during the Sigatoka tournament at Lawaqa Park this year.

"It is our passion and our privilege to be part of the tournament and we see the event has grown quite significantly, especially with the amount of talent we see out on the field, especially from our youths," said Pridgeon.

That's where we want to align ourselves, and with our Uprising Fiji Beach Resort brand.

"And we will continue to follow through with the sports tourism market especially in 2017, and as we move forward these tournaments are great way to put our brand forward and continue to support grassroots rugby.

"The reality now is we are bridging the gap by bringing the events to them and putting them on a main stage, so they can perform in front of their country and in front of potential scouts and selectors.

"This is a perfect opportunity for the younger guys to get their names out and be recognised.

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