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Addition of Kenya Savannah Classic great endorsement for the destination

GOLF By Najib Balala | March 20th 2021
Cabinet Secretary in the Ministry of Tourism and Wildlife, Najib Balala [photo courtesy]

The availability of vaccines globally is good news to the tourism and travel industry. However, though promising and before the world starts celebrating, it is good to remember that it will still take a while before the whole world is vaccinated.

Therefore, by the Summer of this year which in Kenya is the period between June and September, the international visitors’ numbers may begin trickling in, although the actual resumption can only be expected to begin by the end of the next year 2022 or even probably by early 2023.

Having come from a year when COVID-19 forced the postponement of major sporting events, it is great that the destination is set to host two European Tour golf events this year; the Kenya Savannah Classic in addition to Magical Kenya Open after the European Tour drafted the event in its calendar for 2021.

Additionally, in October this year, we shall be hosting the Ladies European Tour (LET) in Vipingo Ridge Golf Course, in Kilifi County. Sports tourism is key and particularly golf tourism is very important. It has the ability to change the status of the country to a serious upmarket destination.

Over the years now, the Magical Kenya Open Championships is one of the competitions that has played a huge role in promoting Kenya as a leading golf destination globally.

The competition which was elevated to be part of the elite European Tour competition in 2019 attracts top players and spectators, both local and international into the country each year. Kenya will host 156 players from over 30 countries for the two premier golf events.

Sport has over time become important in marketing the destination especially due to the rich history Kenya has in athletics. We are proudly referred to as the ‘Home of Champions’ for producing world champions in athletics while also being recognized as a rugby powerhouse.

According to the International Association of Golfing Tour Operators (IAGTO) The global golf tourism market is worth over 17 billion dollars. Fifty-six (56) million people play golf worldwide: 26.7 million in the United States, 5 million in Canada, 5.5 million in continental Europe, 14 million in Japan, and 3.8 million in the United Kingdom which are our key source markets.

Tourism and Wildlife Cabinet Secretary Najib Balala at the Karen Country Club's practice putting green. [Courtesy]

Of this 56 million, about 10% travel out of their countries each year for the main purpose of playing golf.

This makes the international size of the golf tourism market between 2.8 million and 5.6 million persons.

Currently, the leading market in terms of golf as a sport is the United States contributing over 60 billion dollars to the American economy.

This just shows how much golf can make a great impact in propelling tourism and travel if strategically positioned. Kenya must- up -its -game in this popular sport to reap big from this global windfall.

The good news is that golf in Kenya is growing by the day due to the increasing interest in the sport and the infrastructure that is already in place to support the game. Also, golf tourism is increasingly growing as one of the country’s top-selling points internationally.

The Ministry of Tourism and Wildlife shall continue leveraging on local and international golf events to boost tourism in the country by providing an audience that can be used to market Kenya as a sports tourism destination.

In 2019 for example, through the sponsorship of Magical Kenya Open (MKO), Magical Kenya received wide visibility from the live coverage by the European Tour (ET) and the local Media partners that transmitted to over 490 million homes in more than 150 countries, generating more than 2,200 global broadcast hours for the event.

This World Feed was made available to 40 broadcasters around the world including Sky Sports in the UK and The Golf Channel in the U.S. Leveraging on this event over the years has started bearing fruits with the world taking note of our potential in the sport.

Just last year, Kenya was named Africa’s leading Golf Destination by World Golf Awards, beating countries like Morocco, Egypt, and South Africa which are considered as the cream of Africa in golf.

At the same awards, Karen Country Club- host of the Magical Kenya Open was declared Kenya’s best golf course while the Great Rift Valley Country Lodge and Golf Resort located in Naivasha picked up the award for being the country’s best golf resort.

Destination Kenya is also blessed with many other well-manicured golf courses that boast international standards and offer players and fans alike a magical golfing experience.

For instance, the Vipingo Ridge Golf Course is Africa's first and only Professional Golfers’ Association (PGA) accredited course. Other golf courses that provide players and travellers in the destination a chance to enjoy golfing under serene climatic conditions and sceneries are:

The Royal Nairobi Golf Club, Muthaiga Golf Club, Sigona Golf Club, Windsor Golf Hotel and Country Club, Mount Kenya Safari Club, Thika Greens Golf Resort, Nyali Golf Club, and the Limuru Golf Club to mention but a few.

The inclusion of the Kenya Savannah classic in the European Tour calendar goes a long way in showing that the world is confident in Kenya’s capability to host big international events.

 It is also a vote of confidence in our preparedness against Covid-19 which continues to ravage the world.

It is sad that Covid-19 robbed us of the opportunities to showcase the destination in 2020. This year (2021), however, brings great promise as we plan to welcome travellers back to Kenya.

I take this opportunity to welcome all the MKO and Kenya Savannah Classic players to Magical Kenya and wish them a pleasant and successful time as they prepare to participate in the tournaments.

The writer is Cabinet Secretary, Ministry of Tourism and Wildlife

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