SPORT Tourism is alive and well in regional Australia if this week's Australian Masters Games is any indication.
Around 8000 participants have descended upon Geelong to compete in one or more of the 50 sports on Games program.
It is the 14th edition of the Games that were first held in Hobart in 1989 and which are now eagerly sought after by host cities keen to cash in on the masters-sports market.
The concept is simple its all about participation and entertainment with the sport side complemented by a concert program specifically targeted at the older market.
The likes of James Reyne and Mental as Anything headlined last night's opening ceremony, while later in the week the bill features Pseudo Echo as well as Robbie Williams and John Farnham tribute acts.
But there's no suggestion that personal achievement is unimportant with 13,000 medals to be awarded for a plethora of events across the diverse range of sports, from the more traditional team and individual disciplines to drilldance, dragonboat and carriage driving.
Athletics and softball head the list as the most popular, each having attracted more than 500 entrants while eight other sports have more than 200 participants netball, basketball, dragon boat, swimming, golf, hockey, soccer and cycling.
One perhaps surprising statistic, given the standard theory on sports participation which would suggest otherwise, is that 75 per cent are currently members of sporting clubs. And the good news for the Games long-term is that 45 per cent are loyalists - having attended at least one previous edition.
With only just over half the participants coming from Victoria, and many of them from areas well away from Geelong, there is no doubting the economic impact that the Games will have especially at a time when the regions are doing it tough. And joining them will be just over 200 participants from 13 overseas nations - Sri Lanka leading the way with 66 competitors.
Certainly hotel beds have become near impossible to source and it is difficult to miss the always colourfully-clad Games family as they make the presence felt in the city's restaurants and bars.
Well over 100 Tasmanians have made their way across Bass Strait to take part in the Games, including four taking part in the carriage driving.
At 77, the Northern Tasmanian Driving Society's Maryl Cropper might be the oldest yet it represents her Games debut and with it marking only the fourth time she has competed in a carriage driving competition, the Wynyard resident proves that it is never too late to learn a new skill.
It has not been a simple exercise - requiring the relocation of horses and carriages to the mainland, participation in a warm-up event in Koonoomoo in Northern Victoria last week and a stack of fund-raising.
She was joined on the start line yesterday by Tasmanians from all corners of the state - East Devonport's Graeme Butler, Lymington's Stephanie Clark and perhaps most adventurously, Kerrie Prescott from Emita on Flinders Island.
The Games run until next Saturday, when the venue for the next edition in two year's time will be revealed, no doubt much to the pleasure of the lucky city's business houses and tourism operators.