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Clark sets brisk pace in sports tourism

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Winning approach: Hazel Clark leads the BTA’s sports tourism programme (Photograph supplied)

World-class athlete Hazel Clark has found her calling in Bermuda.

Ms Clark, an 800-metres runner, represented the United States at three Olympic Games, and was a seven-time national champion and five-time NCAA champion.

But it’s only now, as director of sports business development at the Bermuda Tourism Authority, that she feels she’s found her niche.

“I did not like running,” Ms Clark says. “I did it because I was good at it, it made my parents proud, and it made my sponsors happy.

“Now, for the first time, I am doing something I truly enjoy. I feel that I found a lane that is perfect for me.”

Ms Clark was speaking in the Trudeau Ballroom at the Hamilton Princess and Beach Club.

She was the first presenter at the hotel’s new business breakfast speaker series.

Ms Clark says she “fell in love” with Bermuda while here as a guest speaker for International Race Weekend in 2015. “I thought ‘I could live here’,” she recalls.

She met her now-husband, Bermudian land surveyor Shane McIlwain, on that trip — and moved to the island. They have a daughter, Hazel.

Ms Clark leads a BTA team charged with bringing targeted sports events to the island as well as attracting teams to Bermuda for sports training opportunities, and camps/retreats. The BTA also promotes the island as a place to hold sports conferences.

Golf, endurance sports, sailing and tennis offer the entire “vertical” from pinnacle events to leisure, she says, while rugby, soccer, swimming, track and field, field hockey and lacrosse offer team-training opportunities.

While high-profile events like the America’s Cup and MS Amlin World Triathlon Bermuda are part of the sports tourism equation, so is the World Sailing Conference, the annual meeting of the sport’s global governing body, scheduled to be held here in October.

Ms Clark said the BTA evaluates events based on criteria including direct spending impact, value of brand exposure, level of engagement, environment/stability, infrastructure/legacy (eg the America’s Cup Endeavour youth sailing programme), and inclusivity.

Funding is provided for events where a business case can be made. “It comes down to getting people here,” Ms Clark said.

A priority for 2019, Ms Clark says, is a “pinnacle” golf event. “We are close to the finish line,” she says.

The BTA has built a database of coaches with organisations having a budget to travel internationally.

Ms Clark travels widely, attending conferences and other events in order to market Bermuda.

Contacts she made informally during her years as an athlete, and later as a sports executive, event producer and brand ambassador are proving valuable.

Shortly after she took up the post 11 months ago, for example, a 38-strong group from USA Track and Field visited Bermuda for a retreat.

The BTA has produced a “lure guide” that outlines what Bermuda has to offer — and has developed a facilities inventory detailing island amenities as well as hotel and transportation options.

In a competitive sports tourism market, Ms Clark said the BTA must help visitors plan an itinerary that shows off Bermuda’s attributes.

“We want people to leave Bermuda saying they enjoyed great hospitality, that the cuisine was fantastic, the beaches were amazing, and the spas were breathtaking,” she says.

Ms Clark says Bermuda’s competitive advantages include proximity to the East Coast of the US, as well as safety, cleanliness and a reputation for hospitality.

“We also have a dedicated sports team to ease the process, a destination manager to help with logistics on island, and connectivity to our national governing bodies as well. Those are all important pieces of the puzzle.

“Not many places do it like we have done. We see that as a differentiator.”

Ms Clark grew up in a family of achievers.

Older sister Joetta is a four-time Olympian, sister-in-law Jearl is a five-time Olympian — and her father is inner-city educator Joe Louis Clark, who inspired the hit film Lean on Me, starring Morgan Freeman.

Her mother, Ms Clark says, helped her to develop her confident, outgoing nature.

“It was so challenging for me as a young girl,” Ms Clark says. “I’d leave the house, and there were cameras everywhere.

“The president of the United States was calling the house, Morgan Freeman was at the house to meet my father.

“As a kid, I wondered ‘how can I live up to this’?

“I didn’t run track until I was 16. I couldn’t face it, the weight of expectations. My dad calls me a ‘reluctant champion’.”

Ms Clark’s competitive spirit is now being channelled for the benefit of her new home.

“I know that I am supposed to be here doing this,” she says.

“My daughter is Bermudian, and I want to do this for the island, for sports tourism, and help to drive this positive impact on Bermuda through sports.

“There is no limit to the potential that Bermuda has in the area of sports tourism.”

Strong debut: Hamilton Princess and Beach Club has launched a business breakfast speaker series (Photograph supplied)