Sport tourism in Kenya: Yes we can!

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The just concluded 10th and final edition of the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) World Under 18 Championships which took place in Nairobi from the 12-16 July was a major boost to the profile of Kenya in the global sporting arena.

The event was the largest IAAF track and field event that has ever come to the African continent, and the first in Kenya.

Kenyan track and field legends and world champions graced the event in full force. They included: global peace Ambassador Tegla Loroupe; Kip Keino; John Ngugi; Paul Tergat; Douglas Wakiihuri; Catherine Ndereba; Mercy Cherono; Ezekiel Kemboi, David Rudisha; Wilson Kiprotich, and Julius Yego. Lord Sebastian Coe, IAAF President and himself a track and field legend, was also present.

Though some nations opted for their youth teams not to participate in this successful event, over 800 young athletes from over 100 nations, including an Athlete Refugee team, put on a spectacular show of sporting talent and spirit.

Kenyans too came out in big numbers to cheer-on the athletes, with an estimated record breaking 55,000 and 60,000 spectators, respectively, in attendance on the last two days.

I must commend the peaceful and orderly manner of the spectators during the entire event. This is critical for such events and also to attract global tourists.

The success of the event was a big thumbs up to the Local Organising Committee (LOC) under the leadership of the Chairman, Lt. General (Rtd) Jack Tuwei, the Chief Executive Office, Mwangi Muthee, and not to be forgotten, the constant eye for detail and encouragement from the IAAF LOC Patron, Her Excellency The First Lady of the Republic of Kenya, Margaret Kenyatta.

The LOC showed the World that Kenya can successfully pull-off a global Championship sporting event. Yes we can! It was also a clear show of the commitment by the Kenya Government in promoting the highest level of youth sport.

The global visibility that the Magical Kenya brand was exposed to, and the increase in recognition that Kenya received during the 5 days event, was huge. The event was carried live by 161 sports television networks around the World, and streamed in over 160 Countries on the IAAF YouTube and Facebook channels.

It is important that Kenya leverage the opportunity created from this positive media exposure and continue to market Kenya as a key sport tourism destination in Africa.

Sport tourism involves travel to a country either to watch a sporting event such as the World Cup football, the Olympics, and internationally recognised professional sporting events such as tennis, rugby and golf, or to participate in a sporting activity such as running a marathon, kit surfing, golf and skiing.

Kenya offers a wide variety of second tier tourism products, of which sporting events and active sport are key ones.

The annual Safaricom Safari Sevens Rugby and the Barclays Kenya Open Golf tournaments are the two best known sporting events in Kenya, however active sport lovers can also enjoy activities such as fishing in the Indian Ocean, kite surfing over the Indian Ocean, skydiving, playing golf on both sides of the water rafting, and running with our elite athletes in Iten or at the annual Standard Chartered and Safaricom Lewa marathons.

The benefits of sports tourism are tremendous. Sport tourism is an investment in the tourism industry and has significant positive economic and socio-cultural impacts in the host destination.

It creates exposure and enhances a favourable image for the destination. It generates an increased rate of tourism growth through high hotel bed occupancy, busy restaurants and retail outlets which all support increased employment. It attracts high yield visitors, especially families and repeat visitors.

It builds community relationships and increases community support for sport and sport events. Sport tourism strengthens national heritage, identity and community spirit as everyone joins together to promote the national culture. It provides a vehicle through which visitors can gain better knowledge of the culture of the local communities.

The Kenya Tourism Board (KTB), the national tourism marketing agency, will continue to work closely with the sports industry stakeholders and the private sector tourism stakeholders to support Kenya’s bids to host other global sport events.

Kenya’s successful hosting of the final edition of the IAAF World Under 18 Championships is a very significant achievement that we can all build upon.

Following the stripping this year of Durban, South Africa’s rights to host the 2022 Commonwealth Games, Kenya should seriously aim to be the first country in Africa to host the Commonwealth Games: 2026 Commonwealth Games.

But to get there we need to keep proving ourselves capable of running these important smaller sports events. Our continued promotion of active sport tourism activities will see the growth of new market segments, domestic travel and international tourist visitor arrival numbers.

Yes we can!

(Kariuki is the Chairman Kenya Tourism Board – KTB)

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