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Sat 11 Jul 2009 04:00 AM

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Striking for success

Bowling is booming, says QubicaAMF EMEA regional manager Roger Creamer.

Striking for success
Sport bowling is very popular in the Gulf region, and those at the top of their game benefit from funding from governments.
Striking for success
Bowling is a major leisure activity in the region and attracts a wide demographic of visitors, with new lanes opening frequently.

Bowling is booming, says QubicaAMF EMEA regional manager Roger Creamer.

If Roger Creamer is to be believed, the Gulf region is uniquely placed to capitalise on what is one of the fastest growing and most popular leisure activities in the world, ten pin bowling.

Bowling was invented, according to who you choose to believe, either in Egypt or Yemen, but of course it has been the USA that has popularised the sport. However, the last few years have seen bowling return to the Middle East and grow in popularity.

Sport bowling is very strong here. This region is unique in that all the countries have professional coaches. People here are much more capable of competing in this sport.

While a global slowdown is on everyone's minds, bowling appears to be a recession-proof activity. "2008 was our best year so far, but we've already broken that record," says Creamer who is the EMEA regional manager for bowling product supplier QubicaAMF. This growth is reflected in the sheer number of lanes coming online. "Last year, there was something like 110 or 120 lanes opened in this region," says Creamer. "This year we're looking at a total of a further 160 to 180 lanes."

This level of growth has lead to Creamer believing that the region is the next big market for bowling.

Creamer's predictions for the future come from his experience working in emerging bowling markets, such as the UK during the 1980s, and more recently, Poland. Originally, Creamer worked in bowling centres before switching to the product supplier QubicaAMF, which played a considerable role in modernising bowling and promoting the sport within the UK.

"We went from 50 bowling centres in 1986, to around 200 by 1990," he says. "The effect of the AMF modernisation in the UK was incredible. After modernisation, we had one centre alone generating 20% of the entire year's revenue. That success made me feel that bowling was going to take off in the UK. I have the same feeling for this region."

As for precisely why bowling is so popular in this region, Creamer points to a number of factors. "There's very little in the way of entertainment for adults in this region," he says, "You've got a population that is generally quite affluent with not a lot to do, so in some cases you're almost forcing expats into bars. Bowling provides an alternative."He also notes that for the local population, bowling is a culturally appropriate leisure activity. One of the major advantages bowling offers, according to Creamer, is its broad spectrum appeal. "Bowling is fairly unique in that it isn't restricted by age," he says. "There aren't many leisure activities that I could do with my daughter and with my father."

In addition to providing an activity, Creamer also points out that a facility such as a bowling centre can add value to a development. "There are almost no standalone leisure facilities here," he says. "Adding leisure facilities to a community will add value to a property."

Bowling has also received a boost from the growing support and popularity of sport bowling, as seen most recently in the region at the Doha 2006 Asian Games. "Sport bowling is very strong here. This region is unique in that all the countries have professional coaches. People here are much more capable of competing in this sport," says Creamer.

He suggests that governments in the GCC are more prepared to invest in training and support for professional bowlers but points out that this investment is only directed at those already at the top of their game.

"We could broaden access," he suggests. "Youth programmes are the prerogative of individual centres."

One dream still remains. The QubicaAMF Bowling World Cup is the single largest annual sporting tournament in the world, by number of participants but despite a highly skilled contingent of bowlers in the GCC, the tournament has never been held in the Middle East.

"I would love to bring the World Cup to this region," says Creamer. "It's difficult at the moment though because only Doha really has the facilities to host it."

Nevertheless, with an increasing number of bowling centres under development within the region and the ever-increasing popularity of the sport, it seems inevitable that the region will host the tournament at some point within the near future - with a natural ‘halo' effect on increasing the number of casual bowlers.

Despite his positive evaluation of the market, Creamer is also cautious and suggests that the region won't see the same exponential growth as in the UK.

"I don't think it will expand at the same rate, there simply isn't the same number of quick projects like there was in the UK at the end of the 1980s," he says, "However, growth will definitely continue. Here we have the situation where sensible people are looking to satisfy the demand for leisure and they will see the success of bowling centres. I can see the bowling market steadily increasing in this region for at least the next decade."

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