Richmond Region Tourism Wants to Change the Sports Travel Industry

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It’s not often someone does something that changes the landscape of what can—or should—be done in an industry. Most of us go about doing what’s always been done because, well, that’s what we’ve always done. It’s expected. It’s easy. Expected and easy isn’t for everyone, however. Richmond Region Tourism is aiming to spark real change within the sports travel market. After creating a new way to partner with cities that could otherwise be construed as competitors, RRT might soon become a trendsetter. Corey Peterson, director of sports development for RRT, recently flew Josh Todd of Visit Mesa out to his city in order to meet with USA Synchro’s Rachel Hibner as well as Richmond’s Collegiate School Aquatics Center’s representatives as part of what Peterson called the RVA Field Trip (more on this in a bit). [inlinead align="left"]“If you have the right partner, there will never be a conflict because we’ll find a way to align our individual needs with those of the client. You can certainly be great as a single entity, but the ceiling on shared resources and development is absolutely limitless.” —Corey Peterson, Richmond Region Tourism[/inlinead] Peterson has struck a deal with Visit Mesa on partnering with the destination in order for both to benefit by booking more swimming business as Visit Mesa has been at the forefront of swimming events in the sports travel space. Not every city would be willing to go in on such a deal, but Peterson has his reasons. “I prefer to approach everything we do from a place of growth and development, and sometimes that requires humility and partnership. Way more important than the establishing of a relationship is the development of one—there is always fellowship inside of competition when the value propositions coincide with one another,” he told Connect Sports. “If there is someone out there mastering a space I want to get more into, I want to sit down and learn from them and adapt their principles to my community.” Peterson will be traveling to Mesa in the near future to meet with Todd and his team to discuss their partnership in more depth as well as to check out how Mesa handles its swim events. Whatever RRT is doing seems to be working. The Richmond region will host one of the largest cycling events in the world this summer when the UCI Road World Championship comes to town. Peterson is expecting close to 400,000 people to attend the event, which makes for a perfect opportunity to put Richmond on the map for a global audience. The city also secured a deal for the Washington Redskins to hold its training camp at a newly built facility, which will draw thousands of fans each year, and while the NFL has its (incredibly long list of) problems, the league's fans are as passionate as any in the nation. Peterson has developed a strong relationship with one of Richmond's top sports radio stations (ESPN 950) and uses the airwaves to get the word out when events come to town. In a city without a professional sports franchise, the ancillary players within the hospitality community—restaurants, attractions, and yes, radio hosts—have a vested interest in ensuring attendees and event organizers enjoy their stay in the city. For USA Fencing's Junior Olympic Championships held in February, Peterson arranged for a fencer as well as one of USA Fencing's events personnel to speak on the radio about the event and the sport itself. It's that little extra detail that goes a long way for attendees and rights holders, and for Richmond to step up and become one of the big boy cities for events, those little details will help achieve that goal. Or at least that's what Peterson is banking on. RVA_Table

"I wanted to obsess over every single detail as a metaphor to how much we would pay attention to the details that are important to you when the time comes," he said. "Event organizers are always evaluating how deep you delve into the details—it’s often a microcosm of how you’ll treat their needs."

Christine Strong Simmons is USA Fencing's director of operations, and she knows firsthand how Richmond's use of local media can drive awareness of her events.

"We are a mid-size Olympic sport and that means that the small staff in our office all wear multiple hats," she told Connect Sports. "Getting assistance with local media and publicizing the presence of USA Fencing in Richmond via street pole signs and airport welcome banners increases the visibility of our sport and translates into growing the sport of fencing."

Simmons said the kinds of partnerships Richmond and Mesa are undertaking will help offset some costs for events, which is music to the ears of every rights holder, not just national governing bodies.

Competition is tight in the sports market, and cities are going to have to adapt and stand out not just with new venues—which are a given—but how they enhance bid packages. Richmond is banking on a strict attention to detail and a tight-nit community helping push it to the top of mind for rights holders, something Simmons sees firsthand.

"Richmond goes out of their way to increase our sport exposure as well as think creatively of ways offset our costs for running these competitions," she said. "As a nonprofit, this type of innovative thinking is essential and so welcome."

Richmond undertook the Field Trip concept in February in hopes of wooing more sports business in a similar fashion to the traditional FAM trip. The Field Trip is a new way to FAM, however, one that targets specific rights holders, showing them specific venues while also setting up idea-exchange sessions and some topical discussions from leaders within Richmond’s sports travel market. No more traipsing around a city checking out field sports when you plan swimming events, for example. RVA_Logo_WEB It sounds like common sense, but we’ve all been on FAM trips where this happens. The days of shuffling through multiple hotels and seeing every venue in the city—whether you need to or not—might be coming to a close. There was also a best practices session where each member of the Field Trip exchanged ideas with one another on challenges they face in the sports travel market. Peterson and his staff wanted to create a personalized trip within a group setting. Time is valuable, and if someone is going to take two or three days out of his or her schedule to visit a destination, Richmond wants to maximize the potential for the visit. It also wanted to make sure those in town got to see the city as one of their attendees could see it. Richmond has a funky vibe to it, and Peterson and his staff made sure to show it off, whether it meant visiting a restaurant inside a museum where one-of-a-kind drinks were served, or visiting an aquatics center with your name on the jumbo screen. “Event organizers want to see the facilities, but they also want to see and experience the destination through the lens of their attendees.  You can’t get that as an aquatics sport seeing a convention center or something non-applicable to you,” Peterson said. “As much as I’m selling Richmond to them, they have to be able to sell Richmond to their attendees or our conversations go nowhere.”