Its High Time we embrace and Develop Sports Tourism

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By Hasnain Noorani

Sports events are now becoming a major driver of economic development worldwide. We estimate that globally, the industry is worth around USD 620 billion. That figure represents a significant portion of the USD 4.5 trillion estimated value of the tourism industry as a whole. This was clearly demonstrated by last week’s WRC Safari Rally event in Naivasha which is estimated to have contributed 6 billion within three days.

In the global arena, the sports tourism market is seen to be a fast-growing sector of the travel industry and equates to Ksh 60.7 trillion a year. Closer home, the tourism, travel and hospitality sector directly inject close to Ksh. 294.6 billion to the Kenyan economy every year, which is approximately 3.7% of the GDP; according to the Kenya Hospitality Report.

Sports tourism is a viable pathway for generating visitor spending and promoting a destination’s local attractions and outlying districts. Aside from the obvious and vast benefits of travel, sports tourism is great for the economy for one simple reason: it generates economic impact through direct spending into a community.

With the agreement of Kenya to hold WRC safari Rally till 2026, sport tourism is set for a rapid growth. There are a handful of areas popular for sports tourism in Kenya, yet many more could be exploited.

Industry players are now called upon to champion an initiative to promote sports tourism as one of the key tourism products in Kenya. It is worth developing and will significantly contribute to diversification of tourism products in the country post covid-19 pandemic; from nature-based tourism, to increasing opportunities for local participation and providing avenues for income generation to different stakeholders.

From weekend races, to rock climbing or run a half marathon like the famous Lewa marathon. This kind of tourism brings in tens of thousands of spectators. And guess what? Those people need to eat, need to tour the area and they need places to stay and probably a good souvenir, too. That means more money to hotels, restaurants, sports facilities, gift-shops alike and the community as well as country at large.

Sports tourism is a vast international business attracting investment, political interest, media attention and thousands of traveling participants and spectators. The estimated USD 800 million spend on sports tourism represents close to 10 percent of all tourism-related earnings (UNWTO 2016)

The emphasis on sports as one of the potentially key tourism products was also clearly demonstrated by the Magical Kenya during the recently completed WRC.  This was through safari rally media campaign christened “Safari Rally, where the action meets the attraction”. Brand Kenya also appreciated the potential of sports in providing enthusiasts with adrenaline filled adventures, while also acknowledging the lack of adequate publicization of sports tourism as a travel package.

In conclusion, it is no doubt that world safari rally has proven that sports tourism is experiencing steady growth in Kenya. Destinations and hotels as a result ought to scale up innovations and develop tourism products that incorporate the sports concept such as rock climbing, water sports etc. To accommodate the ever-evolving traveler, all tourism stakeholders must work on consolidating the gains previously earned, the present demands as well as the budding future of sports tourism in Kenya.