State should harness our sports tourism potential

Team Kenya members during the closing ceremony of the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham, England on August 8, 2022. [Kelly Ayodi, Standard]

Tourism has evolved from being Safari and beach-bound, to eco-tourism, cultural tourism, and now to sports tourism. Over time, sports tourism has become an important contributor to local and national social-economic development across the continent. Globally, sporting events have become a strategic tool for development and destination positioning.

The World Travel Market estimates that sports tourism generates about $600 billion 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. Following the Covid-19 lull of 2020-2021, 2022 is certainly 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, where Africa's top footballers showcased world-class performances on African soil.

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 Rugby World Cup Sevens 2022 to South Africa; the first time the tournament was given to a country other than the United States. Kenya was on the verge of winning the bid to host the next World Athletics Championship, only to be beaten by Japan. For Africa, sports tourism is bubbling with untapped potential. We have seen African countries increasingly bid and host global sporting events, including football, golf, rally and athletics. However, for Africa to harness this potential and elevate its profile as a sports tourism destination, it is essential that we continuously host world sporting events.

This will help in attracting the world's best sportsmen and women and in developing the continent as a sports tourism destination. It will also help to expose local talent, allowing them to aspire to the same professional levels. In Kenya, the Social Pillar of Vision 2030 aims to use sports to improve social, economic, and political development. Sports in general, and sports tourism, would play a critical role in realising this vision. This vision has been exemplified by some of the world's most prestigious sporting events held in the country, the most recent being the Safari Rally World Championship, which returned to Kenya after a 19-year hiatus.

Others include the Magical Kenya Open. These are truly great efforts and there is definitely need to have very deliberate policies that will encourage sports tourism. Apart from the social and economic impact, there are diplomatic and health benefits. Why for example can’t we put policies in place that will encourage the development of Iten as the World’s Capital for endurance training for track and road racing? Sports tourism is low-hanging fruit for Kenya, and it is inexpensive to promote and develop.

Mr Kilavuka is Kenya Airways Group Managing Director and Chief Executive Officer