Using sports tourism as a driver of growth in Kenya
By Hassan Wario | June 12th 2015
NAIROBI: The remarkable aspect of sports is not the ability to improve fitness and burn calories, but the power to draw people of any religious, ethnicity or political beliefs into a world where the rules are universally scripted and where the only concern is if your sportsman/woman will be the last one standing.
It would seem that the only natural thing to feel with your neighbours, family, friends, even strangers is a shared mood of pensive excitement, and a mutual bond of identity and belonging.
At the heart of development is people and this is the essence of sports. Kenya is a great sporting nation and has been recognised for its exploits in athletics, rugby and volleyball.
As my colleague, the Russian Minister of Sports, once put it, “Kenya is a Superpower through sports; your athletes often share the podium with athletes from Russia, China, USA.”
Sports such as athletics have for a long time been a popular part of our everyday social life, which we have continued to share with the world.
Legends such as Kipchoge Keino, Henry Rono, Paul Tergat and David Rudisha among a galaxy of stars are in themselves global brand names.
The current trend of mixing sports with tourism (the Barclays Open Golf tournament is a good example), aptly termed ‘sports tourism’, is a new promising frontier for attracting sporting enthusiasts to Kenya as tourists.
We need to exploit our prowess in Rugby 7s, athletics, golf and other international sports to draw visitors to our sublime coastal beach resorts, our breathtaking highlands/Great Rift Valley landscapes and the enticing sands of the northern regions.
Opening up the northern-laying regions, for instance, through combining sports, cultural festivals (like Loiyangalani) and tourism could herald a new way of marketing that region.
I am glad the tourism industry has started to appreciate the great importance of sports tourism. Given the challenges, the industry has faced over the last two years, I believe sports tourism is one of the sure ways of getting the industry back on track.
From the Maralal International Camel derby that has helped open up the northern part of Kenya to thousands of visitors, to the Lewa Safaricom Marathon that has been attracting running enthusiasts from different parts of the world due to its reputation as one of the toughest marathons, Kenya is slowly becoming known for its sporting adventures that take place in some of the most beautiful and challenging venues on earth.
I am glad to note that Safaricom is once again hosting the Lewa Safaricom Marathon next month.
The 1,200 runners expected from over 20 countries will not only get a chance to contribute to our conservation efforts but will also get to sample the cultures of our brothers and sisters who live in that neck of the woods.
Official data shows that the sector earned Sh87.1 billion last year compared to Sh94 billion in 2013. The number of international visitors dropped to 1.3 million from 1.5 million in 2013.
The camel derby has opened up Maralal in ways previously thought impossible. Hotels have been built; there are restaurants and nightclubs to cater to the huge numbers of people who make their annual pilgrimage for the race in Samburu County.
While in Maralal, visitors can enjoy the rich cultures and historical sites such as Kenyatta House in that colonially significant town.
In order to compete in the growing sports tourism market, it is crucial for our country to develop a profound understanding of the benefits and impacts of sports tourism. The sports tourism market is a fast-growing sector of the global travel industry and equals $600 billion a year.
Sports and tourism each contribute a great deal to the global economy and have become an important element in the Kenyan economy as well.
My ministry will do everything in its power to encourage sports tourism as a package in the Kenyan market. Recreational sporting facilities should be a requirement for starred hotels. In addition, we are working towards building more high and low altitude centres including stadia to host cultural sporting activities.
Sports in Kenya is by no means limited to just athletics - visitors to Kenya will be spoilt for choice in football, rugby, cricket, polo, water sports and horse racing, which are held throughout the year.
Major international sports events bring the world to Kenya each year.
Nairobi plays host to the annual Safari Sevens, a major rugby tournament featuring top international teams. The Sevens team is ranked among the world’s best rugby teams, and each year the event is a major highlight on our sports tourism calendar.
Equally important is the Kenya Open Golf Tournament, held annually at the Karen Country Club.
It features a repertoire of local and international competitors, and promises plenty of exciting action on the greens.
More and more travelling golfers are now packing the local clubs when they come to Kenya on safari.
The Kenyan coast is a paradise for sports such as deep-sea fishing and water surfing in the Indian Ocean.
Hotel guests can also go scuba diving and snorkelling. Lake Victoria is another great place for water surfing and deep-sea fishing off its islands — Mfangano, Takawiri and Rusinga.
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