What you need to know:
- Kipchoge’s enthusiasm and Kenya’s decision to turn to sports to lift the country’s potential has been seen as a long overdue move, especially given the global competitiveness of the sector
- The sports industry is increasingly getting larger hence countries are stopping at nothing to bid to host global sporting events such as the World Cup, Olympics and closer home, Africa Cup of Nations
- Indeed, Kipchoge’s global appeal should translate into tourism numbers should the campaign by Kenya Tourism Board and the Ministry of Tourism be sustained
In a normal world, Eliud Kipchoge could have been, possibly, celebrating his second Olympic marathon title in Sapporo, Japan.
The world marathon record holder was the red-hot favourite to retain his title over the 42-kilometre distance at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games.
However, as the coronavirus pandemic struck, the Games were postponed to the same time next year, much to the chagrin of Kipchoge’s fans who were still in party mode since he became the first man to run a sub two-hour marathon in Vienna last October.
Such is the form that he was carrying to Japan where the Games’ marathon and race walking competitions were moved from the epicenter in Tokyo to Sapporo in Hokkaido, some 800 kilometres away, due to Tokyo’s sweltering heat.
The Kenya Tourism Board and Ministry of Tourism subsequently snapped up Kipchoge and made him destination ambassador to market Kenya’s attractions.
On a Sunday when he would have been celebrating gold on the streets of Sapporo, instead, Kipchoge was on a 10-kilometre work-out at the Maasai Mara Game Reserve with zebras, giraffes and wildebeest providing an enviable backdrop that would make any tourist green with envy.
This was after a conference video call with President Uhuru Kenyatta, Tourism Cabinet Secretary Najib Balala and Narok Governor Samuel Tunai.
“I want to take this opportunity to encourage every single Kenyan to take advantage and to travel…You can travel, you can move.
“And now as you know, we have also opened up our skies and flights are coming. We welcome all those who choose to come,” President Kenyatta said from State House Nairobi.
Kipchoge responded with his mantra “no human is limited.”
“I’m a happy man today to sit here in the Mara as an ambassador for ‘Magical Kenya.’
“Mr President I’m really happy because I know that tourism brings money and the money can be used to conserve the forests, take care of the animals and also allow people to get jobs,” Kipchoge told the President in the Zoom chat.
“I’m a really happy man to sell Kenya… I’d like to tell all Kenyans that please, visit the Mara. This is where you can see the seventh wonder of the world within our own country,” the legend added, demonstrating he had hit the ground running as a tourism ambassador.
“I always say ‘no human is limited,’ and Kenyans are not limited… Covid-19 cannot stop us, Covid-19 cannot stop Kenyans from travelling to the Maasai Mara, Covid-19 cannot stop our economy because we shall revive the economy on our own through tourism and that’s the only way to build our nation.
“I’m in the frontline in the fight against Covid-19 and to sell Kenya in a good way and to tell the world ‘come in, Kenya is a safe place.’ Remember, no human is limited!”
Kipchoge’s enthusiasm and Kenya’s decision to turn to sports to lift the country’s potential has been seen as a long overdue move, especially given the global competitiveness of the sector.
Kenya is up against stiff competition with the Gulf emirates, for example, continuing to curve a niche for themselves in the sector with enviable sports offerings.
For instance, what makes Abu Dhabi, the United Arab Emirates Capital city, the most revered sports tourism destination in the world for seven consecutive years?
The only destinations to have won the top award as the world's leading sports tourism destination besides Abu Dhabi, are South Africa and the Emirate of Dubai.
Abu Dhabi has been declared the winner at World Travel Awards (WTA), which serves to acknowledge, reward and celebrate excellence across all sectors of the global travel and tourism industry, back-to-back in 2013 to 2019.
South Africa bagged the award in 2011 and Dubai in 2012.
WTA was established in 1993 to acknowledge, reward and celebrate excellence across all sectors of the tourism industry.
Today, the WTA brand is recognised globally as the ultimate hallmark of quality, with winners setting the benchmark to which all others aspire.
Each year, WTA covers the globe with a series of regional gala ceremonies staged to recognise and celebrate individual and collective success within each key geographical region.
WTA gala ceremonies are widely regarded as the best networking opportunities in the travel industry, attended by government and industry leaders, luminaries and international print and broadcast media.
Abu Dhabi has continued to shine as a premium destination and the 2019 award came after the city hosted some of the world’s top sporting events, such as the Fifa Club World Cup 2017 and 2018, the first edition of the UAE Tour, the AFC Asian Cup 2019, the Special Olympics World Games 2019, the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) 242 showdown and the Brazil vs South Korea international friendly, have lit up the Emirate.
The UAE capital also continues to play host to annual acclaimed sports events including the Formula 1 (Etihad Abu Dhabi Grand Prix), the ADNOC Abu Dhabi Marathon, the Mubadala World Tennis Championship, the Abu Dhabi Golf Championship and the ITU World Triathlon Abu Dhabi.
Abu Dhabi has been making strides within sports tourism by developing sports facilities and events across the capital.
Earlier last year, the Department of Culture and Tourism, Abu Dhabi announced a five-year partnership with the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) to host annual premier fixtures in the capital as part of Abu Dhabi Showdown Week.
The Emirate had also recently won the rights to host the FINA Short Course World Championship in 2020.
The growth of sports tourism is unstoppable across the world and it’s now considered the fastest growing sector in the travelling industry.
Besides UAE and South Africa, Barcelona, Spain, Vancouver in Canada, New Zealand, Malaysia, Qatar, Jamaica, Sochi in Russia, South Korea, Rio de Janeiro in Brazil, Sydney in Australia and Silk Route, London in United Kingdom, Morocco and Central Asia are some of the destination famous and rich in sports tourism.
What boosted South Africa’s chances of winning the WTA top award in sports tourism in 2011 was the fact that the country hosted the 2010 Fifa World Cup. That alone pumped an estimated 93 billion Rand (Sh580 billion) into the local economy.
“This rebranded South Africa and created a favourable climate for direct foreign investment and tourism growth,” said KPMG senior economist Frank Blackmore.
South Africa has also hosted major events like the 1996 and 2013 Africa Cup of Nations, 2003 Cricket World Cup, 2003 President’s Cup (golf) and many others that have helped spur sports tourism in the country.
The sports industry is increasingly getting larger hence countries are stopping at nothing to bid to host global sporting events such as the World Cup, Olympics and closer home, Africa Cup of Nations.
There are now over 1.1 billion international tourist arrivals worldwide, with the United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) having predicted a rise to 1.4 billion this year before Covid-19 pandemic struck.
Tourism now accounts for nine per cent of the global GDP, one in every 11 jobs worldwide and has a value of over Sh151 trillion in exports.
Sports tourism in Kenya is a package that has largely been ignored in a long time yet it’s a sector that can help the country rack in billions if well explored and managed.
With Kenya’s ministry of tourism and wildlife and Kenya Tourism Board turning its focus on the local market for rescue in post Covid-19 periods, sports tourism should come in handy.
Engaging Kipchoge, who is the world marathon record holder (at two hours, one minute and 39 seconds) as its destination ambassador, should be a game changer that could take tourism, generally, to another level.
Kipchoge, who is the first man to run a marathon under two hours (1:59:41 at Ineos 159 Challenge last October), will help market Kenya in major marathon races across the world starting with this year’s London Marathon on October 4 where he will be defending his title.
While launching a local tourism venture along Mara River on the outskirt of Serena Mara at the Maasai Mara in Narok County last weekend, where they witnessed the famous wildebeest migration, Tourism Cabinet Secretary Balala disclosed that besides Kipchoge, the government will target top performing sportsmen and women to market the country.
“We are targeting up to six sports disciplines in the country that we shall use as our sports tourism tool,” said Balala.
However, hosting major world events will also be key to putting Kenya in a pivotal place in sports tourism.
That is why it will be important for the country in the coming years to pitch for major events in athletics, motor rallying, golf, volleyball, football, cricket, rugby among others.
The Kip Keino Classic, one of the legs in the inaugural World Athletics Continental Tour, the Magical Kenya Open Golf Championship, that will for the second year feature as a European Tour event this year, ought to be the ground breaking catches for the Kenya Tourism Board.
The other focus will be World Under-20 Championships in athletics, another golf event, the European Ladies Tour, and World Rally Championship Safari Rally that have been postponed to next year owing to Covid-19.
The Magical Kenya Open Golf Championship was rescheduled from March to November 12 to 15 at Nairobi’s Karen Country Club with the European Ladies Tour having been moved from November this year to late January at Vipingo Ridge, Kilifi County.
The Kenya government has allocated Sh230 million for the Kenya Open.
The Kip Keino Classic, that was postponed from May 1, is now slated for October 3 this year at the Nyayo National Stadium, while the World Under-20 Championships, that were due from July 7 to 12 this year at the Moi International Sports Centre, Kasarani, will now be staged August 17 to 22, next year, at the same venue.
The government has made available Sh1.3 billion for the World Under-20 Championships but the figure is likely to increase with the postponement, while Sh75 million has been set aside for the Continental Tour’s Kip Keino Classic.
The Safari Rally this year had a budget of Sh1.1 billion as it make a re-entry into the World Rally Championship (WRC).
It’s good to note the government’s efforts that saw the return of the Safari Rally to the WRC for the first time since 2003.
The rally will contribute towards conservation in many ways, including generating much-needed income towards the under-funded Kenya Wildlife Service for the use of both their training institute and sections of Hell’s Gate.
With an estimated Sh6 billion expected to be pumped into the Kenyan economy through the WRC Safari Rally, such income will play an essential role in the Tourism Recovery Initiative as the first major event, post Covid-19.
However, while bidding to host major championships, it will be prudent that the country’s sporting infrastructure including facilities like the stadiums must be in place.
Besides renovations of stadiums across the country, the government should consider seriously investing in new and modern arenas.
At one time, Kenya in 2003, was almost gaining the coveted Test Status in cricket after the country co-hosted the 2003 Cricket World Cup with Zimbabwe and South Africa.
However, poor infrastructure, lack of support from the government and wrangles at Cricket Kenya saw the International Cricket Council (ICC) bypass Kenya to other countries like Bangladesh, Ireland and Afghanistan.
Cricket is a sport that the country could have used to reap in billions in sports tourism with the country hosting top international tours.
Kenya was also on the verge of also getting to host one the legs in the World Rugby Sevens Series in 2013 but that dream was shattered. It’s a venture that should have gotten a backup from the government which includes the construction of a new modern rugby pitch.
Hosting 15 countries over a week for the Series creates a good adventure for visiting teams and fans to get to tour some of the iconic sites in Nairobi.
Besides the World Under-20 Championships in athletics, getting to host the main World Championships will be a big boost to sports tourism in the country.
Kenya has already expressed the bid to host the 2025 World Championships in athletics but more should be done in securing a new venue for the event. Nairobi and Mombasa will be ideal venues.
Water sports, cycling and mountaineering are the other sports the country should strive to have so as to curve a strong niche on sports tourism.
The Kenyan coast that boasts of good weather around the year and its expansive stretches of deserted sugar white sandy beach, can he a host of major world events in water sports for instance kite-surfing, paddle boarding, sailing, kayaking, canoeing and many more.
Indeed, Kipchoge’s global appeal should translate into tourism numbers should the campaign by Kenya Tourism Board and the Ministry of Tourism be sustained.