Do you know which country has the most successful distance runners in the world? The only country in Africa that currently hosts a World Rally Championship leg? The home of world-beaters and the most popular team in the rugby Sevens circuit?
Tourism has evolved over the years from Safari and the beaches to sports tourism. Next phase would likely be space tourism. Over time, sports tourism is becoming an important contributor to local and national social-economic development across the continent.
Sports events have become strategic tools for development and destination positioning. The World Travel Market puts sports tourism returns at $600 billion (Sh71.4 trillion) annually worldwide. The Confederation of African Football reports that Egypt earned $83 million during the 2019 Africa Cup. According to the 2020 Mazars & ASCI Institute report, sports contributed 0.5 per cent to Africa’s GDP in 2020 and will grow annually to add a million more for employment.
Great sporting year
Following the Covid-19 lull of 2020-2021, this is turning out to be a great sporting year, with major events taking place in Africa. At the start of the year, we had the African Cup of Nations in Cameroon. For the third time in its history, Mauritius hosted the African Athletics Championships.
In 2019, the World Rugby Council granted the hosting rights for the 2022 World Cup Sevens to South Africa. Kenya was on the verge of winning the bid to host the next World Athletics Championships, only to be beaten by Japan.
Africa must work hard to unlock untapped potential. For the continent to harness this potential and elevate its profile as a sports tourism destination, we should host more global events. This will attract the best sportsmen and sportswomen. It will also expose local talent.
In Kenya, the social pillar of Vision 2030 aims to use sports to improve social, economic, and political development. The vision has been exemplified by some of the world’s most prestigious sporting events in the country, such as the return of the Safari Rally to the WRC after a 19-year lull. There’s also the Magical Kenya Open, which is in its third year on the European Tour. These are great efforts and there’s need to have deliberate policies that will encourage sports tourism.
Apart from the social and economic impact, there are diplomatic and health benefits, to name a few. Why, for example, can’t we put policies in place that would encourage the development of Iten as the world’s capital for endurance training for track and road racing?
The return of the Safari Rally not only piqued the interest of Kenyan and African rally fans, it also provided an opportunity for young talent to compete and learn from professionals with global experience through the FIA Rally Star programme. Maxine Wahome, Jeremy Wahome, Hamza Anwar, and McRae Kimathi have been flying our flag high, earning opportunities to compete in a global event.
Njoroge Kibugu, 18, impressed the golfing community by finishing first among Kenyans on Day One of the Magical Kenya Open at Muthaiga Golf Club’s par 71 course.
Sports tourism is a low-hanging fruit for Kenya, and it’s inexpensive to promote and develop. Young talent, such as Ferdinand Omanyala, the reigning African record holder and eighth fastest man of all time in the 100m; Angela Okutoyi, the first Kenyan/African to win a Grand Slam title in the girls’ juniors Wimbledon event in July, All African Games champion Raymond Ekevwo of Nigeria, and World U20 champion Lestsile Tebogo of Botswana are some of the continent’s great sports tourism ambassadors.
Monitoring the sports tourism economy allows governments, policymakers, and the private sector to make informed decisions about funding and prioritise the sector’s development. Let’s create a thriving sports ecosystem.
Mr Kilavuka is the Kenya Airways Group Managing Director and Chief Executive Officer