New Zealand-Based Sports Tourists’ Attitudes and Perceptions Towards Thailand’s Aspirations of Becoming an International Sports Event Tourism Destination
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Over the past twenty years, sports event tourism has been proven to contribute to the development of local tourism and hospitality businesses, largely through the revenue generated as a direct and indirect consequence of hosting major sports events. Large sporting fixtures (spectator-driven and participant-driven) have been placed front and centre of many domestic and international-focused destination management and marketing strategies. Thailand, like many other nations, relies on the tourism industry to provide a significant contribution to the nation’s GDP. This exploratory qualitative study sought to offer fresh insight into the attitudes and perceptions of sports tourists towards the Thai government’s aspirations of becoming an international sports event tourism destination. Attitude is defined as an acquired behavioural disposition, positive and negative evaluation levels, or a mental and neural state of readiness exerting a dynamic influence upon behaviour. The aim of this thesis was to determine the significant determinants that could influence attitudes towards Thailand’s well-established tourism industry targeting sports event tourists. More specifically, the researcher was interested in exploring the reactions of New Zealand-based sports tourists who had a pre-existing personal connection to Thailand. All of the participants on this occasion were New Zealand-based sports tourists with a historic personal connection to Thailand. The research question created at the start of the study was; “To what extent do sports tourists with an existing connection to Thailand consider Thailand to be an international sports event tourism destination?” The research design used in this study was based on the interpretive philosophy. The primary data was derived from the contribution of nine one-on-one semi-structured interviews carried out during an eight-week period. Thematic analysis was eventually applied as the primary method for analysing and summarising the qualitative data. The researcher followed the four phases and stages of theme development in doing so, consisting of initialisation, construction, rectification, and finalisation. The participants comprised of five males and four females, aged between 25 and 35 years, all of whom were New Zealand residents or citizens. Four of the participants were born in Thailand, two were born in New Zealand, and three were born elsewhere. Seven of the participants had previous experience of living and working in Thailand. They all claimed to be physically active individuals who engaged in sporting activities on a regular, if not daily basis. Five of the participants had actively participated in a sporting event in Thailand, and three had attended sports events in Thailand as spectators. The participants’ socio-cultural backgrounds and experiences clearly influenced their attitudes towards Thailand as a potential international sports event tourism destination. The participants all perceived Thailand’s existing tourism brand to be attractive, reputable and positive. The accessibility and affordability of Thailand as a tourism destination was found to be significant strength by all of the participants. However, the participants also identified a number of threats to the Thai government’s sports event tourism aspiration, for example, Thailand’s reputation for being a nation that suffers from political instability. Several of the participants also expressed doubts or concerns regarding the local Thai event organiser’s ability to deliver safe and secure events for a large number of international sport tourists. Perceptions were shared around the importance of athlete’s being able to trust the event organisers and the significance of entering an event where the safety and security of the participants were clearly prioritised ahead of any financial gain/profits or future destination marketing opportunities. The impact of COVID-19 on Thailand’s aspirations was also discussed, with many of the participants sharing their belief that Thailand’s tourism industry would recover once the borders were reopened.