A major local sporting event is not just good for morale, it’s also good for business – if the Women’s Tour racing through our streets in October 2021 is anything to go by.
Sports fans have had a hard time of it over the past two years, with event after event cancelled or held behind closed doors in the wake of the pandemic. The Women’s Tour cycling race was one such event, disappointing fans with its cancellation in 2020, but the organisers worked hard to get it back on track for 2021 and delivered a world-class spectacle that also gave businesses in the region a much-needed boost.
The vision of 138,000 people taking to the streets of Essex and Suffolk over the weekend of October 8-9, 2021 was a sight for sore eyes for both international cyclists – for whom this was their first major cycling event since the pandemic – and also for the businesses that lined the route.
Two stages passed through Suffolk and north Essex: Stage 5, which saw the cyclists race from Colchester to Clacton via Holland-on-Sea, Thorpe-le-Soken and Manningtree; and Stage 6, which started in Haverhill and saw the peloton pass through Sudbury, Stowmarket, Wickham Market and Woodbridge before reaching the finish line on Felixstowe seafront.
The Women’s Tour cycle race created a real buzz in our region as spectators lined the streets to watch the riders pass through our towns and villages.
Crowds gathered at the start lines, eager to see their favourites line-up as they faced the next stage in this epic race. Still more fans headed to the finish to see the winner of Stage 5, Dutch rider Lorena Wiebes, and the winner of Stage 6, Italian rider Elisa Balsamo, cross the line.
And the show didn’t end there. A cycle race wouldn’t be complete without the presentation of the coveted jerseys, which were presented in Clacton at the end of Stage 5 to the best all-rounder, climber, sprinter and most consistent daily finisher. The celebrations in Felixstowe at the end of Stage 6, the final stage of the competition, also included the crowning of the overall champion, Demi Vollering from the Netherlands.
It was impossible not to get caught up in the feel-good spirit of a major sporting event on our doorsteps, but it wasn’t just locals who were cheering on the roadsides – nearly 50,000 spectators from outside Suffolk and Essex came to enjoy the race, with 7,980 staying overnight in local hotels, guest houses and B&Bs, bringing a much-needed boost to local tourism. Add to that the restaurants, cafés and shops that saw increased trade, and the net economic impact adds up to £1.5 million.
“The results of the economic impact report for the Suffolk and Essex stages speak for themselves in the huge success that the 2021 race was,” said Jonathan Durling, partnerships director at SweetSpot, which organises the Women’s Tour. “With the 2021 race featuring two stages in Essex before our final leg in Suffolk, the region will have benefited from the number of nights that not just spectators, but also teams and organisers spent in the area – during both the planning of the race and the event itself.
“We know that the past two years have been particularly challenging for the tourism and hospitality sectors, but these are both groups that will benefit from events like the Women’s Tour.
“Whether the Women’s Tour or the Tour of Britain, the races have always enjoyed a tremendous reception in Suffolk and Essex. The races are a fantastic platform not only for local businesses to engage their workforce and the wider community, but also to be associated with a world-class sporting event coming to the region. Quite simply, it’s the support of local stage partners that make the race possible.”
One such partner was the East of England Co-op, which supported both Stage 5 of the race and the design a jersey competition that ran in the build-up to the event.
“It was clear to us that the Women’s Tour 2021 would have a really positive impact on the local economy,” said Lynn Warner, engagement manager for the East of England Co-op. “By collaborating with Stage 5 organisers, Colchester Borough Council, the sponsorship presented us with significant opportunities, including the promotion of our new store at Chesterwell in Colchester, the recruitment of members in a new trading area for us, and highlighting our work in the local community.”
Sam Good, business improvement district manager at Our Colchester, echoed the impact of the opportunities presented by the Tour. “It was a real coup for Colchester to host the Women’s Tour in 2021, a year that saw its fair share of challenges for the business community,” he said. “The buzz that was created both locally and nationally had a really positive impact on Colchester as a whole.
“Events like this, which bring people and businesses together, help instil a feeling of pride in the town and showcase to residents, visitors and workers the many exciting things happening in Colchester.”
The fact that Stages 5 and 6 of the race were watched by 249,000 viewers on ITV 4 and 946,000 on Eurosport will also help to raise the profile of the tourist destinations along the route to both the domestic and European markets.
“Hosting large and prestigious events such as the Women’s Tour is an important aspect of our local tourism economy, not only in visitors they attract directly but also in promoting the Essex Sunshine Coast to those who catch associated media coverage,” said Alex Porter, cabinet member for leisure and tourism at Tendring District Council.
“This in turn supports local businesses and is good for our town centres and high streets. That is why we continue to bring back established events, such as the Clacton Airshow, as well as look to attract new ones too. Hopefully as the Covid-19 situation settles we can look forward to more large-scale events once more.”
Attractions to widen the appeal of the Tour, such as FelixFest, which was organised by East Suffolk Council and took place on Felixstowe’s seafront over the weekend of the race, provided additional opportunities for businesses to maximise on the event.
“The Women’s Tour was a fantastic event,” said Tom Evans from The Boardwalk Café Bar in Felixstowe. “Not only did we see an increase in footfall during the daytime, our evening event was very well attended with people staying to enjoy the views and late evening sunshine on the pier.”
For towns such as Haverhill, the Women’s Tour was a great opportunity to showcase what they have to offer by planning a series of activities around the main event to keep people in the town for longer.
Haverhill also planned lots of activities around the main event, which helped to keep people in the town for longer. Julie Clark, Haverhill town centre manager, said: “Heart of Haverhill was delighted with the success of the Women’s Tour and the positive impact it had on our town and local businesses.
“We organised a very successful bike trail which linked 25 local businesses and our local community together and helped promote the race. We also hosted a breakfast event for businesses to learn more about the event and a static bike ride for two local charities.
“The Women’s Tour helped showcase everything that is good about Haverhill.”
Business leaders are also hopeful that the success of the event will help to encourage more major sporting events to our region, which will help our economic recovery from the pandemic.
Richard Hunt, strategic lead of visitor economy at Suffolk Growth Partnership, said: “The success of the Women’s Tour 2021 is excellent news for Suffolk and demonstrates the impact that can be achieved through partnership. The Tour has made a significant contribution to our local economic recovery and consolidates Suffolk’s position as a centre for major outdoor sporting events.
“As our recovery from Covid continues, we will work with our partners to ensure Suffolk remains a leading visitor destination for both local, national and international visitors, and that we can secure sporting events such as this in the future, that add so much value to the visitor economy.”
And while the hope is to attract other sporting events, plans for the Women’s Tour 2022 are already underway, with partners in Suffolk and Essex working together to host a stage, which will tie in nicely with celebrations for the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee.
“Vertas was proud to be a Stage 6 partner of the Women’s Tour 2021, not just because it was the culmination of such a prestigious sporting event but also because of the impact the event itself had on the local economy,” said Ian Surtees, group chief executive officer at Vertas.
“We are delighted to announce that we will once again be a supporting partner of the Suffolk stage of the Tour in 2022 and look forward to seeing the benefits to Suffolk businesses in the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee year.”
Sponsored article written by Sophie Stainthorpe, EADT
Photos credit – SWPix (SWpix.com)